May 14, 2007
TWO OUT OF THREE AIN"T BAD...
One "soft infested summer" night I was driving back from the Jersey Shore and stopped at the Garden State Arts Center to see Meatloaf sing those words. Little did I know that thirty years later they would hold such importance for me and my players.
Three weeks ago I challenged our players to make "two out of three" our goal each weekend. If we were to have any chance of making the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, our weekends would require us to play at that pace. Did that mean we didn't want to get a sweep? That's a foolish question. The reality, however was that we needed to go all out to ensure a series win each weekend.
The decision was made to move the recently healthy Joel Schmal back into the rotation, where his stuff is better suited. We were prepared to use either Mike Obradovich or Chris Salberg in relief in order to nail down a Friday night win. If we used one of those guys, the other would start the next game. If we used neither- then Salberg would start and have OB as his back-up.
Schmal gave us a good start against South Alabama to win the first game of the series. We didn't need either of the other two guys, so Salberg got the start the next night. Chris continued his outstanding season, but in the eighth, he needed some help. Obradovich came in and everything fell apart. The Jaguars tied the game and blew up our plan. The last two hits were pretty cheap, but the game was tied and the outlook was bleak. But Billy Degnan stepped to the plate.
The big guy from Tallahassee CC had a good weekend in New Orleans the previous weekend. Billy drilled a fastball over the leftfield fence and we were back on top. OB, buoyed by the reprieve, made quick work of the Jags in the ninth and we had our series win.
Our chance for a sweep went by the boards early the next day. After Justin Phillabaum escaped a tough threat in the first, we gave the Jags all the momentum they'd need. We failed to score after loading the bases. A base hit or two there might have taken the air out of their sails and sent us out with a sweep. It didn't happen, and Coach Kitrell's kids got a much needed win.
The next weekend saw us travel to Middle Tennessee State where we spent a long, unorthodox day trying to keep our goal in sight.
We were rained out Friday night, and faced a bleak forecast for the next day. Our 3:00 o'clock game was slated to be on television, so its start time was cast in stone. We decided to play the first game at 11:00 am and hope to beat the bad weather.
Leadoff hitter, Danny Cook, had his bat confiscated by the umpires prior to the game. If the bats have a flat spot, the umps are required to remove them. Most guys are superstitious and don't like losing their "gamer". Cookie got a brand new bat from Coach Mac's stash and whacked the first pitch of the game over the left-centerfield fence.
We proceeded to crush balls all morning and held a 16-1 advantage when lightning arrived in the bottom of the eighth. We retreated to the bowels of the Raiders' football stadium in left and waited. A one hour deluge left the outfield soaked, but MTSU had gotten the tarp down in time to protect the infield, and Coach Peterson assured me the outfield would be ready.
The TV game schedule took precedence and forced us to suspend the first game until the second game was completed. Couldn't they just surrender?
My son Luke was with us on this trip. He's usually too shy to be our batboy, but when he heard we were on TV he jumped right on the bandwagon. He did a good job all weekend and even got a couple of shout outs by the PA guy. Our guys played well on TV and we held on for an 8-4 win. The umpires went in to change clothes; MTSU dragged the field, the pitchers got loose to play the final inning and one third of the first game, which now was the second game. Or was it the third?
We managed to hold our 15 run lead and after about 12 hours we left the field and headed for dinner.
The next day saw us again blow a chance for a sweep, as the Raiders came out swinging and beat us 12-7. We were actually trailing 10-0 entering the 7th inning. Fortunately we scored and averted the enforcement of the SBC travel day 10 run rule curfew. Phew!
Last weekend saw us playing Bethune-Cookman University in a non-conference series. It was nice having a breather in the tension of the last few weeks. BC is a real good club who will play their conference tournament next week, but I enjoyed the lack of life or death that a late season conference game provides. We managed to continue our two out of three pattern, though we did lose the first and have to win two straight.
So now we find ourselves facing in-state rival Florida International in the last conference series of the year, with a berth in the SBC Tournament at stake.
Two out of three and we're in Mobile.
Let's hope the pattern continues.
THE CALL YOU NEVER WANT TO GET...
When we were at breakfast in Murfreesboro, Coach Lopez got the call that all of us dread- his mother had a stroke, and he needed to get home as soon as possible.
Norberto is one of the nicest young men I've ever had on staff. He's polite and caring, and an excellent teacher. His players know he cares for them and they appreciate his efforts with them.
It was tough seeing him leave for the airport to get to his Mother that day, but I'm glad he was there for his Dad and his sister. Lopes is a lot like his mother, which I'm sure made this especially tough. When he called on Sunday to tell me she had passed, I remembered his favorite story about her.
When Norberto was about nine years old, some bigger kid on the playground beat the snot out of him. The beating wasn't the worst part- little Norberto hadn't fought back, in fact he had run away from the other boy. Lopes was with another friend when his Mom came home.
Seeing his bloody face, Mrs. Lopez asked the crying little Lopes what had happened. He was sobbing too much to answer, so she asked his friend.
"Did he fight back?" she asked the friend.
"No, he ran away."
Mrs. Lopez grabbed Norberto and drove to the playground found the bully and confronted him.
"Did you do this?"
"Fight him again," she said. "This time you fight back, Norbie!"
After getting his butt kicked a second time, Mrs. Lopez took Norberto out for an ice cream cone. Between licks and sobs, Norberto heard her tell him to never run away from a fight.
I'm sure he'll continue to hear her voice.