April 29, 2011
Mind Over Matter
April 28, 2011, on a bus heading to New Jersey: During the course of the last few weeks, the Huskies have enjoyed improving weather, and an improving season. We've managed to put the last twelve games on the left side of the ledger, and put ourselves in a good position heading to Rutgers today. With fourteen left to play in the regular season, we've recovered from a shaky start and are 29-12-1.
Just like the New Jersey Turnpike we're about to encounter aboard our Peter Pan bus, it hasn't been an easy road. There have been detours, potholes, and delays on our way. We have certainly done a better job with our bodies over the last twenty games or so. Our swings have been more consistent, and our arms have continued to perform well for the most part. Physically, we've been good. Yet, what I've been most encouraged by has been our collective mind. Mentally, we've been very good. Our .260 batting average in mid-March and our many shortcomings in Florida, Texas, California and South Carolina did not debilitate us. Much like an inventor from the Garden State, we endured and learned. "[We] have not failed. [We've] just found 10,000 ways that won't work." - Thomas Edison
Vince Lombardi said, "If you're not fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm." I love that quote. Others in the media and blogosphere attempted to define us even before the season began. While we knew we would ultimately define what would become of the 2011 Huskies, it took awhile to understand what Alexander Hamilton learned long ago. He said, "I have learned to hold popular opinion of no value." When the outsiders' enthusiasm for us waned, we remained enthusiastic as a unit about our team and our abilities, and that has helped keep us together even after five of us made some selfish decisions and endured lengthy suspensions over the last fortnight. Those five and the other thirty student-athletes learned what Clara Barton meant when she wrote, "The surest test of discipline is its absence." And, I'm confident that we'll be better for it in the long term.
We suffered two defeats as an indirect result of those decisions. Like a boxer that takes a good punch, we staggered backwards, but then came off the ropes swinging. At times this season, our play, and our decisions have been reflective of Walt Whitman's gem, "I am as bad as the worst, but, thank God, I am as good as the best." The Yale game (our last loss) was a testament to the Jekyll and Hyde nature of our play. We put on a pitching and offensive clinic for the first six and a half innings only to have a 7-0 lead melt away with a collapse of pitching through a very fitting rainstorm.
Since that storm, we've had young men step up to the front lines. Anthony Marzi, our freshman lefty from Berlin believed he was going to develop this spring as a redshirt, but as a result of the suspensions, I was forced to ask him if he wanted to consider taking that redshirt off and be available to fill the void left by four arms that would be temporarily unavailable to us. Without hesitating, he said, "Coach, whatever is best for the team is what I want to do." So despite the fact that a third of an inning could cost him an entire year of eligibility at this point of the season, Anthony fearlessly took the ball at UMass, got the win, and now is a dependable strike-throwing option out of our pen. I couldn't be happier that he's 2-0.
Anthony and Tom Verdi, our freshman shortstop must have studied the story of Molly Pitcher. A New Jersey housewife in during the Revolutionary War, she assisted the Colonial troops by running water in her "pitcher" back and forth to the front lines during a steamy summer battle with the British. She also dragged wounded men away from the line to shade trees as she made trip after trip back to the well. She saw her husband fall during the battle, and when there was no soldier left to man his now silent cannon, she loaded the ammunition and continued firing it as the first American woman soldier. She was in a support role, much like Anthony and Tom Verdi until her opportunity presented itself, at which point she dared to be greater.
Verdi got his chance (although like Molly, he'd trade it back in a hurry) through no fault of teammates or a decision, but because of a more unfortunate and freak accident. Our captain and shortstop Nick Ahmed collided with a Quinnipiac first baseman on Monday in Storrs. He appeared to have the wind knocked out of him as both players went to the ground along with his foul pop-up. Our trainer Ben and I slowly approached Nick as he appeared to just need a moment to collect himself and finish his at-bat. Despite a red mark on his face and neck, he convinced us that he was fine, and finished his at-bat. Ben was satisfied he had no concussion, and could continue playing short. I was too. Nick is so mentally and physically tough, he can be very convincing. However, when he went out to his position, something wasn't right, and he walked back into the dugout with shortness of breath. About three hours later, Tess and I were standing at Nick's hospital bed in Willimantic. He had suffered a collapsed lung in the collision. So, after going to work with daddy for the day, Tess was missing out on postgame Dairy Bar ice cream while staring at the tube in Nick's chest (which would help successfully re-inflate the lung).
In yet another example of the mind being more powerful than the body, she politely asked to be excused to the hallway, and before I knew it, she walked wobbly back into Nick's room with a red mark of her own on her forehead and a green hue in her cheeks. She said, "Daddy, I think I fell down in the hallway." I swooped her up and carried her to the waiting room where Dr. Anderson and three of Nick's teammates were gathered. Doc elevated the nine year old's feet and she quickly recovered from her first fainting episode. [Side note -- Sorry, Tess, it's in the DNA. Your old man has passed out a few times around doctors too. White coats make me as queasy as seeing Augie Garrido in the other dugout. I owe you a big Dairy Bar sundae.]
The coaches and I grew concerned that our minds and bodies were failing us all in a circus game at Central Connecticut yesterday. I thought Gunther Gebel-Williams was going to make an appearance with his lions and tigers during the fourth and fifth in aptly named "Hard Hittin'" New Britain. We looked like we'd never played before and the Blue Devils hit a ton and sprinted to an 11-3 lead. Fortunately, our leaders stepped up and chipped away. George had an amazing day back in his hometown, and Marzi, Fischer, and Vance held the home team hitless (finally) for the last three innings, and we had a great comeback 16-14 win in the books. It was ugly, but we believed and endured.
We'll need our minds and bodies to be powerful this weekend. Tolerating the endless Bon Jovi and Springsteen walkout songs over the p.a. system will be the least of our challenges. Rutgers is always well-coached, drilled, talented, and tough. They rarely beat themselves, and we're going to have to play better than we have this week to win a series in Piscataway. In some ways, it is nice to be back on the road again, there seems to be more control over the unit when we're all in the same routine in the hotel and on the bus. Of course, we're missing some bodies this weekend, but hopefully our minds are all on the task at hand. On Monday, we'll all be split up again, taking a break for exams. I'm hoping that for the next three days we can manage to stay focused. Grover Cleveland was right, when he said, "Minds do not act together in public; they simply stick together; and when their private activities are resumed, they fly apart again."
We've drawn inspiration not only from unselfish teammates, but from our captain (who is going to fully recover with no long term effects - hopefully very soon), and also from one of our batgirls from last year. Sarah Fradkin has bravely endured three surgeries in a New Haven hospital since the day we played at Yale. She is the daughter of former Husky star pitcher David and former UConn standout swimmer Monica (Rowe) Fradkin. She is leaving the hospital today stronger and tougher than all of us. If we've ever even begun to feel sorry for ourselves for an instant, her parents, brothers (Max and Noah), and she have provided a reminder of what it means to have your minds right when overcoming obstacles.
Woodrow Wilson said, "America is not anything if it consists of each of us. It is something only if it consists of all of us." Right now, The 2011 Huskies are learning the same can be said of UConn Baseball. A mind over matter approach has smoothed the route, and by Sunday we'll have played 15 games in 18 days. We'll finally hit a rest area in the season with five days to take finals and practice informally before facing the USF Bulls next week. Not one of us wants to stop.