I have to admit, I'm not much of a baseball fan.
On Friday, the Red Raider's season was all but ended due to a little Baptist Black Magic as the #8 seeded Bears upset #4 seeded Texas Tech in a 5-4 loss. I haven't followed the team terribly closely, but as I sat in front of the TV watching the upstart Bears peel one off of a talented Red Raider squad, I felt hate. Very real hate. I don't actually hate many things in life. No matter how many potshots I take at TCU for their attendance, or at A&M for their general weirdness, I don't hate those schools. And here I was, a fan of a baseball team due to their representation of my alma mater, feeling unbridled fury at a team from Waco wearing green and gold. I guess it's just been a long year in Texas Tech sports.
I missed the first half of the football game between the Red Raiders and the Bears this year. I was watching my little brother play football in a playoff game against Cedar Hill in Birdville, a game they lost by 8 points. To my utter shock I checked my phone on the miserable drive out of the godforsaken tear fest that is the last game of a high school football season to the news that hey, Texas Tech is actually playing well against Baylor. I mean, we were down 28-17, but this is improvement! It's real! If we can just squeeze out another few turnovers from Bryce Petty, we have a real shot at wrecking the
Big XII's Baylor's playoff chances.
I immediately demanded to be placed in front of a TV and hustled to a random Tex-Mex place in some Dallas strip mall that had a bar showing the game. I excitedly texted all of my Texas Tech friends, and fired some semi-serious shots at my Baylor friends as the score crescendoed to 45-40. I celebrated holding the vaunted Baylor offense to a field goal as I thought to myself, "We actually have a chance in this game". I left my seat when Bradley Marquez caught yet another Patrick Mahomes pass, high fiving every single person who was wearing any semblance of black or red and making my obnoxious way towards being the first sober person ever kicked out of that bar.
As Mahomes lined up for the two point conversion, I turned to my dad and said, clearly and honestly, "Even if we don't make this, it's been worth it to give Baylor a scare". Baylor got a great pass rush on the true freshman, and he threw the ball away. We lost by two points, 48-46.
It was March 6th, on a Friday night. I was headed to celebrate a close friend's birthday. We got to Chuy's early enough to beat the crowd, ate some Mexican food, and one of my best friends and myself became every single young male stereotype at once as we used the WatchESPN app to catch the last regular season game of Red Raider Basketball as they squared off against, you guessed it, the Baylor Bears. We high fived and acted like complete idiots and once again were nearly two of the only sober people ever thrown out of a bar, but we had a blast. Norense Odiase would block a shot, and we would fist pump. Zac Smith would slam a monster dunk home, and we would get wild in our seats.
We didn't really think we had a shot at beating Baylor. We loved our Red Raiders, but we saw what had happened this season. We watched the upset of top-ten ranked Iowa State become a distant memory due to an absolute blowout at Oklahoma. We watched and cheered, but we held back. We were obnoxious, but reserved. Ultimately what we had guessed would happen had come to pass: after a nail biting game, the #14 ranked Bears pulled ahead for good. We would go on to play Texas in the Big XII tournament and lose by 12, but that game seemed to sting a little more.
And now here we are, on a Friday afternoon in West Texas, watching a team we had swept in a 3-game series earlier in the season get hot at the exact perfect time and crush our postseason hopes. We started the season ranked 5th in the nation. Baylor was unranked. And yet, here they were, taking the place that we were predicted to be in, in a game that statistics said we were favored to win.
I wrestled with this frustration for longer than I'd like to admit. It was unlike myself to harbor this anger at anything for any period of time, so why Baylor? Why a school that has done nothing to me? They might have their t-shirt fans after becoming excellent in football over the past couple of years, but that wasn't their fault. What are they supposed to do, not be good so the t-shirt fans leave? They might have had their arrogant fans, but honestly, who wouldn't be at least a little prideful after the seasons they've had recently?
That was when it hit me like a Shawn Oakman tackle.
I didn't hate Baylor. I hated what they stood for: the end of one of the worst sports years ever. The image of our inability to close out games three times over. The very essence of what happens when you have expectations about sports.
In football, we started off the year as a borderline top-25 team with an outside shot at the Big XII title and a potential dark horse Heisman candidate in Davis Webb. We knocked off top-10 ranked Arizona State in our bowl game the previous year by a sizable margin, and had what was thought to be an easy schedule. Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas at home. TCU was supposed to be a little below average, and we had them on the road. Kansas State on the road and Baylor at a neutral site were supposed to be games that decided the Big XII champion.
We lost all of those games, and most of them by considerable margins.
We watched 82 points get piled on our boys in Hell's Half Acre. We watch Semaje Perine run all over our defense in the Jones. We watch Texas cornerback Quandre Diggs lay a vicious but legal hit on our backup quarterback, forcing our third string QB into service. This literal nightmare of a season ended mercifully against the Baylor Bears in Arlington, to the tune of 4 turnovers and a thrown away pass.
I don't think anyone expected our basketball team to be world-beaters, but I think we expected more than what we got. We watched a very, very promising 10-3 start turn into a merciless execution of our hopes and dreams. We lost by 20 at TCU. We lost by 20 at Kansas State. We upset Iowa State, and things were looking great, it seemed as if our young team had put something together... then we went on the road to Oklahoma and lost by 40.
The first half against Baylor was very promising. We led by a point against a team far more talented than ours, in their house, on senior night. Then it all came crashing down. Once again, we were stupefied by that team wearing green and gold, but the sting wasn't there yet.
That all changed last Friday.
Baseball was supposed to be our thing. Our time to shine. Our time to be the big dogs. We were ranked as high as #5 in the entire nation to start the season. We struggled. We didn't necessarily play bad, but we didn't play well enough. We went through a murderer's row that included Cal State Fullerton and New Mexico State before the slaughterhouse that is Big XII conference play. We never were awful, but never seemed to have it all together, making for a very up and down season. No one knew what we were going to get out of the team at any given time. We could absolutely dominate a team like Texas, or we could get pulverized by West Virginia.
This inconsistency seemed to have righted itself in a 8-1 showing against top-seeded TCU on Thursday, eliminating a first-class Horned Frogs team from conference play. The only thing that stood between us and furthering our preseason goals was the bottom seed in the tournament bracket, Baylor.
The Bears jumped out to a 3-0 lead before Tech battled their way back into the game 5-4, getting the tying run to 3rd base with trustworthy junior Tyler Neslony up to bat. Neslony had a solid connection that went straight towards the shortstop. To his credit, Neslony's speed nearly won out against the Bear's shortstop, but he was called out in what was an incredibly close play.
And while I have to admit, I'm not much of a baseball fan, it was frustrating. Maddening. Exasperating. Enraging, even, as I watched another team wearing white with a hint of green and gold celebrate and move on while our season had drawn to a close. I tried to find the words to say as all the frustration of watching some incredibly talented players and teams shoot themselves in the foot time and time again, but only one sentence escaped my mouth amidst a whirlwind of emotions that I hadn't expected to feel.
"Man, it's been a long, long year."