Coach Pender's Blog returns ahead of the 2018 seasonFeb. 16, 2018
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For a few years, I’ve neglected to do the ol’ blog. I didn’t really have a good excuse. There has been plenty to share. Maybe I grew tired of feeling like there was always an assignment due. Perhaps the amount of self-absorbed rantings available online made me queasy about adding to the stream of you-know-what available on screens nowadays. Possibly, I was just plain blogged out, and the longer I went without typing, the easier it became to avoid. Whatever the reason, opening day usually tugs at me to write. And, believe it or not, we’ve heard from a multitude of people that actually miss this drivel. So, thanks a lot, Mom and Uncle Bill. Welcome to the first day of the 2018 Husky baseball season.
The flight down yesterday was uneventful, and we had warm temperatures and humidity (including on our bus, with its AC on the fritz) greet us in Atlanta. We’ll face three good ball clubs here in Kennesaw State, Georgia State, and Georgia Tech today through Sunday. The guys have prepared diligently, and with great passion and energy to chase championships this spring.
Counting four as a player, seven as an assistant coach, and now fifteen as a head coach of our program, today marks the twenty-sixth UConn opener in uniform for me. And the longer I wear the blue and white, the more I realize this program is so much bigger than me, than the ten we’ll have starting tonight, than the twenty-seven we’ll have in the dugout, than the current full 35-man roster. We’re all part of a tradition of success that is so much greater than the sum of all those numbers.
Numbers are important. Baseball is a numbers game. WHIP, batting averages, fielding percentages, OPS, W/L records, will tell the story of how successful our season ultimately is, but they won’t tell the whole narrative. That is told by people who’ve been impacted in our uniform and the lives they subsequently lead.
Those lives are reminding me of many stories this morning. I get more calls and texts today than on my birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas combined. Hope does spring eternal, and my cell phone is buzzing with texts as I type in the morning study hall here in the hotel. Its incessant hum is music to me. While most of America has no idea Division I college baseball starts today, our guys are wired and have their calendars marked. The names of former Huskies are filling up the Samsung with good luck wishes. Names like Springer, Oberg, Ahmed, Barnes, Glynn, Vance, Marzi, Kay, Radue, DeRoche-Duffin, Untiet, Hess, Majeski, Quinn, Ragaini, Zippel, Hurley, LaVigne, McMahon, Panciera, King, and Zajac have all made the phone vibrate in the last few days.
Those names also represent parts of the last seven decades of UConn Baseball. We don’t allow cell phones on the field. However, truth be told, today is the one day of the year that the head coach breaks his own rule. As I hit grounders to our infielders during BP, I keep the phone in my back pocket with a few balls to obscure its shape. As the work day winds down on Friday, the pace of shaking picks up, and I don’t want to miss those good vibrations. One might argue that I might want to change that tradition given our record in openers. As long as my battery holds out, that will never change. Game one is just that, one game. The fifty-six-plus-game season is what will define this edition of the Huskies. Every season, we take all the Huskies with us, and my formerly secret tradition is a reminder of our collective strength. Tonight, their positive energy will be pulsating out of a pocket, but for the whole season and every season they’re never far away. Our aim is to honor them with how we prepare, compete, and ultimately win.
One of our alumni watched practice at Kennesaw last night. Doug Coffed played short, was a business major, and graduated in 1978. When I introduced him to our team at the conclusion of our workout, I joked that he was the second-most-famous former UConn player from Roger Ludlowe High in Fairfield. And while, Charles Nagy made his name in our great game as a professional, Doug made his professionally by carrying the game with him all over the world during a 37-year career at a little company called, Coca-Cola. Shortly after he graduated, he was hired by Coke and successfully climbed the corporate ladder. He and his wife Jaime raised three children in Atlanta, and the Coffeds will be cheering on the Huskies in Georgia this weekend.
In the first base dugout, Doug spoke movingly about what UConn baseball taught him. Just a couple of weeks from retirement and forty years since he suited up for us, he said in business, just like baseball: one must plan, organize, staff, control, and direct to have a chance at a positive result. No matter the challenges presented, positive results will come if we do the above five things better than our opponent. He drove the point home by comparing business to baseball again, by saying of both, “It looks easy, safe. But the inescapable fact is that whenever a ball is hit, thrown, fielded, someone is called on to make a play. He will be out in the open, exposed. He will have only a second in which to act and there will be no place to hide.”
Tonight, the lessons we’ve learned, taught, and hopefully mastered will be on display. And, while a grateful coach will hide a phone, he and everyone else with UConn on their chests won’t have any place to hide. When the umpire yells, “Play ball,” we must forever remain, A Symbol of Might to the Foe.
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