Friday, June 27, 2008

Here's something I wrote in my notebook on Thursday, June 19, but never typed up to post. 

Carolina got off to a hot start, but the game was suspended due to lightning and heavy rain.  I wish they had decided two hours sooner.  

In the morning I read the N&O stories online, and did not have a good feeling about my Tar Heels' chances of winning the game.  Matt Harvey, the scheduled starter for UNC, is a freshman who had a good season (7-2, 2.52 ERA), but the last time he pitched was May 30, a no decision against Mount St. Mary's in the Cary Regional of the NCAA Tournament. Ben, one of my font coordinators for this event, pitched in college at Lynchburg (VA), and he said he didn't buy the long-rest panic theory.  "You can go for long stretches without starting," he said, "but he's still throwing on the side.  Sure, it's not game situations, but it's not like he hasn't touched the ball." 

I still had doubts about my team.  The Tar Heels were coming off a loss to Fresno State. LSU, with its thrilling, 9th-inning comeback against Rice, was riding high on momentum.  Rob, the replay producer for this game, told our researchers that UNC "looked tight" during its morning interview with ESPN.  I couldn't shake my nagging feeling that Carolina was going home without the CWS Title - again. 

The game started with the Heels, the away team, batting first.  Dustin Ackley led off the game with a single and eventually came around to score on Tim Fedroff's 1-out, RBI double.  LSU starter Blake Martin let that get into his head; he hit the next two batters (Tim Federowicz and Kyle Seager) to load the bases, then served up a four-pitch walk to Chad Flack, allowing Fedroff to score Carolina's second run.  Martin managed to throw a strike to Garrett Gore, but home plate umpire Bill Speck stopped the game.  I think it had already been raining, so Speck must have seen lightning.  

We'd been sitting around in the trucks for more than an hour into the rain delay before we were told to go into the stadium.  (I was actually in the catering tent at the time, making a peanut butter sandwich.)  The entire crew packed in together under the stands, but we didn't feel much safer.  If lightning had hit one of the TV trucks, however, we would've been toast. When it was deemed we were in no immediate danger, we returned to the trucks and sat around some more.  Although we continued to inform the viewers that the resumption of the game was imminent, I think everyone in charge new the game would not be played.  Finally, after three hours and five minutes, the game was suspended and rescheduled for the next day.  The reason for the stalling tactic was that ESPN and the NCAA needed to discuss the schedule and how ESPN's programming would be affected by shifting the remaining games down a day. The big issue was where the game would be broadcast; ESPN had a full slate of programming for Sunday with NASCAR and Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN and something else important on ESPN2.  So here's the scenario:  2 North Carolina will pick up where it left off with 7 LSU (Top of the 1st, one out, bases loaded, two runs in, Garret Gore at the plate with an 0-1 count), the double header we were going to do on Friday will be moved to Saturday, and our potential day off on Sunday is threatened if one of the undefeated teams loses during Saturday's double header.  

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We already know what happened the rest of the way.  In the resumption of the suspended game, catcher Tim Federowicz hit a grand slam in the bottom of the 8th to lead Carolina to victory.  My team won the next day, again needing a home run - this time a 2-run shot by third baseman Chad Flack - to defeat Fresno State and force us to work on Sunday.  The rest was heartache for me, because Fresno State, the darlings of the tournament and eventual champions, sent the Heels back to Chapel Hill.  It's hard working a game - especially a tournament - with one's alma mater as a participant.  The games that Carolina played meant much more to me than the ones Rice or Georgia played.  I suppose I cared a little about Florida State and Miami because they represent the ACC, but I don't really like either of those schools, so I can't say I cheered for them.  I felt as if I held my breath with every run Carolina allowed and died a little each time head coach Mike Fox went to the bullpen (which I think he did too often).  It was agonizing to watch shortstop Ryan Graepel, a defensive specialist, make two errors in a game.  I wanted to run out to the field and have it out with the home plate umpire Mitch Mele for his inconsistent calls of balls and strikes during what turned out to be Carolina's final game of the season. There were times I almost forgot I was working rather than simply watching the game at home.  That's the toughest part about working a game that means so much to me on a personal level.

As disappointed as I was about Carolina losing, I feel better now that I can put the season into perspective.  There are 286 Division I schools, and North Carolina finished third.  That's pretty remarkable.  Carolina was 54-14 overall, one of four NCAA Division I schools  - Florida State (54-14), Miami (53-11), and Coastal Carolina (50-14) - with fifty or more wins.  It was the Tar Heels' third consecutive trip to the College World Series.  That feat isn't as easy as reaching the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament three years in a row.  North Carolina's pitching staff had the best ERA in the NCAA.  Going into the College World Series, sophomores Tim Fedroff and Dustin Ackley ranked second and third, respectively, in the NCAA in hits.  The team is losing important seniors and leaders in Chad Flack, Kyle Shelton, Seth Williams, and Rob Wooten; but the future is just as bright for those who remain, namely Fedroff, Ackley, ACC Pitcher of the Year Alex White, and Kyle Seager, the other "Super Sophomore."  Perhaps it's a bit early for me to be thinking about next year, but this is the only thing that can alleviate the disappointment I felt when they lost.  I look to the future and hope for a better outcome.

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