There’s an old saying that goes “time flies when you’re having fun.” The last few weeks have been incredibly fun and have seemingly gone by like a shooting star. Having success is always fun, but falling short of your goal is gut wrenching, especially when you are as close as we were.
After returning home from winning our conference championship, we only had a couple of days to unpack a bag, wash our clothes, and head back on the road. There was barely enough time to squeeze in some family time and take care of some neglected yard work before leaving again. We were selected to play in the NAIA Opening Round, which is essentially the equivalent to what most call a regional. Our “regional” was located just outside of St. Louis, Missouri. The tournament consisted of five teams, four of which were ranked in the NAIA Top 25, including the 4th ranked team in the country, Central Methodist University. To get to the World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, we would have to play our best baseball of the year.
I haven’t spent too much time in the Midwest, so I really looked forward to seeing new things. The scenery on the trip up was a nice mixture of flat, farmland and rolling hills along the Mississippi River. The weather was nice on the drive up, but on Saturday that changed. We were hit with a brief rain and chilly temps on Saturday afternoon. That rain continued off and on all the way through Wednesday. It was absolutely miserable. Thankfully, the field that we were playing on was artificial turf so we didn’t have to worry too much about rainouts. However, it did rain so much that the tournament was backed up some.
We opened the tournament as the number two seed and played the number three seed, Benedictine-Mesa, out of Arizona. Fortunately, we were able so slide past them with a 2-1 win, putting us in the winner’s bracket. Next up was top seeded Central Methodist. After getting in a hole early, and facing a 6-1 deficit in the 9th inning, our top hitter launched a three-run homer with nobody out to bring us within two runs. We got the next two runners on base before the pitcher was able to work out of the jam, giving us our first loss of the tournament. Reality began to set in that we were one game away from our season being over.
We didn’t have much time to think about things, as we had to play again that evening. The rain from the previous days had the schedule backed up, which forced us to have to play two games on the same day. Our first elimination game of the season was against McPherson College, out of Kansas. They had fought through the loser’s bracket and were also on their second game of the day. We jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, eliminating them by a score of 10-2. However, with the win meant we would have to beat Central Methodist twice the following day in order to return to Lewiston.
Thursday provided the first sunshine that I had seen in the Midwest since arriving. The sun, coupled with the gentle breeze, made for a perfect day for baseball. However, what started out as a perfect day ended with heartbreak. Central Methodist took an early lead and held on for a 7-2 win, ending our season.
Watching the final out of the season is never easy when you’re on the losing side of things. I’m flooded with emotions at the end of the game. On one hand, I’m grateful for the success we’ve had and the opportunity that our younger guys had to play in postseason games. It should serve them well for the future. On the other hand, my heart breaks for the seniors who just played their last game of baseball. It stings to watch them hug one another with tear filled eyes, having come up just short of a goal. Their contributions to our program are certainly appreciated.
I hear coaches all of the time say things like, “Winning a national championship is the only goal”, or “the season will be considered a failure if we don’t win it all.” I wholeheartedly disagree with this approach and idea. Success can be measured in many different ways. I believe that making it through the season without being shut down due to Covid can be considered success. A conference championship is absolutely considered success. Having each one of our seniors complete their degree is considered success. If that mentality makes me a loser, slap an “L” on my back and tell me how many national championships you’ve won.
Now that the season is over, it’s time to transition. The new season has begun. This time will be filled with filling roster spots from players that are moving on to figuring out how returners will fit into the mix for next season. It’s also a transitional period at home. My wife has essentially been a single parent for a few months, and our kids have to learn my name again! The good thing is that summer is quickly approaching and school will be out soon. Maybe a couple of trips on the river is just what they need to remember Dad. It’s certainly what I need.