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    February 25, 2010

     

    The Hay is in the Barn

    One need only to descend the hill at the northeastern corner of campus to realize the University of Connecticut's roots are firmly planted in a farm.  The old chicken coops, horse barns, and rolling pasture to the east of Route 195 serve as a reminder to all who visit Connecticut's first land-grant agricultural college that almost 130 years ago, a couple of brothers donated their family's farm to help young farmers become better farmers.

    Charles and Augustus Storrs probably didn't envision a national power in academics and athletics when they handed over 170 acres, some buildings, and five grand to the state, but today that's what we have in the town named for Chuck and Augie.  We've grown much more than crops and livestock on those 170 acres.  Astronauts, Pulitzer Prize-winners, CEOs, Super Bowl champs, and congressmen all spent formative years in Storrs.  We may have begun by raising lambs and turkeys, but today we count best-selling author Wally Lamb, and the first female prime minister of Turkey -- Tansu Çiller as alumni. 

    We Huskies have come a long way from the day in October 1881 when twelve young men initially enrolled at Storrs Agricultural School.

    As far as we've come, it's vital we never forget those blue collar/farmer roots.  In our preparations for this much-anticipated season, our student-athletes have done a very good job in paying homage to UConn's agricultural heritage.  Our baseball players initially till the soil on campus with the first day of class in late August or early September.  While the farmer might dust off the tractor in March and plant in April, shortstops and catchers scratch at the clay beneath their feet and plant seeds of development in fall ball with scout days and sixties at the dawn of the school year.  They try their darnedest to blossom just enough before the cold winds blow and in time to make an impression on the coaching staff by late October with their play. 

    The months of November, December, and January in Connecticut brown the grass at J.O. Christian Field, but when it comes to development of our players, they are far from dormant months.  New England's cold season is the UConn baseball player's growing season, as it is largely devoted to becoming bigger, stronger, and faster.  While the corn stalks stretch for the sky in June, July, and August of the farmer's year, the college baseball player's development is dependent not on sunlight and rain, but on weights, mechanical adjustments, quality repetitions, and nutrition during our "offseason". 

    February begins the college baseball harvest.  The spinach and strawberries come first in the forms of last minute preparations with rising pitch counts, practicing indoors, and memorizing signals.  Then the early-season southern and in our case in 2010, western trips are taken with lineups being juggled, roles being earned, and rotations set.  March and April hopefully bring more fruits of labor - W's.  Weathering the storms of five and six games a week provides vital tests for the player.  Much like the farmer picking produce before it rots on the ground, he must continue to keep up with the grades and 90-mile per hour fastballs.  Conference play heats up with what is the equivalent of the heavy harvest in the forms of the Cardinals, Mountaineers, Scarlet Knights, Hoyas, and Wildcats.  And if plucked when ripe, May and June should bring forth a feast of postseason in which the harvest can be enjoyed without academic obligations and a peaking team hungry at the banquet table. 

    I'm proud of the way our guys have prepared for our season.  We are jetting to the BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge in Florida right now, and as I type these words somewhere high above storm clouds off the East Coast, I see our student-athletes resting, reading, and listening to music.  They should feel ready to begin harvesting.  Not only have they worked very hard to become the most physical and fastest team I've coached, they've also done an admirable job of staying away from trouble, attaining the highest team GPA we've had in six years, and in remembering to always give back.  They've successfully used their status as University of Connecticut Huskies not for selfish gains, but by quietly serving others via below-the-radar weekly community efforts in the Mansfield and Manchester elementary schools, by honoring Jasper Howard with their presence and fundraising on behalf of his family back in October, and by raising hundreds of dollars on their own for victims of the Haitian earthquake.  Like the Storrs brothers, their time and money just might make a positive difference in the lives of others. 

    In between fertilizing, spraying for pests, cajoling, and cultivating, at some point, the farmer has to sit on the porch and wait to see how the crops endure.  Our crops have already sustained some damage, with injuries to a couple of key pitchers testing our mettle in the preseason, but I'm confident our team will reap what we've sown.  If we continue to stick together and hold ourselves and each other accountable, remember that our attitude, concentration, and effort are at the heart of all we do, and continue to honor the roots of the University of Connecticut, the food upon the table come June should taste great. 

    While the State of Connecticut might be known outside our borders as one of the richest states in the nation, home of bankers, hedge fund managers, and white collar wealth, the state's flagship university atop the hill in Tolland County contradicts that image.  This is still a place of hard work, discipline, and perseverance.  It is no secret that while Coach Calhoun, Coach Auriemma, and Coach Edsall all have talented players on their teams, their programs are known more for growth than for inheritance or entitlement.  They're known for development, performing under pressure, and a dominating work ethic.  We emulate their examples each day and endeavor to also be a championship club. 

    The Storrs brothers retired as wealthy businessmen in Brooklyn, New York, but they never forgot where they came from.  In their later years, they'd abandoned farm overalls for the fancy silk suits more befitting of successful Victorian era businessmen.  Yet, up until his death in 1892, Augustus would return each summer to manage the family farm operation in Mansfield.  In some ways he is still overseeing his and his brother's most lasting legacy.  Chuck and Augie are buried at the highest point on the hill of New Storrs Cemetery on North Eagleville Road.  Were they both standing at the obelisk that marks their graves, they'd see the entirety of the beautiful campus stretching beneath them in every direction.  In gazing at the campus which has become known as the Home of Champions, I can't help but think they're smiling.     

    I don't know if either of the brothers knew whether a baseball was blown up or stuffed.  Yet, I am confident they'd be proud of our program.  It took their school fifteen years to form a team of nine.  Those nine rough and ready faces stare out from the 1896 team picture over our current players every single day as the 2010 Huskies hone their craft in our batting/pitching facility next to J.O. Christian Field.  Like the farms on 195, the photograph, along with the 100+ other team photos mounted there serve as reminders that our team is part of something special - a tradition of excellence much greater than ourselves.  Tomorrow, when we take the field in Clearwater, a few miles from where our last season ended in the BIG EAST Championship final in May, we'll begin a new season with high hopes and a new harvest with determination to honor all those who've come before us.  The sun will be shining, the uniforms will be dirty, and the sons of Storrs will be playing ball again.

     

    -JFP

     

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