Aberdeen, Md. -- As the bus headed east to upstate New York, outfielder Will Howard tried to get some sleep. His first pro baseball team, the Aberdeen (Md.) IronBirds, had just finished a series in Ohio and was making an all-night trip about eight hours away to the capital region of Albany in early July.
"I tried to sleep and listen to my iPod. I would fall asleep for five minutes and then wake up for an hour," said Howard, a graduate of Columbus High School. His team arrived about 8 in the morning and was at the park that night for another minor league game.
Howard is in the first few weeks of his minor league baseball career after he was chosen in the 22nd round of the Major League Baseball draft in June by the Baltimore Orioles after his senior season at Kennesaw State.
He was assigned to Aberdeen, a short-season team in the New York-Penn League, and a typical starting point for many former college players in their first season of pro ball. On the same date, his former Columbus High teammate, Chase Weems, was assigned to Aberdeen.
Howard and Weems were also travel ball teammates in youth baseball and have known each other for more than 10 years.
"I was signed by the Orioles the middle of May and I was in extending spring training (in Florida) for the draft," Weems said. "When Will was drafted my mom called me and let me know. I called Will right away and congratulated him and said I could not wait to play with him again. At Columbus, those were fun times. Our team was close. I had no idea (the Orioles) were talking about him. I felt I was just as excited as he was."
Howard, who is the son of Columbus High coach Bobby Howard, played center field at Kennesaw State, but has seen time at all three outfield spots for the IronBirds.
"Everyone throws hard. Everyone is a lot better," said Howard, 23. "The game is a lot faster. You just have to stay calm and relax. If you try to do too much at this level it will eat you up. You can't get too high or too low."
Howard, a left-handed hitter, had an average of .253 in his first 87 at bats with Aberdeen, with four doubles, three steals, one RBI and no homers. He was the leadoff hitter and had a double in four at bats Monday while playing left field in a 7-4 win over Batavia.
"I think I have done pretty good," he said. "I feel I can do better. There is always room for improvement. I will say I have done OK. I will say that."
While Howard is new to the pro game, Weems has played the game for pay on both sides of the country in both independent baseball and with Major League farm teams. He was drafted in the sixth round by the New York Yankees in 2007 out of Columbus High.
But Weems has yet to play above the Class A level. He was with High-A Bakersfield of the California League last year, where he hit .167 in four games, before he was released. He signed on to play for the Rockland Bounders last year in the independent Can-Am league and then was signed by the Orioles and assigned to Aberdeen, which plays a 76-game schedule through early September.
"It has been a great opportunity," Weems said before a recent home game. "I have been able to play baseball; I am able to live out my dreams. Right now I am taking it step-by-step and trying to work my way up" as a backup catcher.
Weems had played in just four games through Monday and had one hit in his first three at bats. He made his first start in a 13-3 loss at home Sunday against the Batavia (N.Y.) Muckdogs, a farm team of the Cardinals, and hit a solo homer -- his first since joining the team.
"I love the game and I love being around it," said left-handed hitting Weems.
The two Columbus products live with the same host family in Aberdeen, which is less than one hour north of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. In a typical Aberdeen opener, native son and team opener Cal Ripken Jr. threw out the first pitch June 20 to his mother, Vi.
But Howard and Weems are a long way from the Major Leagues, as the next step up the ladder is full-season Delmarva of the low Class A South Atlantic and then teams at high Class A, Class AA and Class AAA.
But for now Howard could care less.
"I think the travel," Howard said of the biggest adjustment he has had to make. "It is every day; in college and high school you may have a day off and you play four or five games a week. Here it is a grind physically. The big thing to me is it is a grind mentally. You have to be prepared. You have to be ready."
-- David Driver is a free-lance writer in Maryland and has covered the Baltimore farm system for 20 years. He can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com