Steve Trachsel feels at home in the Knights Castle. He just wishes he didn't feel home alone sometimes.
Trachsel, a guy known for pumping up his volume when he pitches, thinks the Castle, the Charlotte Knights' home ballpark, is one of the the best in the minor leagues.
And why not? He and his teammates ride elevators from the entrance to the field. Each player gets two lockers. There's a sauna, whirlpool, training table and a killer sound system in the clubhouse.
It's just not supposed to be that way in double-A, where a warm shower and a clean locker are sometimes considered a luxury.
"We find that out when we go on the road," Trachsel said. "Peninsula (in the Carolina League) was bad, and Knoxville (in the Southern League) is, too.
"The facilities just aren't professional. They're small, with no air conditioning. You get your stuff (uniform) and it's still wet. You have to wait for your clothes to dry before you can go to the field."
But as much as he digs the Knights' digs, it does have its faults.
"We average about 5,000 fans a night," said Trachsel, who played at Troy High, Fullerton College and Cal State Long Beach. "But this is the quietest 5,000 fans I've ever seen. We'll be ahead by a few runs, and I'll be out there on the mound, and I won't hear any noise at all."
Peace and quiet are something new to Trachsel, who wasn't shy in showing his temper on the mound with Cal State Long Beach in 1991, his only season with the 49ers.
After throwing a bad pitch, the 6-foot-3 right-hander followed with an expletive.
"I did it the first game of the season (a 10-3 loss to Arizona State)," he said. "I said (an obscenity) really loud after a bad pitch. I did it a few more times that year, too."
Trachsel said he has "tried to tone it down a little bit" this season, his second in the Chicago Cubs' minor league organization.
"I try not to be too loud, or show as much emotion as I used to," he said. "I'm still pretty intense, but I try not to show it as much.
"I still let out a small one now and then, but not to the volume that I used to. I've learned to hold the anger in until I get to the dugout. Then I'll pick up a towel and scream into it."
So far, he hasn't had much to shout about.
Armed with a wicked curveball and a fastball in the mid-80s, Trachsel is 10-4 with a 3.56 earned-run average. He is third in the Southern League with 99 strikeouts, and he pitched a one-hit shutout in a seven-inning game against Carolina in May.
The Cubs selected Trachsel in the eighth round of the 1991 draft, just after his junior season at Long Beach. He was sixth in the nation in strikeouts (139) and led the 49ers to the College World Series. He earned second-team All-American honors after going 11-6 with a 2.78 ERA.
"I had hoped to go higher in the draft after the kind of season I had," Trachsel said. "I figured I would start in A ball."
He did, going 1-0 in two starts with Geneva (N.Y.) of the New York-Penn League before joining the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Spirits, one of the Cubs' other Class-A teams.
He had a modest 4-4 record with a 3.67 ERA, but he pitched a seven-inning no-hitter in a 4-2 Carolina League victory over Peninsula.
The game was the second of a league doubleheader, which are only seven innings.
"After the third inning, I realized I had it and said, 'Hey, let's go for it, let's get a seven-inning no-hitter," he said. "I gave up a couple walks, a (sacrifice) bunt and a couple fly balls (that scored Peninsula's runs)."
Trachsel has been with Charlotte since this season began. He suspects he will be there when the season ends, too.
"I would love to be in the majors at least by next year," he said. "At the start of the season, they told me that anyone who can pitch well in the Southern League will pitch well in the big leagues."
But Trachsel remains realistic.
Although he has set no timetable on reaching the major leagues, Trachsel thinks the upcoming expansion draft could both help and hurt his chances.
Because of the draft, many major league teams probably will keep players in the minors this fall, when they traditionally move them up. Players left unprotected on a major league roster will be eligible for the draft, but minor league players will not.
"All the top brass in the organization just left here and nothing was mentioned about anybody moving up," Trachsel said. "With the expansion, a lot of slots will open up above next year, and people will be moving.
"I was hoping to be in the big leagues in September, but there's no way now because they want to protect you from the (expansion) draft."
So for now, Trachsel enjoys all the comforts, and the peace and quiet, of being at home in Charlotte.