The competition is strong and the weather ideal, but neither Austin Chrismon nor Terrell Joyce saw themselves in Troy, N.Y., playing for the Tri-City ValleyCats. Yet for each, it's part of a process, one that has taken them 850 miles from home to the New York-Penn League.
For the next couple of nights, they'll be in Lowell, Mass. Then back to Troy, then to Lowell again, then to Burlington, Vt., and then to Norwich, Conn. Two Peninsula District alums — Chrismon from Menchville High, Joyce from Woodside — are in the short-season version of Class A, which means lots of bus rides and few days off.
"Riding the bus everywhere, it's not ideal," Chrismon said. "But it's not too bad. Better than those school buses."
The players in the NY-Penn League tend to meet one of two descriptions: players just drafted whom the club wants to get some immediate quality competition, or players who needed extended spring training. Chrismon and Joyce fell in the second category.
Chrismon, the Astros' 26th-round pick in 2013, pitched well in rookie league — 3-1, 3.06 earned-run average, 24 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings. Yet the club wanted him to work more on his changeup, so to extended spring training he went.
On June 13, the 21-year-old Chrismon started the ValleyCats' opener and got the win with five strong innings (two hits, one run, no walks, four strikeouts). Five nights later was a different story: five runs (four earned) on 10 hits in a 6-0 loss to the Vermont Lake Monsters.
"The first start went well," he said. "But the other day, not so much. A few hits, a few runs … personally, I don't expect that to happen. But you're going to have good and bad days."
The next scheduled start for Chrismon, who began his college career at East Carolina but finished it at Christopher Newport, is Monday at home against Vermont.
Joyce, a 12th-round pick by Houston in 2012, had a solid half-season in rookie ball by hitting .273 with seven home runs. Promoted to the Class-A Quad Cities River Bandits in Davenport, Iowa, last summer, his numbers dropped to .186 and three.
He also missed some time with a concussion, which he sustained by colliding with a first baseman while trying to leg out a grounder.
Joyce, who played two seasons at Florida State College, recovered and felt he had a good spring. But the Astros sent him to extended spring training.
"They wanted me to start over (here) and work my way up," Joyce said.
Joyce, 22, had a decent ValleyCats debut with a single in four at-bats. But in the eighth inning, he injured his foot while crashing into the wall. He finished the inning, but the next day, his foot was bruised and swollen. He hasn't played since but hopes to return next week.
"I have to wait for the swelling to go down," he said. "I'm anxious to get back. That was the first game of the season and I was feeling good. Thank God it was the beginning of the season. I didn't want it to be mid-season or the end of the season."
"(The Astros) told me I was coming here and if I was swinging it well, they'd move me up quickly. But the injury set me back."
The season, short though it is, has just gotten started. For the next three months, it will be all baseball and bus rides. The closest Chrismon and Joyce will get to home will come when the ValleyCats go to Aberdeen, Md., for a three-game set in late July.
This isn't what they had in mind when spring training began. But things have a way of working out.
"Preferably, I didn't want to be at extended spring training," Chrismon said. "But in the long run, I think it helped out a lot."
Johnson can be reached by phone at 757-247-4649.Copyright © 2015, CT Now