Posted by: gbake783 | July 6, 2011

Back-to-Back National Champs!

I had the privilege of being in Omaha for the second consecutive year to watch my Gamecocks bring home the National Championship (funny how I like to capitalize words when I like them – if Clemson had won it, they’d be national champs; the Gamecocks, though, are National Champs).

I dropped off Danielle and Paton in Cheyenne with my in-laws and then made the long trek across Nebraska. By the way, my top five most boring states to drive across: Kansas (the undisputed champion), Wyoming (if you think NASA faked the moon landing, you probably believe they taped it somewhere in Wyoming), Ohio (the statewide 65 mph speed limit makes Ohio seem 3x worse), Nebraska (a pleasant surprise . . . I assumed it’d be in Kansas territory, but it had more deciduous trees and green landscape than anticipated), and Texas (flat, no trees, humid, hot wind). Florida, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma earn honorable mentions. Top five best states to drive through (just to beat a dead horse): Utah (I’m biased), Vermont (beautiful breakfast communities), California (if we’re talking route 1), New York (wonderful rolling hills), and New Hampshire (it’s short).

I stayed in Omaha with Pastor Anderson and his wife Ginger. They were very gracious to open their home to me and adopted the Gamecocks for the week. They saved newspaper clippings, indulged my fandom, gave endless directions, and even helped me score a cheap oil change. Thanks, Andersons!

The series was a best-of-three against Florida. Since I returned, I’ve watched a few of the replays. It’s ridiculous how much more raw talent Florida had than us. No disrespecting our guys. And we for sure have some talent of our own. But Florida was loaded. It seemed like every guy in their line up had ten or more homers. And they had an endless supply of 6’5” left-handed relief pitchers (which was particularly tough on our heavy left-handed line-up: 5 of our 9 starting bats swung lefty).

So, driving across Nebraska, I knew we had our work cut out for us. But things would get even tougher. I get to the stadium a few hours before the first game Monday, eager to get a ticket. I run into some Gamecock fans (who, by the way, outnumbered Florida fans at least 10-1). We exchange a few high-fives, a few “Go Cocks,” and they offer me a drumstick. “Did you hear the news?” they ask. “No. I’ve been driving all day.” “Christian Walker broke a bone in his wrist, they don’t think he’s going to play.” This was devastating news. Our offense was struggling a little anyway. And Christian is by far our best offensive threat: he led the team in nearly every offensive category including batting average, homers, and RBI.

I somehow got a ticket . . . at the ticket booth of all  places. Omaha is cracking down on the scalpers. They couldn’t sell above face value and not within several hundred yards of the stadium. I’ll spare you my political rant – okay, maybe not. Scalping is the purest form of free-market commerce. Here’s a limited quantity, expiring commodity (there’s only so many tix, and they lose their value the instant the game begins). Demand is high for a limited time. Supply is set. Scalpers have to gauge how much to charge based on demand and game-time. A patient customer can usually get a better deal than face-value. But stadiums don’t like the scalpers. I don’t know why. I’ve almost exclusively purchased my tickets from scalpers and done very well over the years. The only problem is that stadiums are now going to bar-code scanners rather than ticket tearing. When they do this, tickets can then be passed outside the stadium and resold. The people who buy the resold tickets get a very unpleasant surprise at the gate when the tickets don’t get them into the stadium. Again, the stadiums are trying to curtail the scalping industry and I simply cannot understand why.

Well, the first game was a nail-biter. And Scotty Wingo was the hero among many. Scotty tied the game in the 8th with a two-out single, saved the game in the 9th not once, but twice. The first was a diving stab and throw home to cut down the winning run. And the second was to start a double play to end the threat. Jake Williams threw out the winning run in the bottom of the tenth at the plate. And Christian “No Pain” Walker scored the winning run in the 11th (2-5 with a broken wrist, not bad). It was an amazing game. A really, truly amazing game. The next day in Omaha, 10 or so people saw my Gamecock shirt and stopped me just to say, “What a game!?!?!” I’d respond in a crackling sort of voice, “I know.” After the game, I was walking back to my car and I saw the Florida team walking into their hotel. They looked like they were going to a funeral. Heads down. Some of them red-eyed from recent tears. Silent. And I did an internal fist pump: I knew they were done. When Scotty snared that surefire game winner and threw him out at the plate (and Robert Beary dug out the throw – with a catcher’s mitt, no less), we took their fight. What a game. I see the replays and still pump my fist, laugh, and raise both arms in victory. It was special.

The second game was much less dramatic, but equally satisfying. The typically light-hitting Peter Mooney morphed into Babe Ruth (a double and a homer), Michael Roth was his shut-down self, Florida kicked it around a little bit, and Matty Price pitched lights out to close the game.

The Omaha paper said it best: our dog pile had a “been there, done that” feel. I didn’t – I was hugging strangers. I’ve followed far too many losing teams to take a championship for granted.

Thanks Gamecocks. Of all the teams I’ve followed, this was my favorite. And not just because they won. And not just because they won dramatically. I told Danielle this early in the CWS. This team possessed something: guts, fortitude, poise, competitiveness, a little cockiness. They were vulnerable and invincible at the same time. They set records only juggernauts should set: most consecutive NCAA tourny wins (16) and most consecutive CWS wins (11). But going back to the Super-Regionals, even though we won seven straight, we trailed in five of them. We controlled just one from start to finish (the first win against UVA). We hit just one homer in the CWS. Our CWS margins of victory were just 1, 7, 1, 1, and 3.  Vulnerable, yet invincible. What an amazing combination for a fan. Again, thanks Gamecocks.

Afterward, I considered starting a website: I ran the idea by a couple Gamecock fans and nobody thought it was a bad idea. Surely he has a year or two of football eligibility.

I lingered around the stadium a while to imbibe the celebration. Snapped some pics. When I left the stadium, I bought the first National Championship apparel I could find.

What a team. What a season.

My seat for Game 2: Notice the lucky shirt - not washed since June 3. It was getting a little stinky. Notice Michael Roth in the background

I met this guy last year - he made a Clemson fan say "Go Cocks!" before he'd help him jump start his car. We were friends immediately.

The first National Championship gear I could find!

Thanks Andersons for letting me crash at your pad!


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