OMAHA, Neb. – This afternoon, I sat in the bleachers at a place called Bellevue East High School and watched Kent State take batting practice and run some bases.
There are worse jobs in this world.
In case you stumbled upon this blog by some avenue besides our FS Ohio home page or my Twitter page, I’m here covering Kent State in the College World Series. That means I’m missing Father’s Day at home, which is disappointing, but my dad and grandfathers understand that I’m out here simultaneously working and smiling like crazy because I’m at the College World Series.
We’re all cool with that.
Though I’m too old to know what “cool” really is anymore, that’s the word that just keeps coming to me about this whole deal. Kent State getting here, winning all sorts of toss-up games and getting all sorts of clutch hits and becoming the first Ohio team in 42 years to make the College World Series, it’s just cool. It’s lots of other things, too, but it’s a great story.
Kent State Coach Scott Stricklin running a practice today — on a high school field in Somewhere, Nebraska, in the middle of June — with his father and his young son both there watching, on Father’s Day, is really, really cool. In fact, it doesn’t get much better.
Sometimes reality is a bad word and even the best stories have rough endings. Kent State got beat up yesterday. Tomorrow’s opponent is Florida, which is ranked No. 1 in the country and had five players selected in the top three rounds of the Major League Baseball draft two weeks ago. The Flashes are going to be huge underdogs again tomorrow. They’re going to embrace it. Again.
They’re going to show up and play, and though we have a guess — this team has turned a bunch of us into college baseball experts — on how that game is going to go, we just don’t know.
This morning I walked a couple laps around Downtown Omaha, part sightseeing and part just soaking it all in. On every corner there were dads with sons — young dads and young sons; older dads and older sons — and all of them were smiling. Some wore team colors and some just seemed really determined to find a decent breakfast, but it became clear to me that the College World Series is a destination for father-son bonding, for tradition, for making the kind of memories that last forever.
So in the middle of that walk I called my dad. We talked about carpet and oil changes. Getting old is just the worst.
My dad is absolutely the kind of dad who understood and embraced what sports can mean to a young kid, what memories really last and how exhilarating it can be to walk into a packed stadium or arena with your little eyes wide open and fall in love with a sport. We always left to beat the traffic by the third quarter or the fifth inning, but we were there.
We were ALWAYS there, and Kent State is really here. It’s pretty damn cool.
My dad, hater of all things loud and crowded, wouldn’t come within 100 miles of the College World Series. But he’s the reason a career .117 hitter in the Manchester Little League is at the College World Series this week — and is forever grateful.
The College World Series is a really big party. I had heard that plenty, and I experienced it just a bit on Saturday night. I’ll, um, dabble a little more tonight.
Besides the fact that Kent State went flat while Arkansas was really good Saturday, the most disappointing part of the back half of Saturday was strolling into one of the hotels near the stadium and not being allowed to join the group of nine or 10-year olds who were playing craps on a table in the lobby.
Yes, craps. Their dollars were scattered everywhere. The only part of that I’m making up is that I asked to join. I did stand next to them for a few seconds and chant, “USA, USA.” I do not know if Little Johnny rolled “7.”
My morning walk today was pretty quiet; Omaha partied pretty hard last night, and today’s first game didn’t start until 4 p.m. But before 10 o’clock this morning, I saw tailgaters. A few of them were decked out in LSU gear and were feeding a couple of police who were patrolling the area. LSU didn’t make it here, but these fans did.
That’s what the College World Series is all about.
On the other side of the stadium I saw a one-car tailgate. Four guys from that car had raised a flag that said “Davis & Elkins Baseball” and were shotgunning beers at their one-car tailgate. It was barely noon.
I was impressed.
A quick search using the Google button tells me Davis & Elkins College — enrollment 751 — is a private, four-year liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church and is ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of America’s best colleges. It’s in Elkins, W.V., and looks to be a few hours directly south of Pittsburgh and about the same distance directly west of Washington, D.C.
I know this much: It’s a long, long way from Omaha.
Good for those guys making the trip and planting — or at least temporarily tethering — the flag. As far as baseball comparisons go, these guys were built like Prince Fielder. And they were shirtless.
God bless the College World Series. Come here some time; trust me. Bring your dad if you can.
And thank you, dads out there, for everything.