It was Thursday, 13th August 2009, the day we, as a team, played just well enough to keep our slates clean and win the Michigan Tech Graduate Softball League Championship. And in festivities that followed in The Downtowner Lounge in Downtown Houghton, a manager of our team [yes, we do have a few - each one, (un)beknownst to others - to manage a different aspect of the game] put forth a seemignly simple question — of the three championships you have been part of so far, which is your favorite one? The answer, albeit sounding cocky & arrogant to those who don’t us/me very well, was a polite The Next One.
And here we are little over a year later, sitting in the same general area in The Downtowner Lounge, celebrating that Next One – albeit for a short amount of time, thanks to numerous great souls that have helped us/me understand & appreciate the value of the opportunity we have earned – our second successive perfect season.
The festivities in 2009 lasted about six hours and the following week saw us look for replacements – to fill in the void to be left later on by some good [and really smart & committed as well, to say the least] players [Leslie, Russ, and so on] to graduation.
While we didn’t want to care any less about the rumors prevailing in the community that our team is/was stacked with good players and that it was a fluke that we won the championship and that our success in championship games was only 50% [the only non-rumor] and so on, it was [and still is] hard to ignore such preposterous remarks. There are few things in life that come close to matching the feeling of proving your detractors wrong, to do something that someone [or no one] thought you could do or didn’t give you the deserved credit for doing what you did. And it was 15th October 2009, about SIX months before the tentative start of 2010 season, that some of the core members of this wonderful team started our off-season work outs, almost in a religious fashion. Regiment [as in its usage as a verb] included runs, weights and attempts to be smarter, patient & mature about things that needed to be done on the field in clutch situations.
With weather being unseasonably warm by middle of March of 2010 and much of snow having disappeared, we hit the fields for early practice sessions. Many countless hours of practice and organized team activity over next 20 some weeks or so brought us – with several new faces – closer and made us better, a lot better – to understand and appreciate what each one brought to the table and come up with a plan to best utilize those resources to win games, one at a time. Just like last season, I could write about what we did right and we did wrong in each of the 15 games but it would sound more like a broken record – as such, I will just tabulate the results and talk about reasons later.
|02||2010.05.27||Electrical Engg||W||7-0; By Forfeit (team did not show up)|
|08||2010.07.01||Aaron Dayton||W||7-0; By Forfeit (team did not show up)|
|09||2010.07.08||Information Technology Services||W||13-8|
|13||2010.08.05||LockJawed Zombies (Round #1)||W||12-0|
|14||2010.08.12||Electrical Engg (Round #2)||W||14-6|
|15||2010.08.19||Electrical Engg (Finals)||W||17-3|
We are the first ones to concede – concede the fact that not everything we did was perfect and there is plenty of room for improvement. But we did put up the best offense and best defense – with a league high of 251 (-27 compared to 2009) runs scored and allowing only 60 (+13 compared to 2009), for a league’s best run differential of +191 (-14 compared to 2009). More importantly, most of us had fun [it might not have seemed like it but trust me, fun is a very relative/subjective entity], we got better as an individual & as a team, and even more importantly, most of the teams we played seemed to have fun too. And while there are many smaller reasons behind our success, the most notable ones have remained the same as in 2009 and many a years before. It’s noteworthy to mention that continuing to stick with/use Lagrangian / Hamiltonian Mechanics has continued to yield (very) rich dividends.
While it’s not the first time that someone initiated the smack talk against this very proud team, we respect three of the four that did so, including the one that we played when all the marbles were at stake – for they showed up to defend their words by being physically present at the game and as such, shall remain nameless. However, there was one that does need a specific mention:
It was on 10th of June, about four weeks before we played what he claimed to be his team [later realization: he was a player off the bench, if that and, his team didn't even consider him to be a part of it], that I was watching his team play some other team and in all honesty, was cheering for his team – as it comprised of many a good friends of mine, who were an integral part of the famed 2009-2010 Michigan Tech Huskies Women’s Basketball Program.
His claim [or I must say, the guarantee] was that he would kick our a$$, that he knew all the secrets to the way we played, that we were beatable [a fairly good and reasonable assessment] and that we would be sorry that we played his team. And as if this weren’t sufficient, he made his claim / guarantee abundantly public during every opportunity he had, in spite of numerous polite reminders that our team didn’t need any further motivation to be playing in this league and that we considered it to be our privilege, not a right, to be playing in this league.
Then comes 22nd of July, the game day – and the dude was a NO SHOW. It didn’t stop his team from being at the wrong end of our wrath and the final score, at the end of just five innings, read 30-5 [yeah, THIRTY-to-FIVE]; 4 of their 5 runs coming off of our mental errors. His team, without any knowledge of his mouthing off for over a month, felt like we were showing off and running up the score – we did feel sorry for the trouble that his team went through but felt immensely proud of the way our team responded to a situation — that we could raise our level when circumstance(s) demanded. Later in the day, we learned that he was busy sipping some glamorous drinks on yacht in Stillwater, Minnesota [under the pretense of a dislocated shoulder - I am more than 100% certain that I saw him within the confines of Michigan Tech's Student Development Complex the same day around 11am].
At a later (personal & public) meeting at our Athletic Director’s Camp, he went on to further claim that the result of this aforementioned game would have been different had he been able to play and more importantly that we, Team FIZIKS, should pray not to face his team in the playoffs. It could just be he was [and still is] so full of himself and living comfortably within the confines of the fictitious Universe, that he didn’t realize that his team didn’t qualify for the upper tier playoffs like ours did.
Just the way our team is built and made to think, we did learn our lessons from this experience. Not that we would like to be the first ones to do so [I'm not claiming that some of us have never done it before], we learned the rules of talking smack:
- You are allowed to talk smack before a game, almost as much as you like, within acceptable and reasonable limits.
- The least you can do when you have talked smack before a game is to show up, in person, to the game – either to play or to support your own team.
- You lose all rights of talking smack when/once the team [or an individual on the opposing team] responds to your smack talk, not by retaliating smack talk but by an actual performance on the field.
- Any further smack talk against the same team, in spite of them having performed successfully against you, will be considered an act of stupidity and being full of sh%% – to say the least.
So, THANK YOU for teaching us these invaluable lessons. It’s only fair that we teach you something as well, to only partially return your kindness:
- You are neither as good nor as important to your team as you think you are AND it’s not your team, most certainly not after you left them high and dry the way you did – we might be the first ones to bring you to this realization but trust us, you will find people like us more in your real life more frequently than the ones that tell you that you are the greatest creation that the mankind has ever witnessed; especially so when you miss the hidden meaning / interpretation of the soft phrasing of latter kind – that you are good today but could be better.
- Be humble – a very simple definition of humility is just doing your job and letting it largely speak for itself [we learned this from Todd Christensen, a member of the Super Bowl Champions, 1983 Los Angeles Raiders].
- Taking a bunch of your friends, on one Friday night, to a bar for a drink or two DOES NOT mean you know how to build a team.
- Keep your mouth shut when there is no need to open it.
- When you talk the talk, be sure to walk the walk – claim that dislocated shoulder [or any other part of your body] is never an acceptable reason to be, at least, not cheering for your team.
- Stop making [lame] excuses and take responsibility for your actions.
- It’s not too difficult to say I am sorry, I f#$%^ed up; I will try my best not to repeat my mistakes and to be better in my next attempt. People around you are more than likely to forgive you and give you a second [or nth] chance at doing something.
- In other words, since you are a soon-to-be an/a MBA from Michigan Tech and supposedly understand $$ better than rest of us do, do not write a check that cannot be cashed or that your team is not willing to cash it for you.
If this is not easy enough to understand, please feel free to come back next season and apply for an internship with our team. If all goes well, we will approve your request and teach you these things, in a hands on fashion, that you have either ignored to learn &/or effortlessly slept through when life was gracious enough to teach you in a friendly classroom-like environment.
While there are teams [calling them a team, in the true sense of the word, is an atrocity in itself] and some individuals [local and non-local] have had [and will continue to have] issues with the success of our team [see one such assault via facebook below], we have very strong reasons to believe that the league is better off because we are a part of it. Like a team-mate phrased it effortlessly in so few words, the rising tides lifts all ships; for now, we are the big ship. And when a team that does come along to beat us fair and square, trust me, we will be happy for them – albeit a momentary disappointment.
We take a lot of pride in the way we build in our team, train the players that have never played the game before [yours-truly was one of them, eight years ago] or haven’t played in quite a while, practice at least once a week, learn the rules and regulations and follow them religiously so that we keep the game safe for everyone involved, not be the first one to initiate any kind of smack talk against any team, be humble in victory and graceful in defeat [while it might not seem so from reading this post], get better and smarter with each week/season, put in an enviable performance week in & week out and year in & year out. As a by-product of all this, we are insanely proud of our 86-7-1 record over the last seven years. There is no magic to what we do &/or achieve as a team but there sure as hell is plenty of hard work, dedication and sacrifice by everyone involved.
I believe what we do is a microcosm of progress and of what causes progress; to be not wanting to be better tomorrow than what we are today, to settle for something good instead of pursuing greatness, to hope that the competition gets lower so that we can look better and not having the ability to generalize this to almost every other aspect of our lives … is, according to us, a crime against ourselves, and making a mockery of all the wonderful opportunities that life has sent our way.
Along with being just good enough is not good enough (a Lake Superior Walk realization) and failing to plan is planning to fail (a friendly advice from undergraduate days), [settling for] good is the enemy of great is as invaluable a lesson as I have ever learned in my life – thanks to a book that a dear friend, Ian Marks, graciously let me borrow over Christmas 2009 break and it has come to be, sort of, mission statement / guiding light of our team & lives. I’m pretty sure that the double play opportunities we missed in the championship game — 6-4-3 and 4-6-3, with latter having had the more serious impact had the game been closer — will haunt us [our Short Stop and yours truly] for times to come, at least until we get another opportunity to get it right. And just to remind ourselves of the consequences of missing out on opportunities, we imposed on ourselves an eight mile run as a moderate punishment. And just like 2009, the festivities lasted about six hours or less and we are on the look out for replacements players to fill in the void that will be left by some good [and really smart & committed as well, to say the least] players [Josh Carlson, Eric Winder and so on] to graduation.
Thus begins an earnest & humble attempt to be better tomorrow, as an individual and as a team, than we are today.