by Max Friedfeld and John Jacobson
Bottom of the 9th and down one run. Bases loaded. Two outs. Two strikes. Game three of the Super Regional tournament. Who else could be playing but the Cardiac Cavs? The winner goes on to Omaha for the College World Series. The tension is palpable; the fate of the Cavs’ season rests on Chris Taylor’s shoulders. 60 feet 6 inches away, the pitch comes in. A swing and a line drive up the middle! One run scores, runner rounds 3rd base, the throw…too late, safe! Wahoo dogpile at home plate; the left field bleachers erupt in delightful euphoria! The Virginia Cavalier baseball was on the way to Omaha after what Coach Brian O’Connor called the “most significant victory in UVa history”— and John and Max were damn sure going to follow them.
Immediately following the UVa victory in game one of the College World Series, we left Charlottesville and headed west on Interstates 64 and 81, regrettably towards Roanoke and unspeakable points thereafter. We pushed through the thunderstorms into Charleston, WV where we spent the night. Next morning, we fueled up in Kentucky along the historic Bourbon Trail, pushed on through Indiana and Illinois, drove right by the beautiful Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and made it all the way across Missouri into Kansas City. At this point, we were ready to take the interstate north into Omaha. Bad news: most roads along the Missouri River are closed due to flooding. More bad news: thunderclouds ahead of us shroud the early evening sky in darkness. After a long drive, we weren’t really in the mood to tackle any tornados, so we stopped along the highway in the beautiful town of Mound City, MO (pop. 1,193). The next morning, we took back roads through wind turbine-swept Missouri, hilly Iowa, and west into Omaha.
We reached Omaha early on, but before we could stop for the game, we needed to find a place to stay. We consulted our handy map for outlying towns. What’s this—Wahoo, Nebraska!?! We couldn’t pass this up! We booked a room in the Wahoo Heritage Inn and headed back to Omaha for a day of baseball.
While the worst of the storms had passed through, the weather was still threatening and we were worried that the game might be postponed. We buoyed our spirits at one or more of the local pubs and then made our way to brand new TD Ameritrade® Park. The ballpark itself was very nice, featuring state-of-the-art amenities but still having the charm of an old park like Fenway or Wrigley. However, we didn’t come for niceties, it was time to get down to business and give left fielder John Barr all the support we could.
We sat in the second row right next to the UVa bullpen. Before the game and during the rain delay, we watched as Mr. Perfect Game Will Roberts took some time off from warming up to retrieve beach balls that fans were throwing onto the field. The fans in the outfield bleachers consisted of thousands of local high school kids whose main mission was to attract as much attention to themselves as possible and pretend to be Florida Gators fans. Needless to say, Holden Caulfield would not have liked these phonies. Fast forward a few hours, we sulked back over to our hotel room in Wahoo, never to speak of the atrocity that was Game Two ever again.
The baseball team had Wednesday off, so we had all day to do the sightseeing. We took a trip to the zoo, a great Midwestern steakhouse (Cascio’s, if you’re ever in the area), and a few bars. After John’s late night pit stop for 20 McNuggets and Max’s car came seconds away from being towed by the local authorities, we decided it was best to turn in for the night.
The next morning, tired of crowded and over-priced hotels, we drove a bit out of town and set up a campsite for the remainder of the week. It was definitely the best decision of the trip, and gave us a chance to stretch out and relax by practicing our baseball fundamentals by playing catch.
Back in Omaha, we stopped by a bar called Barry-O’s, the former workplace of Coach O’Connor during his days at nearby Creighton University and unofficial hangout of Wahoo fans.
Onward to the Hoos’ third game of the CWS, an elimination game against California. Tyler Wilson pitched a gem of a game while the bats came alive en route to an 8-1 gutting of the Golden Bears. We retired to our campground excited and ready for the showdown against South Carolina the next day.
For this game, we occupied standing-room-only space behind the UVa reserved seats, and were fortunate to meet up with fellow CMBAA member Woody Wingfield, who was in town on business. What we saw in the first 3 innings of that game will never be repeated. Danny Hultzen struck out 8 of the 10 batters he faced, yielding just one hit on a blooper single. The Gamecock batters were dropping like flies in 96mph turbulence. Just imagine the confusion when Coach O’Connor took Hultzen out after three innings; we later found out that Hultzen was heroically pitching with a stomach flu.
A pitching duel ensued, neither team managing to score any runs at the plate. As the 9th inning came and went tied 2-2, UVa closer Branden Kline engaged in a dramatic showdown with SC’s pitcher. The game began to resemble a heavyweight fight, as both pitchers traded punches with their backs against the wall. Even in the 13th inning, we had the bases loaded with no outs and couldn’t muster a single run. Fate was against us in the bottom of the 13th as a throwing error by new pitcher Cody Winiarski turned a sacrifice bunt into a situation with two men on base with no outs. On the very next pitch, the batter squared to bunt again and laid a soft grounder into the infield. Again, Winiarski fielded the bunt and made a wild throw, sending the ball into the dugout, allowing the runner from second base to turn the corner at third and head home for the victory. We stood there dumbfounded and broken. Later that night, low thunder and lightning rolled in and the campsite was drenched in cold rain. The tears of Thomas Jefferson were surely felt that night in Omaha.
It was a very fun trip, despite having our hearts ripped out. We left many things in Omaha that week; among them were good memories, Wahoo pride, unpaid parking tickets, and the rear bumper of Max’s car (no really, it fell off). However, with the dynasty that Brian O’Connor is building in Charlottesville, we know the UVa baseball team will be back in Omaha soon and so will we.
This post was contributed by Max Friedfeld and John Jacobson who found more than just baseball on their cross-country field trip.