March 8, 2013
Time to Say Goodbye
I woke up yesterday to a fourth grader and kindergartener’s sobs. Hank and Charlie share a room and a small aquarium with two African dwarf frogs in it. Both boys are diligent about taking care of the frogs they named Froginson Cano and Jonathan the Husky Frog. They clean the cube regularly and feed the reptiles on schedule. Yesterday, there was only one pet left for which to care. An autopsy was not conducted, but Froginson appeared to do a kamikaze mission into the blue stones at the bottom of the aquarium in the middle of the night. Just his hind legs were visible, and Hank let his little brother know that he’d gone to frog heaven. Brooke was at an early morning exercise session across town, so it was left to the seasonally-semi-absent father to make school lunches and do some crisis management before the bus came.
I think I did okay. Hugs and a few soft words of reassurance that Froginson was probably swimming wherever he wanted, hopping from cloud to cloud, and eating anything he desired exhausted my canon of condolences. Then, out of nowhere, I found myself quoting scripture, or in truth, the lyrics The Byrds made popular, “…to everything there is a season…a time to be born and a time to die.” The boys regained their composure and got their backpacks ready.
1979 was the time for the Big East to be born and now UConn’s history in a league with that name is coming to an end. It appears as though we won’t play St. John’s, Seton Hall, Villanova, or Georgetown in conference play in 2014 for the first time thirty years. There are good coaches and people on each of the campuses in Queens, South Orange, Pennsylvania, and DC. We’ll miss them. We’ve had some epic battles with them all, and we wish them well. We’ll miss the competition, the relationships, the cities, and the rivalries. We’ll always have the memories.
I remember watching all four of those teams battle at Bristol’s beautiful Muzzy Field in the late 80’s for conference championships. Seton Hall’s Mo Vaughn was Maurice back then, and Craig Biggio was a catcher. It seemed like every starter for St. John’s was from cool-sounding places like Ozone Park and Howard Beach. They all rolled up their short sleeves and had multi-syllabic names that ended in vowels.
The cities were fun to experience too. One of the added bonuses of playing and coaching college baseball, is the ability to travel to different places and plunk down for three days. We don’t fly in and out without seeing the outside of the hotel rooms and dugouts. We do get to explore the towns we visit before and after our games. So, beyond the Phils, Mets, Yanks, and Nats games that could be glimpsed occasionally when they didn’t conflict with our own start times, we toured the U.S. Capitol, Independence Hall, and Ground Zero. We have dined on oysters in Grand Central Station, crushed cheesesteaks at South 9th and East Passyunk, and used mallets to hack away at Chesapeake blue crabs on Wisconsin Avenue. For as many memories we have of the games, we probably have just as many, if not more of the Turtle Brook Inn, the Leavey Center, the Buccaneer Diner, and Conshohocken.
However, we are now entering a new era of league affiliation for UConn athletics and I am excited about it for both our baseball program and our whole University. We are now in a league with great research universities who have the same goals and aspirations that we do.
The next time you drive to Storrs, you will find that they did not take down any men’s or women’s basketball championship banners from Gampel Pavilion, the Fiesta Bowl signs from the football offices or banners at J.O. Christian Field to celebrate our five College World Series trips or the 2011 NCAA Super Regional we went to. Our jersey still says UConn.
It is going to be different – no doubt about it. And it is up to us to make it better, by continuing to win and win the right way. One hundred years ago, Windham High and Norwich Academy were our rivals. We’ll find new ones. It’s all good. No reason to cry. We will bring Husky baseball to cities such as Memphis, Orlando, New Orleans and Houston.
The new baseball league will feature excellent programs and an RPI that might even be better than what the Big East’s was last year. I’ve always wondered what Wes Bialosuknia, Walt Dropo, or Red O’Neill would say if they’d heard someone say that the Big East made UConn. We had a rich tradition before the conference, and we’ll have the same in the future by making it from the inside out, not from the outside in. We’re going to miss what we had with our old foes, but nobody is crying in our program. We’re looking forward to what is next.
What is immediately next is a three game set at Sam Houston State. The Bearkats have already knocked off Texas in Austin, and Rice in Houston within a week of each other. They won 40 games last year, and have an impressive pitching staff and an excellent team. After winning five in a row in Orlando and DeLand, we’ll invade Huntsville, Texas for a showdown this weekend.
Hank presided over the burial ceremony in our side yard by flashlight after I got home around eight last night. He dug a hole in the ground with a pasta spork and said a few words of remembrance while the whole family bowed our heads (see Huxtable funeral for Lamont the goldfish). He got a little choked up when he whispered, “He was a good pet, and I’m really going to miss him,” but he bit his lip, and gamely made it through to, “Amen.” Everybody was a little sad for a few seconds looking at Froginson belly-up in the open Kleenex casket inside the divot. Then, as Hank kicked some soil on the grave and marked it with a stick, Charlie said, “Okay, time to get a new frog!”