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Catching Up With UConn Baseball

Feb. 17, 2012

Charlie’s Lesson

Friday, February 17, 2012, St. Petersburg, Fla:  Here we are back in Pinellas County.  Over the last few years, it seems like we’ve played as many games in Clearwater and St. Pete as we have in Storrs.  We have begun many seasons in the Big East/Big Ten Challenge here, and we’ve ended conference seasons in the Big East Tournament at Brighthouse Networks Field just up the road.  As routine as it is for me, and for some of our seniors to be traipsing through Tampa International Airport, it isn’t so for more than half of our travel party this time.  We’re different.  Whether we’re better, worse, will be a chapter in the program’s history the twenty-four players who are here, and the nine left in Storrs will write this season.

In what was a whirlwind offseason, I’ve been asked about the past, and about what my expectations are for this season.  They’re the same they’ve been since Coach Baylock, my teammates, and I first made a trip to Tampa International in March of 1991 -- win championships.  The first one we can win is the Big East championship, and in order to do that, we hope to find answers this weekend as to who will help us in our quest.

We have good quality experience returning up the middle, in our infield as a whole, and not so much in our starting rotation.  However, that doesn’t mean we can’t reach our goals.  Our expectations are as high as our standards.  Tonight against Indiana, we’ll begin to get closer or further from our goal.  If we have more fun than Indiana, we’ll get closer. 



Nick Ahmed, Pat Mahoney, and Greg Nappo sent good wishes within seconds of each other via text this morning mentioning having “fun” tonight.  That really is the key.  The team that has the most fun in the opener, usually makes the least amount of mistakes, and comes out victorious.  We aren’t going to lower our expectations one bit because of who is not here this weekend.  If we did, we’d be betraying Nick, Pat, Greg, and all who’ve helped build this program.

We’ll need a few pleasant surprises to win championships this year, and that is true for every season.  I, for one am optimistic we’ll get those surprises.  If one doesn’t have a positive outlook on opening day, one doesn’t have a chance. 

I suppose living with a four-year old helps that optimism.  Not only can four-year-olds provide tons of surprises, they can teach us many things.  My son Charlie is one of those guys.  Before his mother awoke last Sunday, and while his dad was on his way to Storrs in the pre-dawn darkness for practice, Charlie stole Brooke’s electronic reader and headed downstairs.  The only reason we know this is that later in the day, Brooke got an emailed receipt for $52 worth of new texts purchased directly from her NOOK.

In seeing lots of age appropriate titles for the sub-kindergarten set on the receipt, and knowing her youngest child’s penchant for mischief, Charlie’s mom asked him if he bought some books.  His guilt was revealed immediately with a devilish grin.  So, Brooke, realizing our illiterate preschooler might not be quite so illiterate, and that a bail bondsman might be needed on speed-dial in a few years, immediately put a password into her account with Barnes & Noble.  After a stern talking-to by his parents, Charlie enjoyed his new Smurfs tome, and his parents had a laugh of our own.

I could just picture the little imp tiptoeing down the stairs in his pajamas and sitting on the floor browsing icons talking to himself as he poked at the screen, “Hmmmm, let’s see.  Nice, the new Smurfs is out.  Alright, Dr. Seuss collection, need it!  Yes, been looking for that Berenstain Bears book.  Wonder what Tomie dePaola has been working on lately.  Yup, need it, want it, gotta have it.”  His index finger is working overtime selecting texts, hitting multiple buttons to confirm his intention, and purchasing as fast as he can. 

Sometimes ignorance is bliss.  I hope the new guys in the lineup have the most fun today.  Perhaps, they’re just happy to be outside playing in a UConn uniform, and maybe they feel not much is expected.  Kind of like Charlie, they’ll be not poking, but swinging away.  They’ll be eager to show what they can do.  Just like Charlie, they’ll delight in getting their opportunity to do something they haven’t done before, or simply to pleasantly surprise.

Or, some might feel challenged and rise to the occasion.  Our four-year old can do that as well.  On Tuesday, Charlie couldn’t put his own pants and shoes on.  That night, I told him, “Chick (I call Charlie, Chick.  I think it fits.  If he’s ever going to be in a dugout, he needs to be one syllable, and Brooke said Chuck was off-limits), how are you going to go to kindergarten with the big kids in the fall?  If you can’t put your own pants and shoes on, you might have to stay back in preschool with the little kids and babies.”  On Wednesday, he proudly came downstairs with his pants and shoes on (they were on the wrong feet, but we didn’t have the heart to tell him), and declared, “Daddy, I’m going to kindergarten.  I’m not a baby.”

Coach Baylock used to say, “The umpire says, ‘Play ball’, not, ‘Work ball’.”  It might be oversimplifying it, but I hope we have fun playing tonight.  If we do, we just might respond to the challenge and pleasantly surprise some folks outside our program along the way.  When a coach or parent doesn’t challenge a player or child, he/she isn’t coaching or parenting.  And when that coach or parent doesn’t expect much he/she is either limiting potential, or is going to be $52 poorer.  

- JFP