May 1, 2009
May 1, 2009, 11:08 a.m., Downtown South Bend, Ind., St. Joseph's County Public Library - We're all here, present and accounted for. Final exams begin on Monday, and since we don't play the Fighting Irish until 6:05 tonight, I thought it might be prudent to walk a few blocks to get in some study time. Twenty six guys are scattered about the stacks with books and/or laptops open. In spite of a few guys' less than encouraging blank stares, tilted heads, scrunched eyebrows, and gaping mouths, I'm hopeful they can gain some knowledge over the next few hours. I'm also hoping we can have that same focus and intensity tonight with perhaps a little less stress and confusion between the white lines and in the dugout at Frank Eck Stadium. We just need to continue to be all here, present, and accounted for.
With a pitching staff earned run average better than 2 whole runs less than that of our opponents, and a team batting average about 40 points higher than that of all the teams we've already played, we look pretty good on paper. Despite a terrible last week in which we lost to Rhode Island on the road, and were swept at home by St. John's, we've won 18 of our last 28 games, taken four of all six BIG EAST series played thus far, beat three New England teams with very good records all on the road this week, and yet, we're in familiar territory, having to scratch and claw our way into the postseason.
In short, we've had two really bad weekends in conference play. The bats of West Virginia and St. John's coupled with our own inability to make big plays and have good at-bats late in games did a number on us in those series. Big innings and miscues in all six games did us in. In five of the six, we had leads, and couldn't close out the Mountaineers and Red Storm. While both are long gone, and there is nothing we can do to change those damaging results, we can learn from our mistakes during those games and do a better job of controlling our process and win tonight.
We often speak of What's Important Now, or W.I.N. around our program. What's important right now is to get as much information into the gray matter between our ears so that professors will put A's and B's in the columns next to the names on our roster next week when filling out their grade reports. What's important at 2 pm will be getting a good lunch in order to be well-fueled for tonight's battle across town at Notre Dame. What's important at 6:05 is for Pierre LePage to get a good look at pitch #1 from Cole Johnson, and then have a good at-bat to get us going, and so on, and so on, and so on. We just have to be present and accounted for.
It really is that simple. Yet, it isn't easy - even for me. Tess wants to get to confession tomorrow before making her First Communion next weekend. The only Catholic parent in the family is 800-plus miles west of her, and a tightly-wound seven-year-old convinced that every cough is indicative of swine flu should be able to count on Daddy to be outside the curtain of the confessional booth after the priest hands down the penance for hitting her brother and talking back. If Tess's dad is thinking about that when the Huskies have 1st and 2nd and nobody out in the fifth in a tight game later tonight, he'll forget W.I.N., maybe neglect to put the runners in motion, or signal for the sacrifice bunt, and twenty-six 18-23 year olds will not get his best.
Being able to be in the moment in competition is something that we have yet to master as a club. We've shown great flashes. Just this Wednesday, David Erickson and Doug Elliot did a great job in slowing the game down in the ninth after two Central Connecticut players reached base on an error and a swinging bunt. With no outs and a suddenly precarious two-run Husky lead, Rock made some of the best pitches he's made all year, and Doug showed a real presence behind the plate, had two huge blocks, and threw down to first to ice the "w" at Beehive Field.
We'll need more of those kinds of moments tonight and throughout the weekend to put us back in the playoff picture. If John Andreoli and Joe Pavone are thinking about what it would be like to run out of the tunnel in the bigger stadium across the street behind Ara, Holtz, or Charlie, rather than thinking about getting a good pitch to hit and lining it back up the middle, we're in trouble. If guys with last names like Glynn, McDonald, Brannon, and Mahoney think we're playing the Grotto, Touchdown Jesus, and the Golden Dome instead of nine other guys in baseball uniforms, we're going to have a tough time. If Matt Burnett and Dennis Accomando are more worried about getting graduation tickets for next weekend instead of hitting and throwing strikes, we'll have a tough go. If Mike Nemeth listens to the hecklers, and Nick Ahmed is concerned about the folks that might be wearing hospital masks behind the dugout, we're in for a long series.
Here's the thing -- I don't think any of those things are going to happen. For whatever reason, when we're on the road, we have done a better job of limiting distractions. There are fewer girlfriends in the stands, no rowdy late-night dorm mates with whom to contend, and more structure and time together as a team. As much as we miss our families, our friends, and our routines in Storrs, the record speaks for itself. At 12-4 on the road, and 9-9 at home, we are optimistic we can avoid the big inning on defense, slow the game down when we need to, and be present and accounted for. It's time and we are all here. I've just gotta call Tess before 6:05.
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