April 16, 2009
When You Win, the Kielbasa Tastes Better
Since baseball began play in the BIG EAST Conference back in 1985, Easter Sunday has always provided an off-day from competition. While almost all other college baseball teams are finishing series that afternoon, the coaches, players and trainers in our league are spending a day with family or catching a breather away from a ball field.
Some Easters are better than others. In 2006, we had a fine series in Morgantown and enjoyed a long bus ride after sweeping the Mountaineers. We unloaded in front of the field house at about 4:30 a.m. on Easter, and rested comfortably all day. In 2007, we suffered a horrendous series sweep in Piscataway. We blew leads in all three games, and Todd Frazier sent us on our way home for ham and egg hunts after hitting a walk-off blast in the 9th. The Easter dinner and pats on the back from the relatives left a sour taste that year.
This Easter was unlike any other in my memory. Due to a grim forecast for Piscataway on Saturday, Coach Hill and the Rutgers administration wisely opted to play our scheduled single game on Thursday, and then try to squeeze in a Good Friday doubleheader to beat the rain that was predicted to roll in on Saturday. John Folino threw a complete game win on Thursday, and despite falling to a very effective Scarlet Knight starter Casey Gaynor in the first game on Friday, we bounced back for a big 15-4 win in the nightcap. Freshman Matt Barnes led us on the hill and some of our best at-bats of the year helped us escape up the New Jersey Turnpike with our third series win in a row, and a full day earlier than expected.
With a practice day set for Monday, and two mid-week games scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, I opted to give the guys two off-days in a row for the first time in years. Many guys scattered home quickly (perhaps thinking I might change my mind were they not to scurry) throughout the Northeast to spend a first-in-college-playing-career April weekend with their families, and the bus was a little lighter on the way back to Storrs.
With 28 of our own family members and friends expected at our Wethersfield home on Sunday, Brooke was happy to see me late Friday night. There were eggs to hide, food to fetch, tables to set and a honey-do list waiting. By Saturday afternoon, after having stood in a line for a Honey Baked Ham on the Berlin Turnpike that had to rival the worst queues of old Eastern Bloc Communism, I was getting the shakes. Not wearing stirrups on an April Saturday just wasn't right. I was ready to throw some b.p., but I'd have to wait a couple days.
Sunday got off to a better start. Tess, Hank and Charlie were glad the bunny found our house and we beat the S.R.O. crowd and made it in time to find a pew at the 9 o'clock Mass at Corpus Christi. As the guests began to arrive at the house around 2, I realized the serenity that comes with the combination of the holiest day on the Christian calendar and an off-day following a series win. There was no recliner/remote time to be had. A nap was not in the cards. Nope, I was standing at the grill with four Martin Rosol kielbasas popping and emanating an aroma comparable to what heaven must smell like.
The three coaches on staff that claim Polish heritage had been conversing about Easter kielbasa all week. The anticipation had been building. Coach Podeszwa, Coach Malinowski, and I routinely bore our only non-Pole, Coach Blood with tales of Polish contributions to baseball (Yaz, Stan the Man), UConn Baseball (our last two All-Americans' surnames ended in "ski" - Brian Majeski and Jason Grabowski), and the greater good (see John Paul II, and Pat Sajak).
Martin Rosol is a Polish name that might not be as familiar as some of the above, but he was a true genius. His recipe for encasing pork products and spices inside a natural casing should merit a spot in the Polish-American Hall of Fame. This year, Coach Malinowski's father introduced me to a seemingly-special-secret "Easter Kielbasa" (thanks, Mr. Mal) put out by Rosol's shop once a year in New Britain, and just when I thought perfection could not be improved upon, the folks from New Britski proved me wrong. My first bite was followed by a few dozen more. The mustard and horseradish weren't even necessary and it was a fantastic Easter Sunday.
As Billy Martin once said, "Everything looks nicer when you win. The girls are prettier. The cigars taste better. The trees are greener." Rosol's kielbasa tastes great anytime, but after a series win, it was extra great.
After a nice rest, and some antacid, we had a good workout on Monday, and were able to keep the offense clicking with 10 runs in each of our victories over Hartford and Brown on Tuesday and Wednesday. After a very inconsistent first 3-4 weeks of the season, we are beginning to play up to our capabilities and gaining confidence along the way. We'll need to keep executing and limiting our mistakes if we're going to win another series against Georgetown this weekend. I have two Rosol's rings of bliss leftover in the freezer. I hope they taste as great as I remember on this Sunday.