Feb. 13, 2009
On a monthly basis, back in the late 70's and early 80's, my two brothers and I were crammed into the "way back" of the Buick Skylark or Pontiac Bonneville station wagon for the 65-mile-long trip to see our beloved grandparents in Stratford, Connecticut. The three of us would take turns pantomiming to truckers to honk their horns, punching each other in the arms and yelling one question in particular every few miles or so toward the far reaches of the vehicle. Mom and dad would cringe every time they heard us screech, "Are we there yet?"
We just couldn't wait to see the folks that would spoil us rotten with treats unimaginable in our own house. There were sodas in the fridge, lollipops in a special drawer, Italian ices in the freezer and plentiful hugs and kisses waiting for us in Stratford. However, all those things made the anticipation of getting there nearly lethal. We learned that Rocky Hill came after Wethersfield, then it was Cromwell, Middletown, Meriden, etc., and Milford took forever.
We'd mark the landmarks along 84, 91 and the Wilbur Cross Parkway. We'd see the Colt Factory's blue onion dome in Hartford, get through the West Rock Tunnel, and when we'd cross that crazy metal bridge over the Housatonic, our parents would finally announce, "We're almost there." The patience required of three boys under the age of ten to get from Vernon to Stratford to see their grandparents is akin to the torture our coaches and players are experiencing right now in anticipation of finally lacing the spikes to play Michigan State on February 20.
This year, the offseason has seemed especially long. One reason is that it actually was longer. Without qualifying for the postseason last year, our recruiting season began a bit prematurely on May 17, 2008, after a doubleheader victory in Pittsburgh. The other reasons the road to the opener seems lengthier than usual have very little to do with UConn Baseball, but everything to do with all of us.
I realize today is Friday the 13th, but is it me, or does there seem to be no end to the bad news, lately? It is a real challenge to make it through the 11 o'clock local news to hear the best news near the end of the broadcast every night. In order to make it to reports on Coach Calhoun's and Coach Auriemma's #1 ranked clubs, we must endure the latest on Bernie Madoff, Michael Phelps and A-Rod.
From 11:10 until 11:15, we get to contemplate if the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq might actually conclude before the cabinet is filled with folks who are not only qualified to rescue the country, but also remembered to pay their taxes. Heading into the mid-newscast commercial break, we stare at red arrows pointing toward the floor next to the words, "Dow Jones," "NASDAQ," and "S&P 500". We then numbly tolerate commercials for pawn shops and antidepressants.
After the break, we learn about the latest governor, senator, or mayor to be indicted, convicted, or led out of a courthouse with his attorney holding his/her arm and trench coat shielding his/her face. Of course, the Connecticut weatherman in February is as welcome a sight as the snow, sleet and freezing rain he/she is bound to mention in the five-day forecast between 11:20 and 11:25 every night.
I try to make it to the sports segment if only for the medicine of seeing Hasheem blocking shots as if he were playing a pick-up game in Munchkinland, but I must admit, most nights, I'm trudging up the stairs feeling like there is no relief.
Then, the next day, I come to practice. I hear the gloves popping, the bats pinging, and the unmistakable ribbing and bantering that accompany baseball players wherever they go, and I smile. The energy and life of the 18-23 year-old young men could easily be mistaken for that of a few pre-adolescents in the back of station wagon. The season is close, but we aren't there yet. We still have some first & thirds to go over, and a few kinks in our cuts and relays to work out. Yet, the guys have worked very hard in their strength and conditioning and they are in great shape. They've earned opportunities, competed hard for positions and roles, and are ready to play ball.
We're through the darkest part of the offseason tunnel and the exit ramp to the destination is appearing on the GPS. I know the groundhog coming out of the hole is the traditional harbinger of spring, but as a baseball fan, the words, "Catchers and pitchers are reporting to spring training," have always been more indicative of tulips, pine tar and rebirth to me.
As Al McGuire used to say, "It's all seashells and balloons, baby." We are undefeated and have fifty-six games on the schedule. The possibilities are boundless. For the first time in a long time, we are optimistic and ready to attack all the obstacles in front of us. We still might not know what to do about the recession, but if you hang the curve, we're going to drive it to the gap in right.
The grandparents passed away in the `80's and `90's, but the treats are still awaiting our arrival. The destination isn't Stratford, but Clearwater has a nicer ring to it anyway. Sac flies, double plays and complete games have replaced the sodas, lollipops and Italian ices. Nothing could take the place of those hugs and kisses, but we can all find some solace in the fact that baseball season is on its way and it will have to do. We're almost there.
- Head Coach Jim Penders