STORRS, Conn. - The Northeast is widely regarded as an impatient part of the country. The region has more horn honkers than door holders. If the Dunkin’ on the closest corner can’t get the coffee in our hands within 30 seconds, we’ll drive another block to the next one if that drive-thru is faster. Of course, New England got its name from an antsy crew. The English Pilgrims who settled here got itchy after a short stay in the Netherlands and sought a new home that made crossing the Atlantic to an uncertain wilderness more appealing than staying put. They were rushing toward something they couldn’t see, but optimistic that something would be better, and tough enough to make it so.
Every fresh college baseball season for New England teams bears a resemblance to the Pilgrims’ experience. There is great uncertainty, and yet tremendous hope and faith. There is positive action, and a lot of trial and error(s). But above all, just like Bradford and Standish, guys like Toppa and Susi know this time of year means a ton of hurry up and wait.
No matter how much we want to speed up the process, the building of a season has its own distinct pace. Right now, ours includes rushing to classes, practices and lifts on Tuesday and Wednesday, hustling to a bus to Bradley on Thursday, catching a couple of flights to a snow and mud-free destination, three games, an-after-midnight arrival in Windsor Locks on Monday, and repeat. Those fits and starts can make for weekends that are as similar as a bowl of cherries and a plate of cabbage. Both are nutritious and can be helpful to digestion and overall growth, but one looks and tastes a lot better than the other.
We had cabbage this weekend at North Florida. Three tight games resulted in our first series loss, and left a bad taste in our mouths as we journeyed home from Jacksonville. UNF is a good team that has already played a tough schedule. Coach Parenton and his charges deserve credit for bouncing back and beating us after the guy wearing #36 looked like Tim Cate again on Friday. We deserve a lot of blame for too many self-inflicted wounds. Our head coach wanted to learn a few things and got burned with some rookies in spots he shouldn’t have put them in, and the players who played have got to perform better if we’re to build a good season.
We’ve worked for months to improve skills and build a foundation with really good and eager young guys blending in with a solid veteran corps. It is a promising group that is fun to be around and already has some nice wins under its belt. But, now it is “go-time.” Those veterans need to help our rookies bridge the gap of experience. After all, Trevor Holmes and PJ Poulin were Joe Simeone and Colby Dunlop not that long ago. Troy Stefanski and John Toppa were Andy Hague and Matt Bonvicini before fighting to earn their roles. It is incumbent upon us to flatten the learning curve, clear that wilderness as efficiently as possible, and avoid as much error as possible by relying on the experience we do have in our dugout.
We are eager to do just that, but like the late, great Tom Petty sang, the waiting is the hardest part. We won’t have to wait much longer to have the season in full-swing.
It must have been torture to anchor the Mayflower within sight of the shore in Plymouth late in 1620 and ferry back and forth for months to build what would become home. The Pilgrims would row to shore every day until March 1621, when enough completed structures made it possible to sleep on land. The Mayflower and its crew finally turned back East to England in April, and after more than four months and the deaths of almost half the company, the settlement was finally alone in the wilderness to flourish or perish.
We’ll be building for four months too, and we’ll be glad to not have to row back to Windsor Locks every Thursday in a few weeks. If we can dodge some nasty forecasted weather on Wednesday and play a good Yale club, this coming week will provide many opportunities for growth. We’ll finally be playing on a more regular basis. Baseball is meant to be played more often than just on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. We are all looking forward to the rhythm that the spring break trip can provide with more baseball routines. BP, PFP, and regular games beat the heck out of BDL, TSA, and stowing tray tables.
Time will tell if we’ll flourish or perish, but I wouldn’t bet against this group. It has a bounce in its collective step. There are positive signs. For instance, on two of our three trips so far, two rookie travelers have already left their wallets and IDs behind on buses before return flights home. They were hurrying, and made a mistake. They now have experience. After extra questions and the potential embarrassment of a strip search at security, I doubt they’ll ever forget their wallets again. We can’t lose the hurry, the restlessness, the hustle. We could do without the mistakes. Fortunately, the building continues and the wait is getting shorter.
We’ll have to try to do something that doesn’t come naturally. We’ll have to show some patience. When we disembarked the Post Road Stages bus this morning in front of the field house, I gave a brief history lesson. It involved former Huskies, not Pilgrims. I told the team we have a lot of season left, and I remembered a team with five future big leaguers on it that went on to win a program-record 48 games. After nine games in March of 2010, the Huskies were 5-4.
We don’t have the same talent on this team, but like the 2010 guys, this group sits still about as well as an espresso-filled Coach MacDonald with a case of bed bugs. If this team works, trusts in each other, and learns from the mistakes made during this most difficult time of year, I like our chances to build something sustainable. We New Englanders have endurance, ants in our pants, a legacy to uphold, and work to do. So, we run into the wild and have faith and hope we’re better at making it happen than waiting for it to happen.
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