Update: Apparently, quite a few readers are unaware that “Dum Spiro Spero” (While I Breathe, I Hope) is the South Carolina state motto.
I’ve never been one to believe in hope. To me, it’s an illogical pastime, an emotional opiate. Someone has referred to hope as “when desire meets expectations.”
But, last night, I subscribed to hope. As my beloved Gamecocks slugged and slogged their way through Game 2 of the College World Series Championship against UCLA, my desires went looking for my expectations.
I have been a South Carolina fan since JFK was president and I’ve been an alum since Richard Nixon was in the White House. My wife is an alum as is one brother, my sister, sister-in-law, a nephew (with one other about to be) and many other family members. Both sons are fifth generation Gamecocks. On their first day of grade school, each son wore a Gamecock t-shirt – in a foreign country.
My Maryland license tag is USC0001 and is emblazoned with the Block C with Gamecock logo and the words, University of South Carolina. My wife’s car has plate number USC0002.
I named this very blog “Garnet Spy” as a tribute to two great loves; first came USC, then my intelligence career.
We have screamed at, yelled for, cussed, cheered and been frustrated by Carolina sports performances for decades. But we always came back for more.
There was great joy in our home when Carolina advanced in the CWS by taking Clemson down twice last week. OH, such joy. But we wanted more. We’ve always wanted more, but usually got less. THIS time, it would not be enough to beat Clemson in the tournament.
The first game against UCLA was an ugly one. But, oft-rejected suitors accept that an ugly date is still a date.
We did not speak of the game or the series at all on Tuesday. I instructed my sons that there would be no texts or emails about it until the whole thing was over. Comments during the game about plays was OK, but we would not speculate about the outcome, positively or negatively. I did not want anticipation, or, worse still, HOPE, to muddy the psychic atmosphere.
Wife and I had pizza the night of the first win, so it was decided that the leftover slices would be our game meal for Game 2. It wasn’t superstition, you understand, it was just maintaining a consistent approach to sports viewing.
For some reason, there was no real worry in the fifth inning when UCLA got the first run of what was clearly turning out to be a run-rare contest. I can’t say the lack of concern was due to confidence, because history has too firm a grip on Gamecock fans for us to succumb to confidence before a game is over. We know better than to be, pardon the expression, “cocky” about game outcomes. But, oddly, there wasn’t the usual expectation of gloom either. Instead, though my team was down by a run, there was within me a detached, yet cognizant stupor. Though two-score and more years of fandom told me otherwise, I was not worried.
As the parade of pitchers wore down the mound and Carolina tied the score in the eighth on yet another infield oddity – a trademark of this two-game set – my heart rate quickened, but I was neither confident nor worried.
I felt every pitch as if my head were in the catcher’s mitt. I groaned, flinched and grit my teeth appropriately when things didn’t go “our” way, and chuckled, pumped my fist and hollered when they did.
As the top of the eleventh got underway, my oldest son texted that if Matt Price could get us out of the inning unscathed, we would win. Price obliged with a fly out, ground out and strike out.
I was, for some reason, more confident than worried.
Second baseman Scott Wingo, playing a stellar game after stinking up the joint the night before, drew a 7-pitch walk.
A passed ball and Wingo goes to second. No outs.
A thump somewhere in the vicinity of my carotid artery. Is this what hope feels like?
Marzilli sacrifices to the pitcher and Wingo moves to third.
It’s either hope or a coronary.
My son texts me “WHIT MERRIFIELD CAN HIT A SAC FLY!”
Settle down. It’s the Gamecocks, remember? Don’t get your…
Merrifield slices a pitch on the outer half of the plate down the line in right and I scream.
Car alarms in the neighborhood join in the cacophony blasting from my throat.
The blood rushes from my head. I have no recollection of what, if any, words came out of me in the next 15 to 30 seconds.
My Gamecocks won a national championship in a major sport.
If I have to explain the feeling, you wouldn’t understand.
Over the years, I have been proud of the Garnet and Black, and I’ve been disappointed and, yes, ashamed.
Today, I am numb.
And, I might have learned a little something. Maybe, hope isn’t such a silly thing after all.
In the very least, in baseball, while you breathe there is hope.