When will we see them next?
Whenever it is, you can bet those college baseball players from Louisville who made these last 20 days in June a joy will bring smiles to our faces again.
For some, maybe our next glimpse will come a few years from now when we see them on national TV, stepping to the plate or climbing the mound in the Major Leagues.
For others, it might be many years from before we see them again, perhaps at an impromptu reunion when trips to the College World Series have become almost customary for Cardinal fans.
For a few, it might be a few weeks or months from now when we least expect it – we’ll spot them in the checkout line at Kroger’s, at a movie or just walking on campus.
Let’s hope we see those guys often, the ones who were thrilled just to be invited to the NCAA Tournament, dyed their hair black as a show of unity, set records almost every day and beat four national powerhouses in a snap. In the process, they changed the way we will look at their sport in this town – forever.
Yes, U of L lost to North Carolina, 3-1, on Tuesday, leaving the Cardinals just a play or two shy of advancing in the NCAA event. And yes, the unforgettable Cards are headed home. Many will quickly scatter to their new teams in the minor leagues. Others will join up with new amateur teams for the summer.
Some may never play organized baseball again.
But in a way, all of them will always be around.
After all, how will we be able to drive past Jim Patterson Stadium (pictured left) on Central Avenue again and not warmly recall the unexpected, improbable and energizing effort they gave on the way to finishing as one of the top six teams in the nation? Surely there will be banners and reminders of the World Series painted on the outfield walls. But we won’t even need those. Just a glimpse of where those historic home runs landed will do. Just the ping of a metal bat in the distance will draw us back to these days in ’07 when we were reminded baseball will always be a game for kids of all ages. Just the sniff of a burger cooking on a grill may bring back thoughts of record crowds and the past few weeks when finally, cheering for Louisville became equally OK on city sidewalks or country lanes throughout the Commonwealth.
This year’s Louisville Cardinals asked a question that will rightfully carry on across their campus: Why not us?
From now on, why shouldn’t folks here reach for the top, try to be the best and go for greatness? Not just in sports but in the classroom, in the research lab and in every creative corner of the university.
If a bunch of guys can quietly come together on the former site of an old, dusty warehouse and transform their baseball program into one to be admired nationwide, what else is possible here?
Yes, Coach Dan McDonnell’s first U of L team was a dandy one on the field - talented, fast, focused and far better at season’s /files/storyimages/than at its beginning - all admirable traits for any team.
Perhaps more importantly, these Cards showed us that in this day and age we can still be surprised. Hyper-organization and planning are fine, but spontaneous, joyful outbursts might be even better – in case we forgot.
These Cards sure caught us by surprise. All of us. And that made their achievements that much better.
From now on, no matter how many times U of L earns a bid to the NCAA baseball tournament, no matter how many games the Cards host at home and no matter how many trips they make to Omaha, we’ll always remember these 20 days in June as the new beginning.
We’ll look forward to seeing these guys again and again, remembering not just what they did but the way they did it. And we’ll smile.
NOTE: Daily columnist Ron Steiner also appears on the Red & Blue Review, a weekly statewide TV sports show (Insight Ch. 2). He’s also published weekly in the Voice-Tribune and is a guest each Friday (5:45 p.m.) on the Cardinal Insider radio program (WKRD, 790AM). He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]