When you read 99% of my posts, you will see that most of the content is that of news, notes, highlights, etc., much like in a magazine or newspaper. Certainly, glimpses of my personality tend to magically show up in my writing. You’ll see a hint of humor, goofiness, tell it like it is, Adam Thomas personified, on paper.
However, on certain rare occasions, I am able to write on a more personal level. For instance, I was fortunate enough to be able to write “Postcards from Colorado” for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer in our 2015 trip to the JUCO World Series (see links below). Additionally, I did something similar to this article in giving my respects to what the 2014 club accomplished. (The links for the above mentioned writings are below.) When I get to write things like this, I am able to write from the heart. And anyone that knows me, knows I wear my emotions on my sleeve and I don’t try speak in “coach speak” or sports clichés. I write and speak how I honestly feel about my boys and what they do for the institution, the community, their families, their teammates, the conference, and for me.
One of the most frequently asked questions that I have received over the past two years is this: Which team was better, 2014 or 2015? Well, that’s a tough one. With a healthy 2015 team, I would love to play a 3 game set against that 2014 crew. It would have been one heck of a series, I can tell you that. That’s about as close to “coach speak” as I can get. Both teams were so talented in terms of both tangible and intangible attributes, and they simply made my job easy (for the most part).
I have no idea which team was better and furthermore, it does not even matter. Both played the game with oneness, tenacity, and with CVCC love in their hearts. I love them and miss them all. And for those fortunate handful that were able to experience back to back World Series trips, what a memory they will have for their children and grandchildren.
I made a comment two weeks ago that literally a day does not pass that, in some capacity, I do not think about Grand Junction or the 2015 team. It is so tough to talk about favorite players or favorite sophomore classes or favorite teams. They all have some sort of special meaning to me. But with that being said, I must share this brief story about Grayson Ivey.
Along with Grayson, Drew Lingo, Drew Dunagan, and Frank Wager, those four are my college aged sons. And they will tell you the exact same thing. Without going into details, Grayson was injured in a car accident over Thanksgiving Break (he is okay and will recover fully) and that sort of brought a brief texting reunion amongst about 10 or so of us. Most of the interaction came from those four as they were so close to one another.
As a coach, as a father, as a husband, as a human, we go through times of doubt, struggle, turmoil, frustration, the inevitable question always surfaces as I have so eloquently proposed to my college baseball coaching brother in law, “Why in the world do I keep doing this?”
Well back to Grayson. After all of the visits and phone calls had passed, and we all realized that G was gonna be fine, I get a call from Grayson about a week later. He called to tell me one thing and it went something like this:
“Coach, this accident has given me plenty of time to thing about things. My life. My family. Things like that. My freshman year in the fall and we were in the middle of BP and I was getting my defensive work in at 3rd base. You walked up to me and made about a minute of small talk and then plainly asked me why I play baseball. I said, ‘Sir?’. You asked me again, Why do you play baseball? I said because I enjoy playing. You told me that you enjoy lots of things, so what makes baseball different. There’s always a why. Why do you play baseball, Grayson?”
So G turns it around on me:
“Well, why do you coach baseball?” Without hesitation, I said “because of the relationships.”
Of course, he looks at me like I have two heads, as I’m sure he’s expecting me to say something like winning, competing, blah, blah, blah…. But my answer was The Relationships.
I cannot remember my thought processes as an 18-21 year old college athlete. I’m sure that simple statement would not have resonated with me at the time, nor would it had probably had a significant affect on my day, much less a treasured nugget of a conversation that stuck with me over two years later.
However, it stuck with G, just like it has with most of my players. Grayson called me to simply tell me he understood exactly what I meant that day. Championships are a byproduct of a lot of things within our control, but there is so much that can happen in athletics that the tangible result of the last game of your season, is simply inconsequential.
It’s the lasting things, not the temporal ones. The relationships and bonds that are built in one to three lightning quick years. In one sense, we want to view things from a different lens at Chattahoochee Valley. We want to accomplish significance. If that significance encompasses a trip to the NJCAA World Series, then so be it. If not, that’s okay, too. However, it’s significance in our team and in our family that we seek.
Watching my boys dog pile was a sight and a memory that will forever be etched in our minds and photographs. But there is no doubt what will be remembered long after the shine of our big, beautiful championship rings wears off, will be the picture of Jake and Trevor acting like, well….Jake and Trevor. I can still hear the words, “JUCO’s Sick!”
That celebration lasts about 30 seconds, but what we want and what we built at The U lasts a lifetime.
So, how did we do it?
Well, first, make no mistake about it, this was no Cinderella story. That 2015 team was extremely talented. The only question was the newness of the team and how they may gel. That is always one of the big unknowns in the coaching universe. Will your team have the competitive chemistry to care enough about each other, the program, the team, their coaches, and everything involved to accomplish significance?
Replacing nearly an entire pitching staff, two of the four infielders, as well as two of the four outfielders, is a big enough chore in and of itself, but to fit all of the pieces into the right place, is a whole ‘nother story.
Obviously, things worked out just fine. Guys like Grayson, Jake, Trev, and TLynn provided such irreplaceable leadership. Even more than that, they provided a presence. Throw in Kenny, Hagan, Whitey, and Webb-O, and we were off and running.
But here’s the deal, the pitching staff became a revolving door of next man up. After losing Guthrie in the first month of the season, we relied on a quintet of freshmen in Burks, Lee, Haner, Vann, and Faulkner. Even Vann missed significant time with mono. However, it was two sophomore transfers that became the glue that held us together.
Austin Thomas was money every time out, and then he went down with about 3 weeks to go in the conference season.
And then there was Bryce Conley. The most likely, unlikely hero of the 2015 season. The Mercer transfer had a tough fall to say the least. However, one magical night in Tallahassee, Florida set the stage for his season as the league’s most dominant pitcher. With injuries mounting, I turned to Bryce to open the conference season against Enterprise. The rest was history. He led the league in strikeouts and was among the top 3 in wins and ERA.
Conley epitomized the toughness and resiliency that the 2015 club showed. When things were stacked against him, he rose. He rose to the occasion. He resurrected his career. He dominated. He was a microcosm of our team – Flawed, but in a good way. He was a warrior, but in a compassionate way.
He was what WE were. A Picasso. You look at us and don’t get us, but underneath it all, you want us. You have to have us and you want to be a part of us.
Our boys rose from the ashes with a week to go in the season, and after a hairy opener in the conference tournament, ran through the tourney to capture their second consecutive ACCC Title and a 3rd place finish in the JUCO World Series.
I love those boys and I miss those boys. The got it and they achieved it – SIGNIFICANCE!
However, these boys better start building a giant trophy case now, because the greatest reward of 2015 and hopefully of their lives, will be the life-sized relationships that will be with them forever.
My sincere and heartfelt thanks forever go out to Drew Dunagan, Brandon Whiteford, Ryan Hagan, Tim Kennedy, Nik Verbeke, Kenny Ford, Landon Faulkner, Grayson Ivey, Jordan Lee, Nolan Greckel, Christian Vann, Will Campbell, Jon Kizzar, Evan Troutt, Tanner Davis, Tyler Welch, Hunter Webb, Tyler Lynn, Jake Maziar, Drew Lingo, Bryce Conley, JT Thomas, Austin Thomas, Jacob Ozley, Trevor Guthrie, Trent Simpson, Frank Wager, Will Tillery, Logan Haner, Chase Burks, Reid Michalek, Chandler “Big Haze” Hazen, and my incredible assistant coaches, Dash O’Neill and Alex Duhaime.