Walking to the Back of the Team Bus at 3:30 a.m.
The initial steps, past the pair of seats with only one occupant, go without incident.
Coaches recline in their seats and snore away their stresses. Veteran players lean back upon their faithful pillows and dream of what still might be.
The aisle is left unbothered.
Knees begin to appear where the players begin doubling up, jutting into the aisle from all angles. Dexterity is needed to maneuver around them. No need to rouse a player from his slumber. Let sleeping starters lie.
The first true obstacle appears: The long legs of a dozing outfielder extending across the area between seats, stretching onto the nearest armrest. Behind him, the longer legs of a pitcher cross from the opposite direction, his feet mounted high atop the headrest of a teammate.
He who hesitates here is wise.
Crossed legs, like the crossbones beneath the skull on a pirate’s flag, signal that a dangerous situation is near. For players to stretch out so widely, there must be another player missing from his seat.
And there he is, curled up in the darkened aisle, utterly unaware that he might be stumbled over by an unassuming busmate.
If it is worth it to proceed, despite this obstacle, step up on an unoccupied armrest and negotiate a path above the crossed legs, stepping carefully from armrest to armrest, seat to seat, until clear ground can be found.
It is a perilous path. Trust that the motorcoach operator does not choose to take a curve in a hurry, jam upon his brakes, or do anything else unexpected or untoward that might send everyone hurtling together at once.
Sleeping, like traversing a crowded bus, is accomplished best by the man who trusts in his driver.
At last, after several uneasy steps, an empty stretch of aisle is found for a landing spot.
A daring attitude creeps in at the sight of more raised feet. Why not tap the players in question and see if they’ll move?
They do, half-consciously, one after another, swinging their legs away for a half-second to allow quick passage, before returning to their previous positions.
Another prone form is revealed in the aisle, again blocking the way.
No matter. Up onto an empty armrest once more, beginning the dangerous tightrope dance anew, until it looks safe to come down and – Oh, good G-d. What was just stepped on?
A considerate semi-awake player sees fit to use his smartphone in one of its most practical functions, illuminating the aisle and revealing that the soft thing underfoot – was a duffle bag, thank goodness, and not a shortstop.
With the newfound light, the final steps come easier, edging around several of the pointier knees and smellier feet in the league, until at last there is only one last outstretched body in the way, stretching out horizontally like a tollgate. By this time, all proper respect and consideration is tossed to the wind. The player’s legs are lifted directly out of the way, no toll necessary.
His immediate reaction is one of grumpy understanding, especially once he sees the door opened.
It is an unenviable route to the bathroom on the team bus, but it is always worth it.