Tuesday, February 19, 2008
The college baseball season is a deep sea dive as much as it is a sprint. We play fifty-six regular season games in eighty-five days this year. It is a busy three months to say the least. When we are not playing a game, we are lifting, practicing or traveling. In the meantime, the student-athletes are taking a minimum of 12 credit hours and the coaches are trying to keep up with administrative work and somehow keep their wives and children from forgetting their faces.
That last one is particularly difficult this time of year. That is why I always try to have an off-day set for the Sunday before we begin competing. With very full and productive Friday and Saturday practice schedules, we all earned that one last off day on Sunday and it was good. It will be one of just two off days from both classes and practice for the rest of the semester (the other is Easter Sunday) and it always allows all the players and coaches a time to plug into what I call our “unconditional love bubbles” to recharge one last time before girding for the grind of the season.
I’m sure the guys used it to relax, catch up on their studies or hopefully visit their families on the phone or in person. I know our coaching staff made the most of the opportunity and plugged into our families one last time before the season gets in full swing.
The Penders clan took a trip to Boston to stay overnight in a hotel (daddy will see a few of those over the next few months) to visit friends. Six year-old Tess, four year-old Hank and three month-old Charlie tried to cram three months of family time into a 40-hour or so window. The road trip was necessary, because if we were at home, daddy probably would have found some house project to mess up and mommy would probably be busy scaling the unending mountain of laundry, that is life with three little people that spill, spit up or stain their clothes in other creative ways on an amazingly regular basis.
The big kids got to swim in the hotel pool, go to the Children’s Museum and walk in between all the “giant buildings”. The most enjoyable thing for me was the simple fact that the family had four sit-down meals together in a row. It is incredible what an accomplishment that is today. When I was a kid, it seemed that our family had every meal together. We try to do it as often as possible, but over the next few months, long distance calls from hotel rooms, and kisses on the forehead after the kids have been asleep for hours will be the norm, and breaking bread together at the kitchen table will be a luxury.
Of course, I wouldn’t trade places with anyone on the planet and this time of year is what every college coach worth his salt lives for. Our game really is meant to be played every day, and I’m looking forward to seeing how our team responds to the challenge. I’m proud that over the last few seasons, when we have played six games a week, we’ve seemed to play our best ball. The rhythm and routine of traveling together, dining together, getting to the ballpark, preparing and competing is a ritual that will take the place of the rhythms of our own separate family lives over the next few months. If we are to become a real team, capable of a championship, that transformation will have to lead us to becoming a real family of our own. Creating one big “unconditional love bubble” for 40 is the real challenge and therein is the real fun too.
Each season is different, each team is different, but the goal is always the same. A championship is what we are after. We’ll come across dozens of opponents that have that same goal in mind, and there will be plenty of obstacles in the path. Like family life, there will be squabbles, disagreements, and conflicts. There will be celebrations, heroics, and smiles. There will be wins and there will be losses too.
The sooner we can become the kind of family that lives and dies together, that breathes as one, the kind that learns from each other and gets better every day, our chances to overcome the negative and achieve the positive improve. I know I represent the sentiment of all those in our program, when I say that I can’t wait to get that process started.
We’ll all have a few butterflies after the anthem plays on Friday (if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be ready to compete), but once that first pitch is thrown, our new race to the finish will finally be in full throttle mode.
Since Donny Callahan caught the last out of our season in Brooklyn last May and we watched Rutgers pig pile to the strains of Queen’s “We are the Champions” in the BIG EAST final, we’ve been preparing to do all we can to make our own pig pile in May of 2008. Only time will tell if we can accomplish that goal, but after nine months of Freddie Mercury ringing in our ears, it is finally time to flip over the hourglass.
Physically, we’re as prepared as we can possibly be with just 18 days of full indoor team practice possible before we compete and several key players on the DL. Mentally, we won’t really know if we’re ready until we cross those white lines on Friday afternoon in Florida. Emotionally, we’ve all had Sunday to take that one last deep breath, and it will have to hold us for a while. So, let’s just dive in and play ball.