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Friday, June 2, 2006

Tittrington

Tittrington: 12 years too long for KU

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I've had 12 years to think about how I'd write this column.

Yet, now that the day is here, I'm finding that I don't know exactly what it is I want to say.

There is pride. There is joy. There is relief. Yet there is also knowledge that a group of 35 or so young men will never be looked at the same way again.

Such is the mixed bag of emotions that comes with seeing your place in lore become just a footnote to the past.

When Kodiak Quick takes the mound today for Kansas University in its NCAA baseball regional opener against Hawaii in Corvallis, Ore., it will mark just the third time in 116 seasons of KU baseball that the Jayhawks will be able to call themselves an NCAA Tournament team.

It also means I no longer will be the last KU pitcher to throw a pitch in an NCAA Tournament game.

While not the pitcher of record, I was the last one on the mound back in the spring of 1994 when that year's KU team fell to Brigham Young University in an elimination game at the Tallahassee, Fla., regional. At the time, I had no idea it would be my final appearance in a KU uniform.

More importantly, I feel safe speaking for my former teammates when I say we had no idea our second straight postseason trip - coming on the heels of the 1993 team that advanced to the College World Series - would be the last taste of NCAA glory for more than a decade.

Since that fateful day in '94, I've spent 11 springs checking in on the Jayhawks from long distance, first as a transfer who played his final two seasons at BYU - yes, the same team against which I closed out my KU career - and then as a sportswriter in such wide-ranging outposts as Coos Bay, Ore.; Hanover, Pa.; and Green Bay, Wis.

I watched as the Dave Bingham era came to a disappointing end, the Bobby Randall era never got off the ground and the Ritch Price era began.

I watched as the entire KU athletic program spiraled from the Big Eight Conference's beacon of success - in 1993, it became the first school to win a bowl game, play in the men's Final Four and advance to the College World Series in the same year - to a Big 12 also-ran that, with the exception of the beloved basketball program, struggled to keep up.

However, as fate would have it, my professional career brought me back to Lawrence at the end of last summer, and I've been fortunate to witness up close a renaissance by the Jayhawks.

The first football victory against Nebraska and the ensuing Fort Worth Bowl triumph were nice. So was seeing the softball team - also a perennial power during my time as a KU student - back in the NCAA field.

But the best turnaround of all was seeing the young men under the Price watch finally put it all together and reach a number of milestones - 40 victories, the first conference baseball championship since 1949, a top-25 ranking and, above all, an invite to the NCAAs.

I'm thrilled to see the banner has been passed, that I no longer will have to say I played on the lone two KU baseball teams to make it this far. Now, I simply hope for their continued postseason success.

And once it has runs its course - whether it's a "two and barbecue" in Corvallis or a dog pile on the mound in Omaha, Neb. - I also hope this year's crop of winners doesn't have to wait as long as my teammates and I to find the next worthy successor.

Comments

JJHawq 7 years, 10 months ago

why did you leave for the team you lost to? that might make a good story....

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