By Jacob Rudner
The pungent smell of gasoline permeated down the left field line and towards the batting cages of War Memorial Stadium. Under the smell, and drenched in the liquid causing it, a pair of gray baseball pants waiting helplessly for its untimely departure.
The car fuel soaked pants were to be ceremoniously burned. Every player on the Pilots' roster gathered around to watch as they changed in color from road gray to to parking black. They were the physical victim of a necessary but intangible change and the team chose their wardrobe to be the sacrifice to the game of baseball.
The cause for the decision was unfortunate but an elephant in the room. The team could not find a victory on the road. Whether it was caused by walks from the pitching staff, the inability to hit or some tough luck, they were 3-13 in road games entering their brief road trip to the Asheboro Copperheads and the Highpoint-Thomsasvile HiToms. They needed to change their fortune and it would start with their pants.
Hank Morgan's words before the pants were set ablaze were very brief. They, like the gasoline on the pants, did not need a whole lot to get the job done.
"This right here," Morgan said pointing to the pants which laid out under the warm sun of Saturday morning. "This right here means change. We're a new team starting now."
Those words were the cue. A lighter was brought down to the piece of clothing strewn across a parking space right outside the stadium. They didn't catch fire, more gasoline was applied and the pants, ignited on the second attempt, went up in flames with the team watching.
The Pilots played in those pants on the road. They would never do it again. Home whites were now just team whites, bad play on the road was supposed to burn with the grays.
The ceremony for change was one thing, the Pilots took care of that before boarding the bus that would take them five hours south to Asheboro, North Carolina. There, they would have to play like the superstition meant something. They were in charge of proving the ceremony's worth.
Hours after the flames, and in white pants, the Pilots took the half turf half grass field, swung away at batting practiced and with the state of Virginia plastered across their chests, they played a road game. They put up 12 total runs, Cole Secrest homered twice, Jake Boone joined him with a solo shot of his own and the Pilots, trying to change their narrative on the road, chased down their fourth victory on the road in 2019. They got it with a 12-7 victory.
The team changed their pants from gray to white but they also changed their style of play. A little superstition went a long way. Prior to the weekend against the HiToms and the Copperheads, the Pilots were hitting just .250 which paled in comparison to the .320 they were hitting during home games and that .250 batting average was joined by 158 strikeouts during road games.
But, over the weekend, the team piled on 19 total runs, 12 in the win against the Copperheads on Saturday and seven in their narrow 7-6 victory against Highpoint. The pitching did its job headlined by strong performances by Trey Morgan on Saturday and Luke Zimmerman on Sunday. The Pilots also appeared to set foot on a path that could see them merging what has been a tale of two teams this summer.
In their 17 home games, the Pilots are 13-4, on the road prior to the two-win weekend, they were 3-13. Narrowing the gap between the two could be the difference between the playoffs or not in a second half that requires the Pilots to win the Northern Division or go home empty handed.
For the Pilots, the season will be a battle with Edenton for the the postseason with Martinsville looking like they'll round out the division once again. Wilson is out of the picture and the two arch rivals will go toe to toe for a shot at the Pettit Cup this August. But, for now, the focus will be on one game at a time with two feet planted in the moment and white pants covering the legs to which the feet belong.