Baseball season turns spectator into Cardinal fan
It may be my fascination with the game of baseball. It may be constant contact with the team.
It may even be that I -- an unbiased journalist -- am even a fan.
There, I said it.
Whatever the reason, the Eudora Cardinals' recently completed baseball season left some significant impressions on me. Three impressions in particular -- all directly related to regionals.
Joe Kaup for one.
The junior pitcher came of age in the regional championship with Bishop Ward.
He was a surprise starter. Nearly everybody in the house was expecting to see senior Chris Gabriel, a player that head coach Dirk Kinney had called his "bulldog" all season long.
But instead it was Kaup, an inexperienced inconsistent varsity rookie.
It was a gutsy call by Kinney. Kaup's biggest problem this season was staying relaxed. So, you throw him in one of the biggest games, if not the biggest, in school history?
I guess so.
All Kaup did was hold the defending state champions to three runs. They had scored 35 the previous two games combined. And they scored 20 in the state championship a few days later.Kaup's performance was absolutely remarkable. It was the type of performance that makes baseball special.
It was the story of a coach's hunch and an underdog's triumphant day. In a year or two -- or three -- people will have forgotten all about Kaup's game because the Cards lost. But that is a shame, because this was, in my opinion, the defining moment of the 2004 season.
Kaup's success was made even more impressive by the hostile environment in which he pitched. He pitched in front of a hostile environment at home?
Ward packed the house. They were loud and, well, rather obnoxious. They booed every call that went Eudora's way. They heckled the way Kinney sauntered around the field. They quite frankly embarrassed themselves and their institution.
And that was just the parents.
The student body distastefully mocked the Cardinal softball players Ward had defeated the night before.
Their ridiculous behavior hit me two ways.
First of all, where was the community of Eudora? I know this is a dangerous question and that I risk offending somebody. But seriously, where was the town of Eudora on this potentially historic night?
The Cardinals were the region's No. 1 seed and the games were played in Eudora and yet the home field advantage was Ward's.
Activities director Dave Durkin tried to keep the Ward students on the first base side of the bleachers and the Eudora students on the other. The problem was there weren't enough Eudora students to fill the section, and there were too many Ward students for just one side to hold.
And there certainly wasn't an abundance of adults donning Cardinal red in the stands.
I was at the very least disappointed to see a visiting foe take over. The Cyclone fans even chanted "this is our house" at the conclusion of the game.
Now, for the Eudora fans that were there -- good for you. Unlike the majority of your counterparts, you handled yourselves with class and dignity.
It just wasn't enough.
Perhaps the biggest thing I will take from my regional coverage is a private moment I caught in the Cardinal dugout. I hope senior Troy Van Horn won't mind me telling this story, because I feel it embodies the principles of athletics and of a teammate.
After the loss, the Cardinals received a regional runners-up trophy. It is a great achievement but as Kinney once put it, "it's like kissing your sister."
There is nothing harder than losing a championship game -- especially if you're a senior. And Van Horn was.
The team huddled after the game, listening to Kinney's proud praises and consoling comments. When the squad returned to clean out their dugout one last time, Van Horn grabbed the runners-up plaque.
He yelled at the underclassman to look at that trophy. He demanded that they focus on the pain of coming so far and falling so short. And he urged them to bank that emotion and call on it again and again next year.
He did this all with passion and tears streaming. He knew his career was finished and that his shot at a state championship was over. But he was still a teammate, and he still wanted his boys to finish the job he had helped start.
The dream doesn't end with one senior class. Van Horn was and will always be a Cardinal.
And the more I deal with the Kaups, Kinneys and Van Horns, I feel I become more and more a Cardinal myself.