Feb. 22, 2009
Sunday, February 22, 2009, 7:31 pm, Gate C33 at Tampa International Airport -- Pack the big bag with your travel clothes and shower kit on top. Leave a tip for the maid on the table. Check out down in the lobby. Stuff the oversized bag under the bus along with the other thirty or so. Then, go win a ballgame.
"Getaway day," is a baseball-specific term. It refers to the last day of a series and the day that a team leaves one city for the next, or for home. Today, was our first getaway day of the year and we made it a good one with an impressive 10-1 victory over Northwestern on the final day of the BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The other two game days didn't go according to plan. We played poor defense and had inconsistent at-bats versus Michigan State in the season opener on Friday, and paid for it with a 4-2 loss in which three of the Spartans' runs came after we gave up something free on defense. The Spartans were more aggressive than we were. Their solid play and our mistakes made for a disappointing opener despite strong pitching performances by John Folino, Trent DeLazzer, Dennis Accomando, and Dan Mahoney.
Saturday provided our first experience of the "hurry up and wait" drill that unfolds often during the college baseball season. We got to Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater for our assigned batting practice at 1:45 pm for our 4 o'clock game time, only to find that St. John's and Iowa were in the first inning, and their game would have to be completed before ours would begin. After a 55-minute first inning which saw the Red Storm surge to a double digit lead over the Hawkeyes, we knew we were in for a long wait. The guys were patient, and occupied themselves after batting practice in the tunnels, and just before six, our game finally got underway. We must have left our bats in our b.p. session from four hours before because we had to wait until the fifth for Pete Fatse to get our first knock of the game against Ohio State.
We did play much better defense, and the bats began to spark a bit in the late innings to provide a scare to the Buckeyes, but a 6-run lead could only be cut to 6-4 before we ended a game for the second day in a row with the tying run either on base or in the batter's box. A fine start by our sophomore lefty, Elliot Glynn, a nice debut performance by freshman right-hander David Fischer and some stellar defensive plays were squandered. We found ourselves 0-2 riding the bus back to the hotel almost nine hours after we left it with a heightened sense of urgency for our first "W" before heading home to Storrs.
Thankfully, with an 11:00 a.m. Sunday start, we didn't have long to stew in our juices from the loss last night and we jumped on the Wildcats this morning in the first when Mike Olt homered with two outs in the first. The two runs were all we'd need the rest of the way but we didn't rest the bats. Thanks to our most consistent at-bats of the weekend, and more solid pitching performances, we were able to play a total of eighteen guys (including three rookies making their game debuts), en route to the 10-1 win.
As we waited for dry towels to be provided at the Raymond Naimoli Complex, I was happiest for left-handed starting pitcher, Greg Nappo. Nap made his first start in a baseball game since he injured his elbow pitching in the NECBL after a fine freshman campaign for us back in 2007. He threw well today, making gutsy pitches when he had to, and after a long recovery from Tommy John surgery, I was excited to toss him the game ball for our first win of the 2009 season. If you have to open the season 1-2 on the weekend, you'd prefer the win be on getaway day. Greg had waited long enough and I'm glad he got it done. He really earned that game ball.
Nap was relieved by four different guys that all had something in common with the Detroit Newspapers, MLB Players Association and the Liverpool Dockers. They all threw strikes in the 90's. Matt McDonald, Matt Barnes, Dan Mahoney, and David Erickson were all impressive, and while we have a very long way to go, it's apparent that a real strength of our team could be our arms. We just need to get some early leads like we did today, improve our consistency on defense (which should come with more games) and continue to build confidence throughout our lineup.
So, now we sit in Tampa International Airport, once again being repeatedly mistaken somehow for the men's basketball team. The veterans know to just accept the compliments, sign their actual names when asked for autographs and not bother correcting the clueless passengers and airport staff. The rookies make the faux pas of clarifying the fact that 5'7" Pierre LePage really is a second baseman and not the point guard and then are forced to answer more humbling questions, like:
"Oh, UConn has a baseball team?"
"Are you guys as good as the basketball teams?"
"Are you Division I?"
"So you were in Florida for spring training?"
"When does your season start?"
While we await our delayed Southwest flight to arrive from Islip, NY (that's pronounced "ice-slip") in the hopes that the runway at Bradley, I-91 and 84 remain relatively ice-free, and we get back to Storrs before the 8 a.m. classes tomorrow morning, we plan the week ahead. We'll practice tomorrow afternoon, Tuesday and Wednesday before boarding another flight for Jacksonville, Florida on Thursday and another challenging weekend series of games.
We have plenty to work on and enough to worry about, but thank goodness we got that "W". Our captain, David Erickson, closed out the game today and finished our team huddle with the words, "See how much better winning feels than losing?" Rock's never been mistaken for Aristotle, but as he took a few verbal jabs for being "Captain Obvious," we broke the huddle and I realized that I couldn't really say it much better. Everything else can wait `til tomorrow. We're just trying to get away.