VCC baseball players play ball…on a Florida freeway

FREE PIZZA from newfound friends during a traffic jam on the VCC baseball team’s trip to Florida.

The Vermilion Ironmen escaped winter’s grip and snow-entombed fields experienced 70-degree temperatures and sunny skies and played for the first time this season.
But that wasn’t nearly the most memorable part of the community college baseball team’s first day of the 2019 season.
For nearly two hours, the Ironmen were stranded with motorists from hundreds of other vehicles on the Florida Turnpike near Kissimmee as traffic backed up for miles in the wake of a major accident and vehicle fire.
The Ironmen turned lemons into lemonade, leaving their rented vans and pulling out their gloves and a few baseballs to the delight of many nearby travelers.
They played catch and enjoyed a few throwing relays, and took a break for some pizza donated by an Arizona couple that was stuck in park between the Ironmen’s two large, 12-passenger vehicles.
“I don’t know how this week will end up but we probably just had our most memorable moments of the trip,” said Vermilion Head Coach Tom Coombe, shortly after the team returned to their vacation homes in Kissimmee. “It was one of those times these guys aren’t going to forget, just because it was so out-of-the-norm and unique. Playing catch on a Florida freeway? Who does that?”
The Ironmen, apparently, if the opportunity arises.
The team was returning from its season-opener, a 12-1 loss to Academy Baseball Canada, when a half-hour ride from the ballpark turned into a three-hour journey.
Traffic ground to a halt shortly after noon, and the Ironmen could see smoke billowing from hundreds of yards ahead.
“Traffic had stopped and somebody in front of us had gone to look and it was pretty apparent that we weren’t moving any time soon,” said Coombe.
After practicing indoors for several weeks, Thursday marked VCC’s first time on a field and outside, and the Ironmen made the most of their delay - and burned off energy and time while entertaining many of the others who were similarly stranded.
Some of the Ironmen soon bonded with the family parked between the team’s two vans, a couple and their children in the area for a 50th anniversary celebration. It wasn’t long before they shared their leftover pizza, which was devoured in moments by the hungry VCC student athletes.
Other motorists snapped photos of the Ironmen’s impromptu practice, and at least one media traffic report made note of “people playing baseball” during a delay that didn’t end until about 2:30 p.m., Eastern Standard Time.
Chase Bottin doubled in VCC’s only run and Connor Knettel gave up only one earned run in four innings of work in the opener, but those were just part of the day’s highlights.
“It was an unfortunate situation but our guys made the most of it,” said Coombe. “We come down here not only to get some games in and get outside but to come together as a team, and I think our guys did that today. They’ll never forget the day they played baseball on the freeway.”
• The Ironmen met Northern Division rival Mesabi Friday, after deadline, in Auburndale, Fla. Also on Friday’s docket was a matchup with Genesee (N.Y.) while VCC takes on Delta (Mich.) today at Winter Haven. They’ll play seven games in all before returning home Wednesday.
• Barring a rapid snow melt, the Florida games may be VCC’s only on-field action for awhile. The Ironmen are slated to play a four-game weekend series in Coon Rapids Mar. 30-31, but snow may scrap those dates.
• VCC’s home opener is optimistically slated for Sunday, April 14.