Field of Dreams
I sat there stunned not knowing whether to scream or cry watching as the hopes and dreams of 30 outstanding young men fell to pieces right before my eyes. For the last 4 years, they have come together from every corner of North Carolina and a couple from far out places like Nevada, Illinois, New York, and Connecticut. They’ve come together for one reason, one goal: to make it to Omaha and bring home the school’s first national championship in the sport. For the last 4 years, they have achieved half of that goal, and in every one of them, there was a time when we all really felt it was possible. There were the back to back losses in 2006 and 2007 to Oregon State in the championship series. There was the early exit in the bracket championship game to Fresno State in 2008. And then there was Arizona State. (A lot of how I feel about Arizona State isn’t for public consumption, so I’m not going to waste any more of my blog space talking about them except to say GO TEXAS!)
I have never been a big major league baseball fan. I’ve paid attention, sure, but my love of baseball lies with the college game. This was the 63rd College World Series, and in those 63 occasions, 109 different schools have participated. Only 10 of those schools have made it 4 or more consecutive years, and now UNC is one of them. So, as I sat on my couch wishing that the 7th inning had all been a horrible nightmare and as I watched Coach Fox do everything he could think of to get his team back in the game, mercifully substituting players so everyone could have a college world series game experience, my heart broke for Garrett Gore.
This is Garrett:
He’s a 21 (almost 22) year old from Wilmington, NC. He’s the kind of person that always has a smile on his face, always finds the silver lining, never has a bad day. He’s gracious and humble and smart and funny and sweet. He has green eyes that sparkle and light up his face. His southern accent will make you melt, and his laugh is contagious. He loves his teammates and his coaches and Carolina. And he LOVES baseball. Last night’s game was the final game of his baseball career. The last 4 years, he has ended the season in Omaha a few games shy of the national championship. The last 4 years he has given everything he had to his team to make sure that he was contributing in the best way he could. This year, he gave up his second base position and moved to right field so that incoming freshman Levi Michael could take second. And he hasn’t complained one bit about it. In fact, I think the only thing Garrett would ever complain about is people not having fun.
Last weekend, I watched Field of Dreams for the millionth time because that movie just never gets old. And when I heard Shoeless Joe describe how he felt about the game of baseball (“I’d wake up at night with the smell of the ball park in my nose, the cool of the grass on my feet… The thrill of the grass.”), I thought of Garrett. I wonder now if he will wake up with the smell of the ballpark in his nose. If he’ll long for the feel of his glove on his hand and the sound of the ball hitting the leather during a catch. Will he ever grip a bat again without a twinge shooting through his heart?
Yes, my heart hurts for Garrett because I think if he was ever going to have a bad day in his life, last night was it. In his last appearance on defense, Coach Fox moved him back to second. The ESPN cameras zeroed in on him. He was so focused as if whatever he did was going to change the game. And then he got to turn a double play.
The guy who never thought he’d go to college (which he will graduate from in December with a degree in Communications) much less play baseball there or get to go to Omaha every single year, never met a pitch he didn’t like and had 2 hits (one of them a triple) and 1 run in his final game. The guy who thanks God for the opportunity to go to Carolina to get an education before he even thinks about thanking God for the opportunity to play baseball, has appeared in more College World Series games than any player in its 63 year history. His career stats will show that he has one grand slam, but what it won’t show is how much of his heart and soul he gave to the game. He left his field of dreams in Omaha, Nebraska and walked away with 4 years of the greatest memories he could have ever imagined. I’m really going to miss this guy in Carolina blue, but I know Garrett will continue inspiring people with just a smile on his face. Thanks for the fun, Garrett, thanks for the immeasurable fun!