By Joe Rector
Well, March Madness became just that for Tennessee fans. In the span of 24 hours, both of our favorite teams exited the NCAA tournament. During the same timeframe, the Vols baseball team lost two games to Ole Miss. Ouch, it was rough weekend and a terrible way to end Spring Break week. Like most fans, I wavered from disappointment to anger. I wanted all of these teams to continue to succeed.
What hit me squarely in my conscience is how terrible I act in the face of losses. The men’s basketball team seemed not quite so inspired in their game against Loyola. Of course, that could be in part because the opponent played well and defended closely. I tried to call out the refs for glaringly incorrect calls, but that fact is becoming part of the game now. I fumed about the breaks to review plays and swore that they killed UT’s momentum.
I turned on the Lady Vols game at half time, and before long, I watched as Oregon State shredded the defense for easy lay-ups. I questioned offensive sets that had players making ill-advised passes and attempting shots that were sure to be blocked. On some plays, I growled about the lack of hustle of some players who couldn’t get up and down the court like the others. At the end, I changed the channel because I couldn’t stand to watch the women’s first NCAA tournament defeat on their home court.
The baseball team took a stunning win from the Rebels on Friday night. They had timely hits and good pitching and defense. On Saturday and again on Sunday, Tennessee bats went silent. I wondered where Friday’s aggressive at-bats had disappeared. On several occasions, I begged batters not to give up on pitches or to catch up to fastballs. The weather for the weekend series was as gloomy as the performances in those last two games.
At some point, I took a deep breath and saw things more clearly. The men’s basketball team proved all the prognosticators wrong by sharing the SEC title instead of coming in 13th. That team has the finest collection of players that the school has had in years. The athletes play hard and never give up. Even more impressive is the way they speak and conduct themselves. They are my favorite UT athletes, and I thank them for the thrills they gave us fans during the season. I can’t wait to watch next year’s team.
I’m not as sure about the women’s team because I’ve not watched them that often. Some say the team is young; others state the coaching isn’t up to par. What I do know is that these women want to win. They have the talent to do so, and in most games, they performed well. Because the season is a grind, on some occasions I suppose they were tired and their want to was more than their abilities to do. The team did have success, and a year’s maturity will make them better.
The baseball team is young, and its coaching staff is new. No, those aren’t excuses for losing games, but they are factors in success. Not a single player goes to the plate intent on striking out. They want to hit the ball, round the bases, and score runs. The ability to hit a small white sphere traveling 90 mile per hour with a rather slender metal instrument is impossible for most of us. When an off-speed pitch follows, it’s a wonder that batters don’t screw themselves into the ground going after it. These players are gifted athletes who do their best to win games.
I’m going to remain a fan; however, from now on, I’m going to give the players a break. I’ll cheer their successes without bad-mouthing their shortcomings. After all, only a handful of them are old enough to be called adults. A true fan’s job is to encourage players, not rip them to shreds with negativity. I apologize for having been so critical. I’ll do better from now on.