For Major League Baseball players, it is routine to head south in the weeks and months ahead of the season. While the functional reality of Spring Training has morphed, the ideology of its purpose has not. Once upon a time, it was to restart all baseball-related activity and to work off the beer gut that had grown over the offseason. But now, players are showing up in increasingly better shape and are using the opportunity to get back into the swing of the everyday grind that awaits ahead of the grueling marathon.
Spring Training exists to polish off some rust and get prepared. The degree of that rust and preparedness has changed, but the idea remains the same.
Travis Ford and his Billikens will be traveling for their own training camp, but instead of heading south like the MLB they are heading north to spend Friday through Tuesday in Chicago for camp. With SLU’s fall break taking place over this weekend having Monday and Tuesday’s classes being scheduled off, the break offers an opportunity for the team to travel together and get away for an extended period of time before their first official exhibition game on October 30th when the Bills host Kentucky Wesleyan.
The team has been practicing as many as five days a week since Billiken Madness, so they are beginning to shape into being regular-season ready, but Ford hopes to use the trip to get prepared and polished ahead of the regular season, “It’s a good opportunity for our team to hopefully bond together. Get out of town, away from any distractions. And an opportunity to really lock in and just focus on basketball only. It’s a pretty unique situation”.
The trip also stands as the last time the Billikens will have an opportunity to get out of St. Louis until November 27th as the Billikens play their first seven games at Chaifetz Arena before traveling to Boston College as a part of the Gotham Classic. Members of the program have told me they feel like having an opportunity to bond ahead of the season will help the team get off to a stronger start.
The excursion north is expected to be exclusively basketball focused, with the itinerary of the trip packed full of practice times, video sessions, and meetings. At one point I heard that one of the practice times on Saturday was at the Bulls practice facility at the Advocate Center in the west part of downtown Chicago, though I am told that may have been changed.
That being said, there will be many bonding opportunities over the five-day trip. While the specifics of these bonding opportunities are being held close to the vest by the program, one social opportunity for the team includes a meet and greet put on by the SLU Chicago Alumni club on Monday night.
The Billikens spend time at Loyola-Chicago as a key part of this excursion in a not-so-secret-scrimmage against the Ramblers. I am told they will spend time practicing at the Ramblers facility ahead of the Tuesday afternoon scrimmage.
The closed-door scrimmage offers a controlled environment for the staff to see their team against real competition. While the program and athletic department as a whole have played coy about the very existence of the scrimmage, based on knowledge of past scrimmages like this one it can be expected this will be a full live game and not controlled or manufactured in any way. For all intents and purposes, the only difference between this game and the October 30thexhibition against Kentucky Wesleyan is an audience.
Travis Ford was tight-lipped about a scrimmage against the Ramblers, that being said his hopes, from what he sees out of his team for the entirety of the trip suggests what the staff will be looking for out of the game. “We can tell things like effort and things like that” Travis Ford said after a practice last Friday, “But I want to see where we are as a basketball team. Where we are at with seven new players, because it’s really hard to tell”.
Travis added that earlier in the practice season, when the Billikens played a full game speed inter-squad, with referees and all (not the Billiken Madness scrimmage), that he wasn’t excited about the defensive intensity the team brought to that scrimmage. It seems seeing how his team responds in terms of effort and intensity when playing a real opponent will be high on his list in terms of things he’d like to see.
In addition to the meet and greet Monday night, I am told the teams social media pages will be chronicling the trip to some degree so Billiken fans will be able to get glimpses of the team and their northern excursion; and though no official word will come on the nature or specifics of the scrimmage, historically the final result of the game has leaked out, so news may come sometime Tuesday evening.
The season is right around the corner. The Billikens will be in action, in front of an audience just twelve days from now, with the official home opener at Chaifetz Arena just six days after that. Just like how Spring Training is a reminder of just how close baseball season is here, the Billikens trip north shows just how close the 2019/2020 Bills are to tip-off.