The sting of a season-ending loss doesn’t get any easier, no matter what the circumstances. I suppose that’s part of the appeal of football. In baseball or basketball, no matter how good you are, unless you’re that one lucky team, your season invariably ends in heartbreak. In football, you can be mediocre, go 7-5, spend a few days in December in a new town, win a meaningless bowl game and call it good. (If Butch Davis can do that this year, I’ll be absolutely jubilant.)
But back to the heart of the matter. Heels fans shouldn’t let a disappointing loss ruin what was otherwise a fantastic season. I understand the criticism; it comes with the territory. The College World Series is when the most eyes are on a college baseball team, and that magnifies both the good and bad aspects of a team. The CWS is also, in all likelihood, the only time that outsiders and/or casual fans will pay attention to a team. For example, I didn’t know anything about Fresno State Baseball until their upset of Arizona State in the Super Regional. What this means is that the vast majority of fans see that the Heels scored 10.5 runs per game and wonder where all the offensive firepower went. It means that people are wonder why the ACC brought three of the top four national seeds to the CWS, and yet none of them are in the championship series. And people are going to wonder how our pitching staff was among the best during the season when Carolina had only one reliable arm, the absolute filth-pitching juggernaut that is Alex White, in our entire stay at Omaha. But there is a lot to take away from this year:
- Unless you include Fresno State, the Heels did not lose a formal multi-game series all season.
- This is our third consecutive trip to Omaha, an unprecedented run in school history.
- It is UNC’s third consecutive time amongst the final four teams in the nation, also a school first.
- In each of our trips to Omaha, the Heels have won at least 3 games. Carolina were a combined 11-7 in those trips, the number of wins also a school record for any span.
- Mike Fox has the second highest winning percentage of any active Division I manager.
- The juggernaut that is Alex White provided all three wins for the Heels, a CWS record for one pitcher.
- At the very least, White and Matt Harvey will return to UNC’s starting rotation, and they will still have a potent offense led by Dustin Ackley, arguably the nation’s best leadoff man.
- We are bringing one of the nation’s best recruiting classes to Chapel Hill in 2009…
- …where a brand new, top level facility awaits us in the renovated Boshamer Stadium.
That is just the tip of the iceberg. This is the cornerstone for the Heels to field great baseball for years to come. More importantly, however, is that this team, over the last three years, has made thousands of new Carolina baseball fans. Alumni who may not have had any emotional investment in the team in 2005 are now screaming at their television sets, waking the neighbors after a game-winning home run by Tim Federowicz or Chad Flack, or begging for an answer to the question WHY THE HELL DID KYLE SHELTON SWING AT THAT?!?!? HE PRACTICALLY HIT HIS OWN LEGS!!! Ahem, excuse me.
My point is that this team, over the past three seasons, has made us care about college baseball. They have given us a new reason to cheer, a new reason to occupy our minds with college sport, and a new reason to cheer for the Tar Heels an extra two and a half months of the year. For that, we should be all grateful.
As for who we should root for in the Championship series? I’ll take Fresno State. Because we are the nation’s first public university and dammit, no arbitrary “1785” date from Athens is going to tell us otherwise.