So many things have happened and keep happening in the world of sports, that are worthy of this blog's attention, what with conference expansion, USC's ongoing NCAA soap opera, the World Cup, the Braves and the impeding seventh game of the NBA Finals.
All of these are important, and we will get to them, I promise.
But first, let's talk about Alabama baseball, if only for a few brief moments.
The Tide — as I'm sure you followed, however nominally — had its fan base buzzing for a solid month, ultimately closing out a bizarre season with a difficult-to-stomach series loss at Clemson. The series itself was weird enough: Alabama scratched out a Game 1 victory, was blown out in Game 2 and most of Game 3, before improbably rallying for 5 runs in the final inning ... and ultimately leaving the tying runs on base. It was, as I said before, difficult to stomach.
On the other hand, Alabama pulled off a pretty improbable stretch of baseball to be there: on the outside looking in at the SEC Tournament, the Tide won 5 straight games (and 6 of its final 8) to make it to Hoover; they then defeated Auburn, Ole Miss and Florida (all NCAA Tournament teams) to reach the conference championship game.
And that conference championship ... I mean, wow. The game featured two of the SEC's baseball mainstays — us and LSU — and a great atmosphere, which was dulled by separate rain delays, but still (ultimately, 'Bama fell in 11, and if you want to see what the game looked like, click here).
'Bama advanced to a regional berth in Atlanta against powerful Georgia Tech and immediately fell into the loser's bracket, needing to win three straight to advance. They did so by riding Nathan Kilcrease on Monday in a gargantuan effort that earned a 10-8 victory over the Teckities.
(An aside: that Monday I was at an endless Springville city council meeting where the council and citizens were arguing about budget cuts; I was dying, DYING for updates. I walked back into the house just in time to see the final out. And that was it.)
As for this past weekend's series, I had a whole rant prepared about Mitch Gaspard's inept performance in the super regional, and how he seems to have no idea how to manage a pitching staff (just like his old boss, Jim Wells, who had no problem leaving pitchers in until they passed out on the mound) and how our players still seem to go brain-dead at the worst possible times (particularly rightfielder Andrew Miller, who had a terrible game in the field Monday).
Then I realized I have very little reason to complain. After all, no one truly believed they'd be where they were.
Some other thoughts.
— As great as Kilcrease was down the stretch — and really, there's no way we make it that far without him — my favorite player on the team remained No. 1 starter Jimmy Nelson, if only because a) he looks a little like the Joker, b) he's big and pumps his fist a lot, c) having him on the mound allows me to make jokes inspired by The Jimmy, of Seinfeld fame.
"Jimmy's shaking off the sign. Jimmy wants to throw the heat."
"Jimmy's tired of this umpire yanking him around. Jimmy's thinking about beaning this next batter."
"Jimmy crossed you up with a slider. Jimmy just caught you lookin."
— While it would be easy to say Alabama choked in the Super Regional, what about Clemson's offensive performance? That Saturday loss was about as frustrating as it gets — twice Clemson was poised to take the lead and hit into rally-killing double plays — and the Tigers bounced back by scoring 27 runs in two days.
Delving into things a little deeper, it was actually the second time Clemson had bounced back from a crushing regional defeat, the first coming the night after Auburn's Creede Simpson played the role of Carlton Fisk.
For them to bounce back from that emotional low was pretty big. And now they're in Omaha; frankly, they deserve it.
— Alabama's ninth-inning comeback was so potentially heart-wrenching for the Clemson faithful, they almost didn't celebrate after the final out. In fact, on the video of the final out, it appears both CU outfielders were arguing over who would catch the ball while it was still in the air; the LF caught it, and the CF reacted like he was almost disappointed. Very strange.
— That reminds me: my friend The Warblogler asked me moments after the final out if I would've rather Alabama gone 1-2-3 in the ninth, or leave the tying runs on base. In that instance, I say it's probably better to lose that way. Because the team didn't quit and made Clemson earn every bit of its trip to the regional. So at least we can say that.
(Of course, I'd rather win.)
— Finally, and I realize there's a great deal of Auburn in this post, but this post from Jerry pretty much encapsulated where we, as SEC fans, expect our programs to be in terms of competitiveness. Just substitute Alabama for Auburn and ... yeah, I agree wholeheartedly.
It’s not all right for Auburn to stay uncompetitive, in whatever sport. There’s too much joy, too much thrill, too much memory, too much of everything encapsulated in that home run to just forsake them. It shouldn’t be just the guys in shoulder pads who have an opportunity to earn handshakes and congratulations for a lifetime, a chance to be 67 and have a stranger tell you “I was there.”
And with that, Roll Tide, guys. Back with something more timely a little later.