June 1, 2005
TAKE ME OUT TO A DANCEHALL...
Take me out to a dancehall, Tap my feet down to the rhythm, Tell `em to play those old songs we all love, And you tell me that you want me, And I'll tell you that I want you too, And I'll kiss your face, whenever you want me to...
That's the chorus from the Pat Green song, Take Me Out To A Dancehall. It was the song playing in my truck as I drove home from learning the NCAA committee selected Florida Atlantic as an at-large team in the Coral Gables Regional. It's hard for me to find a better description of my feelings at that particular moment.
They told us that they wanted us, and I wanted them for sure. As I waited till the second to last regional for FAU to flash on the screen, I had given up hope. All day Sunday was spent poring over the RPI's and conference tournament results, trying to get some sense of what the field of 64 for teams might be. Maggie was a big help, holding a clipboard and writing the name of each conference champion as I tried to determine the rest of the field.
My final results had FAU and UCF being among the last five teams to make the tournament. I was leaving out some pretty good teams, most of whom had more wins than us. Because of a scheduling mistake last year, and our game with the Cardinals this year, we played only 53 games this season. Our 36-22 record could've used those three games at this point.
I woke up Memorial Day morning and figured I had better get the grass cut. There was no sense in having power tools in my hands later, if we didn't get selected. As I did the lawn, I also changed my selections. UCF and FAU were out, and Troy was in. I just couldn't see the committee ignoring a team that won our conference by four games, and took the season series from both UCF and us. Their RPI wasn't as good, but on the field, during the regular season, the Trojans got it done. How could the committee ignore that?
Normally our players and some fans join the local media at a restaurant or in the Oxley Center on campus to watch the selection show. It's always a great day, with only the site of our regional in question. We've been fortunate that five out of the last six years, our play on the field assured us of a bid.
But this year was different.
I felt that only by getting to the championship game of the A-Sun Tournament, did we stand a chance- and then, it was only a chance. Our loss to Georgia Southern two weeks ago was haunting me. How about the two out, two strike loss to Georgia Tech? You could name four or five that could've been the nail in the coffin.
Ours was a very young team this year. We depended in large part on a number of freshmen and sophomores- there were only two seniors who played at all the last few weeks, one, a relief pitcher. We had our struggles- first with our bats, and then with our starting pitching. We rebuilt our rotation with two sophomores and a freshman all-American candidate, started scoring some runs, and went on a real good run over the last part of the season. The part of the season, upon which the committee places the greatest emphasis.
So I had invited only the players and staff members. I told the kids it would be nice to be together if the news was good, and if it was bad, at least they would get some free food. Everybody showed. I think it was the food.
My prognostications were going about as well as those of John Kerry's campaign manager. Teams I had out were in, reducing our chances. There were some that I had in that were missing from the screen. When Stetson was announced as a four seed in Gainesville, Coach Mac looked ashen. They had beaten us four out of six games, including two straight in the tournament- we were dead in the water.
Miami-VCU went up on the screen; everyone held their breath. This was the last Florida regional, our last chance.
Mississippi State- Florida Atlantic flashed on the screen- my life flashed before my eyes!
Unabashed bedlam broke out in the room- guys jumping up and down, high-fiveing each other, I slumped against the door and nearly collapsed from a combination of nerves, shock, and joy.
We're going to the dancehall!
Most years I have complained that we had been to Coral Gables enough- please send us someplace different. Not this time. I plan to be at the Miami Chamber of Commerce tomorrow to do some volunteer work, and extol the beauty of Coral Gables.
I'm looking forward to see if Jay Rokeach found any Springsteen besides Blinded By The Light, as we try to hold our own against the Bulldogs and whomever else we play.
VCU looks like the best four seed I've seen in a Miami regional, and Mississippi State blew right through the SEC tournament, and Miami is Miami. I just hope sometime Saturday I'm not wishing the committee left us home.
But that's the price you pay for being in athletics. The thrill of winning, or in this case, being selected, can quickly change to the dark, desperate feeling of defeat. Like junkies that live for their next fix, we coaches and players keep going out, leaving the safety of non- participation behind, in pursuit of the rush of success.
Like Pat Green sings in the song, it's a thrill when the one you want, wants you too. KC