Catching Up With UConn Baseball
A weekly blog from
the University of Connecticut Baseball team
Entry #10: Thursday, April 17, 2008
Death and Taxes
It’s certainly been a rough five days since we beat #22 St.
John’s on Friday in Queens. John Folino pitched a gem and we got the weekend
off to a great start with a 2-1 win over the Red Storm. We felt on top of the
world. We played well and had beaten the league leader in their ballpark. We
hung in and battled on Saturday but came up short in a 10-5 loss and Sunday was
a heartbreaker. Freshman Mike Hashem made his first career start and he threw
great. We made a mistake and St. John’s made us pay for it. Hence, a combined
2-hitter became a 1-0 loss.
The next day, on Monday the 14th, we blew a
chance to beat Northeastern. It was a game that we weren’t ready for and it
showed. From the head coach on down, we were feeling a little sorry for
ourselves and gave up four in the first. The Huskies from Boston pounced and we
couldn’t recover. They beat the Huskies from Storrs soundly, as we looked
completely exhausted from our weekend at St. John’s. Maybe we thought victory
was certain for us. Northeastern’s record wasn’t as good as ours and we hadn’t
lost to them since 1996. Baseball has a funny (or not so funny) way of
reminding those who play it and coach it, that nothing’s for certain. If you
just throw the gloves out on the field expecting to win, you’re more than likely
going to lose. The game can be cruel in its fairness – it makes you earn it.
April 15th is cruel too. In the U.S., it’s a
deadline – a reminder that we pay a price for the blessings that come with
saluting the stars and stripes. It provides certainty – no wiggle room, it is
black and white. Death and taxes – they really are all that’s certain.
We managed an ugly win over Hartford at home on tax day
with a walk-off single in the ninth from freshman Mike Nemeth and it looked like
we might be on track heading to Providence on Wednesday to play Brown and former
Husky star, Marek Drabinski. Despite putting up 16 hits and 10 runs, we left
the bases loaded after loading them with no outs in the first, struck out 12
times and gave up nine in the sixth to the Bears. Now, we’re on the bus on
Route 6, and I feel like Coach Calhoun’s gum must have felt during the games
against Providence this year.
What a difference five days makes in the game of baseball –
from on top of the world in Queens on Friday to the depths of uncertainty in
less than a week. Today, we find ourselves at .500 overall and tied for ninth
in the BIG EAST with a 6-9 conference mark. We have lots of uncertainty,
question marks and another series with a very good Seton Hall team beginning on
In the span of those same five days, the other certainty in
life, the one even crueler than taxes, came to a good man. Randy Smith, sports
editor of the Journal Inquirer died at the age of 61 on Monday. As a
twelve year-old, my first job was carrying newspapers for the Journal
Inquirer. I had 56 papers (now its 56 games in every regular season) every
weekday afternoon and every Saturday morning to deliver in my neighborhood in
Vernon. For about three years, I would trudge Range Hill Drive, Country Lane
and Regan Road with one yellow bag over my left shoulder and one over my right.
It was on those hour-plus walks through the yards of my neighbors that I first
discovered good writing. I had been exposed to it, sure. My mom was an English
teacher and my fourth grade teacher read Shel Silverstein aloud to my class
every afternoon. My boyhood bookshelves were filled with Dr. Seuss and Roald
Dahl, but the guy that first made me appreciate the written word was Randy
My big toes still swell in the cold because of all the
curbs and front stoops I banged into as a young paperboy while devouring his
witty and wise columns over the course of my route. I heard many a horn and
profanity-laced epithet from drivers yelling out their windows at me to, “Pay
attention! You’re going to get run over,” as I’d be walking Elmer Fudd-style
with my head buried in the JI, flipping the pages of the paper looking
for Randy Smith’s “Do You Wanna Bet?” columns. Those were my favorites. He’d
pen dozens of non-related lines in which he’d muse about whatever were the hot
issues of the day in the world of sport.
Years later, as an assistant baseball coach at UConn, I had
the good fortune of appearing at a banquet in my hometown. I’m embarrassed to
admit that I can’t recall the youth baseball group I was asked to address, but I
couldn’t possibly forget with whom I shared the dais that evening at St.
Bernard’s in Rockville. After the spaghetti supper, Randy Smith spoke
eloquently with no notes and I remember his poignant closing line to the
baseball-playing kids, impressing upon them the importance of doing your best at
all things all the time. He said, “You’re going to hit a lot of pop-ups and
ground balls, boys – in baseball games and in life, and my best advice is to run
‘em out, boys. Run every single last one out.
A few years after that, I got goose bumps as I read the
JI and found that I was the subject of one of his “Do You Wanna Bet” lines.
In June or early July of 2003, in his needling and ultra-honest way, he
suggested in print that our newly-hired athletic director make my hiring as head
coach his top priority as soon as he arrived on the job in Storrs. I had met
Mr. Smith that one time in Rockville, but he must have liked what he saw in me.
I’ll never forget reading those lines on my behalf. The fact that he risked
offending the brand new boss of UConn Athletics, for the benefit of a former
newspaper carrier and current 31-year old assistant baseball coach, said an
awful lot about the man.
I’m sure he made some enemies. Most effective, honest
people have some enemies, but what is equally certain is that he also had the
respect and admiration of so many. I wasn’t fortunate enough to call him a
friend, but I’m really going to miss seeing him stride press row in Hartford and
know that something good and something real was going to come out of his
keyboard and into the paper the next day.
So, as folks make sure the postmark on those IRS-bound
envelopes reads, 4-15-08, and a good man is buried in Manchester this week, the
Huskies need to do some soul searching, look one another in the eye and be real.
As we gird for the last month of the regular season, we should take some comfort
in the fact that all that is certain is death and taxes. The deadline of our
own at the end of the season is quickly approaching and we still don’t have a
definitive starting rotation, or a consistent offense, or a reliable defense.
So what? Our taxes are paid, we’re all still alive and our goals are within our
We’ve battled from behind before and we actually control
our destiny. A year ago, we were in worse shape in the BIG EAST and with our
overall record, and we wound up a double away from a championship. While the
gray area that seems to envelop our season at present will soon pass and the
black and white of our won-loss record will be there for eternity, we have a
deeper obligation than wins, and that is to control all we can control. Right
now, we’re hitting a lot of pop-ups and ground balls. In short, we’ve gotta run
‘em out. Run every single last one out. If we do that, we’ll at the very least
honor one hell of a writer, meet our deadline, and have the satisfaction that
whatever the won-loss record is at the end, we’ll have earned it. Of this, I’m
- Jim Penders