Shutters up and down the spine speak not of chills from inclement weather, but of the spine-tingling intensity of a game that means everything. The sweat across the brow could be from the heat, but perhaps the pressure was felt as well. For a game that only lasted so long on a day with likewise limitations, this contest (win or lose) would go down in Husker history.
They collected, they converged and they emerged as a statistic unrivaled. The fan faithful that flocked to this game set a memorable atmosphere and set records. For each day the tournament lasted, a larger group attended and for each game that will in their own rights be an epic, the number will grow ever larger.
You see, in games like this, it's those not there that are truly the most envious. There might have actually been 40 thousand fans that got to see live Mark McGwire hit his record breaking home run not just a couple of years ago, but there are at least a hundred thousand that have said that they were there. This was one of those games. This was one of those series. Jealous we would all be of every single fan there, but we listened like them and hoped like them that Nebraska could go one step more.
Throughout this series, NU bats had been stifled. Amazing and gutsy performances by the Richmond pitchers were confusing NU hitters and frustrating NU fans, the bats for the first time in weeks, eerily silent. And at the end of the second game, it was a Richmond hitter drawing blood as a shot went over the wall to seal a game and in this instance, that one at-bat was deafening.
NU was due, it was their time to shine. Surely, no club could handcuff them three games in a row. It had never been done to this club all year, because they had gotten used to fighting back. Fighting back and coming back, it was more a trend than it was a staple. In this game it was going to happen, it had to happen or it was a very short walk home.
What most will remember about this game was a Justin Seely grand slam. Not necessarily a shot heard round the world, but a shot that helped NU do what NU has never done...........again. Putting a dramatic touch on a series that literally seethed dramatics from the outset.
From that point on, it wasn't formalities as Richmond would never go away, but it was a defining moment that stood because Nebraska came away with the victory. It was the moment that made the difference, turned the tide and put Nebraska on a bus to Omaha.
The Second time around
For that wondrous trip but sixty miles away, you might believe that a player on that bus for each of those miles could enjoy sixty moments they had throughout the season as they tried to get back to this place.
For the younger players, it's a matter of going there for the first time as those who did before them, but for players like Eymann, Seely, Bolt and Komine, it's going back that was all that mattered.
It's said by those that have been there, getting back there is the greatest achievement. It not only solidifies your existence there the first time, but it's value now comes as a mental edge, you having been there before. What to expect, the aura of the event and the energy around you as almost 30,000 fans pack the stands to see collegiate baseball at it's best.
Each player that has seen that for the first time will never forget it, but for those that go back, it's their reminder that this is all just a game. Yes, a game with magnificent circumstances. Yes, a game with dramatic implications and yes, it's a game with national hype, but you don't win or lose titles, you win or lose games and those that remember that are the ones that come in the most mentally ready.
Will Bolt said that the benefit of being there was being able to convey to those that weren't, that though this may be one of the most special moments of their lives, there was a game to be played. A game against a team that had to do what Nebraska did to get there. A team that wants this just as much as them. The difference can be categorized in terms of talent, speed on the bases, hitting avg. or ERA, but experience ranks along the top. What you think while on the mound or at the plate can effect dramatically what you do. With minds now squarely on moving on rather than on just being there, experience is already having it's effect.
For the fan of that team that makes this unique journey, this is a special time of year. For the spectator who values competitiveness at it's best, this is a gift without price and for the journalist, it's a treat, a treat that offers them a rare annual look at a forum that few who have been there can describe. They have the unenviable job of putting words into something words simply can't do justice.
For me, it's a continuing trip from ignorance to a sport that has long been over shadowed by it's well known bigger brother. It's my own transformation into someone that realizes joy, frustration and elation from within the confines of a place other than Memorial Stadium. It's not so much an epiphany as it has been a gradual process that has taught me, Nebraska Baseball is here to stay. And you know what? All I can say is thank you coach Van Horn and company. Thank you very much.
We'll see you in Omaha.