THE STATE Newspaper’s headline got it right. It was, indeed, an unfamiliar feeling. With back-to-back championships and three trips in four years to the College World Series, we felt sure that our boys of summer were Omaha-bound.
For those of us on campus, and I imagine throughout the Gamecock Nation, tensions were high. The final game against North Carolina was being monitored, sometimes surreptitiously, by cell phones, tablets, computers, radios and office televisions. A grimace here, a wide grin there and even an abrupt shout out in the fifth inning let any who were not watching know how the game was progressing.
By the top of the ninth, all semblance of work day normalcy was abandoned as our summer students, administrators, faculty and staff gathered around the nearest electronic device to will our team to victory. It was not to be. After a disappointing groan, an anguished sigh, there was the quick, “It’s OK, they had a fine season.” And it was time to get back to work.
Afterward, I sent a tweet telling our baseball players to hold their heads high, as it had been a fine season. I salute Chad Holbrook on a strong first year as head coach and tip my hat to a number of our players who have been drafted by the majors.
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We all know that our great national pastime has always provided many metaphors for life. I’m currently reading “The Art of Fielding,” by Chad Harbach. I’ve been reminded of what we cherish about the game and how baseball and life intersect in many ways. At times you hit a home run and then life turns around and throws you a curve ball. These are the well-worn metaphors that we know and love.
Our very own Jackie Bradley Jr. and Michael Roth understand these metaphors perfectly as new MLB players. We’ve watched them move on baseball’s pendulum from Double-A teams to Triple-A teams to MLB’s top stadiums and back again. Jackie, as a Red Sox, hit a home run in Yankee Stadium, and Michael pitched a winning game in his first outing with the Angels. Yet both former Gamecocks found themselves moving back to the minors. As reported in The New York Times, Jackie said, “You’ve got to go through these growing pains. Going down (to the minors) let me know I still need to get better.”
I know our players are disappointed. Without an error here and a bad hop there, our ending may have been different. I want to note that some of our other spring sports also had highly competitive seasons. I celebrate all of our athletes’ hard work, how well they represented their university and thank them for a season of pure joy. I look forward to seeing seven of our nine starters back in the lineup next spring. And you can bet Carolina Stadium will be filled with confident, cocky, Gamecock fans.
So offer up one last sigh of disappointment, then let’s get back to work.
Next year, Omaha!