It’s been a few years since my favorite team, the Atlanta Braves, has given me anything substantive to cheer about. So every now and then, just to remember what it’s like to be on top again, I’ll dust off an old DVD and watch the highlight film from the Braves’ worst-to-first season of 1991.
It still gives me goosebumps watching Terry Pendleton, John Smoltz and the rest make their improbable run all the way to the World Series.
But I never watch it all the way to the end. I always hit the eject button right after the Braves beat the Minnesota Twins in Game 5 of that long ago Fall Classic to take a 3-2 series lead.
You see, I know what happens next and I don’t want the disappointing ending to ruin the joy I felt over my favorite team’s unexpected success.
I bring this story up not to bore you with sappy details about my younger days or to enlighten anyone about my strange sports viewing habits, but rather as a bit of advice to East Carolina baseball fans frustrated or disappointed in the way things turned out for their favorite team this year.
Instead of lamenting about the high hopes and top 10 promise that went unfulfilled during a season in which everything that could go wrong did go wrong, simply hit the stop button, eject the DVD and fill your mind’s eye with fond memories of a senior class and a two-year stretch that was among the best in school history.
All those injuries, blown leads and close losses?
Sure, they happened.
But why dwell on them when you can hearken back to those glorious few moments last June when Parker Lamm stood on third base in the 12th inning of Super Regional Game 2 against Texas Tech and a trip to the College World Series in Omaha wasn’t just a dream, it was one little two-out hit away from becoming a reality?
A week from now or whenever the final out of a forgettable 2017 is recorded, the final legacy of the nine upperclassmen who were honored at Senior Day last Tuesday won’t be the 10 straight losses they suffered to start the American Athletic Conference schedule, but rather the 78 victories they achieved as sophomores and juniors.
They’ll be remembered for winning the AAC tournament in Coach Cliff Godwin’s debut season of 2015 and ousting defending national champion Virginia a year ago en route to the fourth NCAA regional title in school history.
Then there’s the loyalty shown by ace Evan Kruczynski, who passed up the Major League draft, at least in part because he wanted to return for another shot at pitching the Pirates to Omaha.
That dream began to circle the bowl the moment Kruczynski took a line drive off his ankle in the first inning of a game against Western Carolina in the Keith LeClair Classic on March 4. It was already down the drain by the time ECU’s best pitcher finally returned to the mound and earned his first victory of the year a month-and-a-half later with a dominating performance against Cincinnati.
Despite all that went wrong for them, however, the nine seniors got one final moment to bask in the glory of their accomplishments before going their separate ways.
It happened Tuesday in a game that began with Kruczynski, Luke Bolka, Bryce Harman, Kirk Morgan, Wesley Phillips, Eric Tyler, Travis Watkins, Jacob Wolfe and Charlie Yorgen being honored before their final appearance at Clark-LeClair Stadium and ended with a victory against Campbell that turned out to be a celebration of those upperclassmen.
The Pirates won 14-6, with 11 of the runs driven in by seniors — with Watkins, Bolka and Yorgen combining for four homers and Morgan setting a career high with six strikeouts in his three scoreless innings pitched.
“It is emotional,” Godwin said afterward. “These guys have meant a lot to our program for the last three years. I hope the fans don’t get lost in the shuffle about the way this season has gone. They are not happy about it and I am not happy about it, but what these guys have done the past few years has been about putting East Carolina baseball back on the map.”
They’ll still have one more chance to go out with a bang at this week’s AAC tournament in Clearwater, FL.
But you already know how that’s likely to end. So don’t sweat it.
Just hit the eject button in your memory before it gets to the disappointing ending.