March 2, 2009
Jacksonville, Fla., Hampton Inn conference room, 9:15 a.m. - While monitoring study hall here, I don't have much to do. I've grown weary of looking over the occasional shoulder to initiate scrambling of the computer mouse. Watching Facebook pages minimized and research papers maximized on the laptop screen as the guys deftly evade my prosecution has gotten old. Doesn't anyone study from a book anymore? These guys could be watching an Adam Sandler DVD for all I know. With headphones on, and furrowed brows above their computer-staring mugs, they appear convincing enough to allow me to peck away at this blog.
We find ourselves trapped on the First Coast of Florida. Trapped really isn't the right word. Being stuck in the Sunshine State in early March for a baseball coach is akin to a fat guy being locked in the Old Country Buffet with an unlimited supply of gravy at his disposal. Yesterday evening, our flight through Charlotte was canceled, and we were fortunately able to check back into the Hampton Inn here, and scratch another day's meal money for an unplanned extra day after the Kennel Club Classic. If we don't make it to Washington and into Bradley tonight on our re-booked flights, the credit limit on the Penders family's Mastercard will be tested, as we'll have to feed twenty-five hungry young men, and pay for each and every bag we load onto the U.S. Airways flights. How can an airline smart enough to have Sully in the cockpit when the birds hit the engines and you-know-what hit the fan, be dumb enough to charge each passenger for checking a bag? Then again, maybe we are the dumb ones for paying it.
With a nor'easter dumping up to a foot of snow in Storrs, classes have been canceled, so we are glad to not be losing any further academic traction as we'll practice at 1:00 p.m. on the UNF campus, shower and head to the airport again today. Take two.
The weekend began with a quality win over a good George Mason team. We played sound defense, had enough quality at-bats, and our pitching took starter John Folino's lead and did a nice job holding a powerful Patriot lineup at bay. Dusty Odenbach, Dan Mahoney and Rock came out of the pen, and all four veteran hurlers combined to hold the opposition to four runs. We had some momentum after prevailing 6-4 to get the weekend started right.
Saturday's win was an example of how good we can be. We turned four double plays, as Elliot Glynn and rookies David Fischer and Matt Barnes didn't walk a soul en route to an impressively-played 10-2 win over a solid North Florida club.
Sunday's game wasn't really baseball. It seemed a lot more like Wiffle Ball. With 40+ mile-an-hour wind gusts carrying balls out of Harmon Stadium and into the forest, behind the fence every couple of minutes, we found the Ohio State aerial attack too much to overcome. Ohio State's pitchers did a better job than our guys of keeping the ball down (although both teams combined to walk 15 batters). Our line drives didn't get as much air under them, and our two-minute drill didn't produce the necessary score. We found ourselves a touchdown and extra point away from the still-undefeated Buckeyes when the last out of a 21-14 game was mercifully recorded.
The game reminded me of our season opener in Lakeland, Florida in 1993. We lost 18-17 to Regis University of Denver, Colorado. My now brother-in-law Aaron Quinn was the pitcher of record in that one. Like Sunday, it seemed like every ball hit in the air went over the fence or to the track. Our own Mike Guilbeault had three or four bombs of his own in the contest. In order to play catch, we had to aim five to ten feet left or right of the target. When we got back to our motel, the sign for the Ramada was blown out, power lines and trees were strewn all over the ground, and news reports of local tornadoes were plentiful. It was a silly day to play baseball, but we did it anyway, and survived. We went on to beat Florida Southern the next day, and two months later, played for a BIG EAST title and closed the season out in an NCAA Regional in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
So, while the result assuredly looked terrible in newspaper box scores Monday morning, we can't derive much from a frustrating 21-14 loss. There were some lessons learned in mental toughness that I think we'll need over the coming months. Not much else can be gleaned from Sunday's game other than a deeper understanding of how significant the impact of the weather can be on our season. When it comes to baseball games, the cold stinks, rain is worse, but the wind really blows.
I-84 East, approaching exit 63 in Manchester, 11:52 p.m. -Well, we made it - almost. I take it back, U.S. Airways! You can charge us for all the bags you want. With a lot of help from the folks behind the counter in Jacksonville, and in spite of a few of our less than sensitive/sensible guys stopping to purchase what I'm sure were vital nutrient-rich Cinnabons in the Washington National concourse, the plane was held at the gate long enough for us to make the connection. While the white stuff on the side of the road is as welcome a sight to us baseball guys as I'm sure the numb guys carrying Cinnabons up the aisle were to our fellow passengers, we have accomplished our goal of making it back in time for classes, a lift, and practice tomorrow.
We've adjusted well over the past couple of days and I am encouraged by our ability to adapt and stay positive. There were plenty of reasons for grumbling from the flock, but unlike most of our fellow delayed travelers, the Huskies did an excellent job of rolling with the punches and not worrying about things outside our control. Overall, the trip was one of progress, and at 3-3, we'll use our next 3 ½ days to make more steps up the ladder before our longest road trip of the year. On Saturday morning, we'll board another plane (this time with all 34 players) back to Florida for the spring break. With two outdoor practices and six ballgames scheduled on the trip, the next week and half should really help solidify more roles and help chart the course through the BIG EAST season.
Passing the poultry barns on Route 195, Storrs, Tuesday, March 3, 2009, 12:17 a.m.