Major League Baseball’s season is over. San Francisco won the MLB World Series, and everybody went home or went hunting, some for a new position with a new team.
So, is baseball over now? Hardly.
College baseball teams are playing intra-squad games in early preparation for next-season openers in February. That’s right: February! And, yes, it’s cold.
Three years ago I knew nothing, really, about college baseball teams. I mean, my college days were the Sixties, and my school, Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, didn’t have a baseball team. They didn’t even have a football team — they still don’t. While I was the quarterback on my high school team, I had to adjust and learn competitive swimming at Oakland. Not that I was a jock: in high school people called me an “Egghead.”
In September 2009, I met by chance another writer, J. David Miller, a veteran sports journalist with 11 published books, writers’ awards and recognition and a 30-year career of published articles behind him. My credentials included poetry submissions published in international anthologies, a couple of published short stories, a successful sales-training book and workshops and five, full-length feature screenplays sitting in my drawer next to my unfinished novel that languished for lack of writing time at 167 pages … waiting for me to get off the dime, marketing-wise. (A top William Morris Agent had told me I was good and that I should stay in touch, but I hadn’t — go figure. But that’s another, long story.)
So, J-David, as I got used to calling him even though he said, “Call me David,” took a shine to me. We hit it off so well we became like blood-brothers. That was when he told me about a book project that he needed to complete. He had a commission to write a baseball book for a college program. He told me all about the book and its purpose, which was to help a winning college baseball coach fund and build a special ballpark for physically challenged children, enabling them to play baseball for the first times of their lives.
I was immediately in. A writer has to write, but here was also a worthwhile purpose not to be denied, I thought. So I took a chance and called J-David and asked, “Would you teach me some of what you’ve learned in 30 years, if I do research for you on that baseball book?” David didn’t answer right away. In fact, it was 10 days later before he called me and asked, “Ron, about that research offer … did you mean it?”
“Of course I did, J-David.”
“Good, because you are now my research assistant on the project,” he told me.
So, wholly based on our trust, I started to research the history of baseball, college baseball and the baseball program of the University of South Carolina Gamecocks, as well as the history of South Carolina. I wrote creative articles to David, based on the data found. The next thing you know, David, saying, “I knew you’d be good but not this good,” elevated me as co-author on the book. Something he never had to do, but did.
The ups and downs of America, South Carolina and the Fighting Gamecocks (as they were originally named), we discovered, had interesting parallels. There were compelling anecdotes of conflicts: the struggle for America’s freedom, the struggle for equality among blacks and whites, which continued after the Civil War, and the struggle for America’s industrialization amid, at times, crippling weather and economic conditions, ran alongside the emergence of college baseball anywhere and specifically its self-propelled expansion in South Carolina’s Midlands.
A baseball team wishes recognition as the best among its peers, and the heritage of the circles of players in Columbia was no different. The problem was, if they would be champions, they needed to find a full-time baseball coach for the program. The task took 78 years!
In 1892, players paid for their own uniforms and didn’t use gloves. Later teams played for coaches that were English professors, football coaches and, in one case, a demonic taskmaster interested in advancing his standing up to the professional baseball league!
Interestingly, while World War I, the Great Depression, World War II and the War on Segregation raged on outside of the baselines, Columbia baseball mirrored the moods of the country. Eerily, as America went so went the wins/losses records of decades of Gamecocks baseball teams.
At the instigation of football coach and athletics director, Paul Dietzel, in 1970 the university hired a full-time baseball coach, and the pattern changed. Under the guidance of Gold Glove, World Series MVP, veteran Yankee second-baseman, Bobby Richardson, the team consistently won more games than they lost. America also emerged from the shadows of the Vietnam War, polarizing protests and the aftermath of the murderous debacle at Kent State. Hollywood cranked out better movies, the music industry came into its heydays, and so did the Gamecocks.
But the College-turned-University of South Carolina was missing a national championship in any major sport. The trophy case on campus remained empty.
Coach Richardson took teams to Omaha and the College World Series, but they never brought home the grand prize. His successor, June Raines, earned repeated trips to the event — no luck. And then along came Yankee-aficionado, seasoned head coach, Ray Tanner, who would take his Columbia boys of spring to the “Best Show On Dirt” in Omaha several times and, in 2010, finally win the NCAA Division One College World Series — the first-ever, major-sport national championship for the school in 200 years! What a celebration! What a parade that followed in Columbia!
In 2011, most of the same players returned and, with the addition of new teammates, they joined the ranks of only seven other teams in college-baseball history by winning back-to-back national championships. The 2012 Gamecocks ran their quest for a historic three-peat championship all the way to the Finals Series of the Omaha Classic.
To say that the book, Carolina Baseball: Pressure Makes Diamonds, written by J. David Miller and Ron Kule, which chronicles the historic rise to the top of one school, is only a college-baseball story with niche-market appeal is to miss the importance of the valuable life-lessons of baseball revealed within its pages. Because the overcoming of hardships by dedicated people everywhere in America, who strive for emancipation from the boredom of complacency and lackluster production and seek a better life for their progeny; who find that sport, especially amateur baseball, provides not only entertainment, but lasting values and relief from worrisome, day-to-day situations, is a story worth telling, Miller and Kule wrote their detailed, fascinating and timeless tale, Pressure Makes Diamonds.
The book is available in limited-edition, leather-bound, hard-copy format at www.TheRayTannerFoundation.Org. By mid-November, the E-book edition will be available for all E-readers through Amazon and other online outlets.
For more information on Miracle League ballparks, go to www.MiracleLeague.com. For more details on how to donate to building the ballpark in Columbia, S.C., or how to purchase Pressure Makes Diamonds in quantity for gift-giving, send an email to KuleBooksLLC@gmail.com. Every purchase adds to funds dedicated to building the Miracle League field.
This article and its contents is © 2012 by KuleBooks LLC. All Rights Reserved.