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Hail to the [Hardball] Heels

If the Hoo Lawyer was impressed, and he was, it is safe to assume that the Carolina baseball team had something going for it. The Diamond Heels came up just short in Omaha ; during the course of any sports season, a team’s deficiencies will eventually be exploited. The only real weakness that was advertised about this team was a defensive one. Despite finishing second, however, this Carolina team created a lot of admirers. That didn’t happen too often during the Days of Dean.

That the Carolina baseball team could create a disparate group of bedfellows among its fans was a ringing endorsement of its overall likeability. That was certainly the case on a recent Friday afternoon at a local watering hole. There was in attendance a Hokie, a Hoo and a Heel, guys that have spent many Fridays together discussing sports and the state of the world over the last three decades or so. We haven’t often talked college baseball.

The Hoo Lawyer is not the biggest fans of most anything Carolina . Generally the only positive reaction that can be pried from him are loud guffaws whenever I mention ‘Heeliban’ in conjunction with whatever leftist looniness is in the news from the People’s Republic of Chapel Hill. Since this tends to be a great source of embarrassment to the Heel, a guy who considers Rush a moderate, I do it often. The discussion this time was different.

We had been discussing football, as we often do. The Heel had announced that he had given up his season tickets to Carolina football that he had held for over thirty years. He had arrived in Blue Heaven the same year as Bill Dooley and had gone through Dollar Bill, then Dick Crum, Mack Brown, Carl Torbush and now Big John Bunting. There have been a lot of losing seasons.

Now, finding his lovelies in the same ACC division as Tech and Miami , the Heel had decided that perhaps Carolina was not going to become a football power and had thrown in the towel. He could have kept his tickets for another year and given the S9 ones to me, saving me eighty bucks. Oh, well.

While he would no longer be making autumnal treks to Kenan, the Heel pointed out that he was attending a lot of sporting events in the homeland. His nephew was the pitching coach for Mike Fox, obviously a very good one.

This brought on a discussion of the Carolina baseball team, this right before the final series with Oregon State . I expressed how much I admired the grit, determination and youthful enthusiasm of these Tar Heels, a bunch with a collective demeanor much different from that, say, of, Vince, Rasheed or Makhtar, or, for that matter, Tech’s former quarterback. This brought the Hoo Lawyer out of his Scotch-induced alcoholic haze long enough to utter, “You know, I really like those guys.” A lot of us did.

It was a Carolina team that fought hard, every game, every out. They got to the College World Series with a come-from-behind win over Alabama in a very unfriendly Tuscaloosa . Against Oregon State , they went down swinging. The team had a toughness that Big John often finds lacking.

It was also a team that was all white. This was certainly not unusual- more dark faces can be found at meetings of the Aryan Nation than were on display in Omaha , a situation brought on through the socioeconomic conditions that cause certain groups to gravitate to certain sports, magnified by who generally attends college out of those groups, that will not be delved into here.

It did seem unusual for a team representing UNC to be composed of a hue even lighter than the baby blue of their uniforms. Do the Commissars of the People’s Republic of Chapel Hill know about this? Perhaps it is just as well that the Hardball Heels came in second. They were spared an organized championship celebration that no doubt would have been picketed by the Diversity Police. Chancellor James ‘The Panderer’ Moeser did not have to stand up and apologize for the team being all white and vow to do something about it. The players did not have to do something like prostrate themselves towards Mecca in prayerful supplication to Allah, chant ‘Death to America’ or engage in public displays of male homosexuality to prove themselves worthy of the name on the front of the jersey. There was a silver lining to the tough loss to OSU.

The Carolina baseball team did reinforce my belief that there are two universities calling themselves Carolina. There is the one famous for its political goofiness and embracing of every crackpot cause that any disaffected loser can dream up. Then there is the one attended by every single Carolina alum of my acquaintance. I know quite a few and am aware that a bunch read this page. None meets the popular stereotype. I know some Hokies whose political leanings are far to the left of any Tar Heel I know.

The baseball team seemed to represent that second Carolina . It was very interesting looking at their roster. These were local boys- all of the starters were in-state products. There were several from the suburbs of Charlotte . This would seem to indicate that not all of the suburban kids are playing soccer and dreaming of one day growing up and finishing last in a World Cup group. Youth baseball would seem to be alive and well, too.

There were also many from the small towns that dot the Old North State . They were places named Smithfield, Shallotte, Gastonia , Pikeville and New Bern , small towns where youth baseball still matters very much and where overall attitudes tend to be very different from those that draw the most publicity along Franklin Street . BobLee Swagger has pointed out to me that 95% of those who attend school there come through the Carolina Experience with no negative lasting effects. I don’t know any of the kids on the Carolina baseball team, but suspect they will be among that silent majority.

There were numerous professional prospects on the Carolina team, notably on the pitching staff so ably coached by my Heel buddy’s nephew. Most will end their baseball careers in college, however, and enter the real world where the rest of us reside. I have an idea that they will enter one of the training programs at the Charlotte banks, or something similar and in a decade or so will be solid citizens chuckling at Swagger at a Rotarian luncheon. I will consider this a good thing.

It took a very special Carolina team to get people like this Hokie and the Hoo Lawyer rooting for them. It was. The small-town appeal of this team was infectious; they were of a much different makeup than that other white Triangle team that created much different headlines this Spring. The small towns of eastern North Carolina are far away, literally and figuratively, from Long Island estates. I noticed no sense of privilege on this Carolina team. They were very easy to root for.

Congratulations to the 2006 North Carolina Baseball team. Good job, guys.

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