College baseball’s length of season is one of the most interesting dynamics in college sports in regards to the adversity that can result from partaking in the “marathon.” This weekend, our club went through a lot of adversity. For starters, the weather in Pennsylvania this off-season has been absolutely outstanding (as it has been in most of the country). The warm trends on the East Coast have allowed for more outdoor baseball in January than most coaches and players can remember. That being said, one would expect the warm weather trend to continue into opening weekend—especially when a ballclub travels eight hours south. If there is one overall lesson I have learned in my short tenure as a college baseball coach, it has been never create or partake in expectations. The temperatures in Winston-Salem never got out of the 30’s during any of our four games. In fact, the first pitch of game 2 of Saturday’s double-header, the temperature was a balmy 28 degrees with sustained winds of 15-20 mph (wind chill in the single digits and teens). Adverse conditions? Absolutely.
The second bit of adversity that we ran into this weekend was one bad hop that hit our second baseman in the chest during game two. One would think that one bad hop isn’t all that adverse, but in our wonderful game—one that is mostly played between the ears—a bad bounce can and will create a lack of confidence and trust. In short, our middle infielders lost trust in the playing surface and themselves. Again, after leading the NCAA Division II in defense in 2011, one would not expect our middle guys to struggle opening weekend on the defensive side of the ball. When things go unexpectedly, they are adverse.
Without going into detail, officiating played a part in the series this weekend, from the standpoint of adversity; in any four game series it will. Because of NCAA rules, I will not discuss the play or even place any blame on umpiring. The bottom line is that every season for every team, during the marathon of college baseball, calls on the field made by umpires will either be in your favor or not in your favor. This past weekend, some calls went our way, while others did not. However, I have very seldom seen umpires who do not give their best effort while officiating a ball game. The beauty of trusting another human to officiate a game (and not a camera) is what continues to make our game pure. Its imperfections and adversity are what teach our young men playing the game about the realities of life.
Adversity, in this day and age, has become a cliché to those of us in our business. Many talk about it openly, throwing around quotes of those who have learned to use it to their advantage. Many do their best informing their team about it, defining it, and explaining what will result from it if one allows it to affect them negatively. But, few actually master reacting to it. The great Mark Twain once wrote, “By trying, we can easily endure adversity. Another man’s, I mean.” In my humble opinion, at the NCAA Division II level of baseball, there is VERY little difference between the best and the mediocre, between winning a conference title and finishing 5th, between winning a regional and missing the regional completely. However, a ball club’s reaction to adversity is absolutely, 100% the piece of the development puzzle that can either vault a club into greatness or create cancerous mediocrity, ruining a year’s worth blood, sweat and tears. Simply, those who master their reaction to adversity are successful over the long haul, while others who cannot handle it will undoubtedly fall short of their goals.