Seventeen inches. Sixty feet six inches. Ninety feet. Distances common to every college baseball field.
Three hundred twenty feet. Three hundred eighty feet. And three hundred twenty-five feet. From the left field line through center field to the right field line, these are distances the Maryland baseball team has become familiar with on a daily basis at Shipley Field at Bob "Turtle" Smith Stadium in College Park.
To make a journey of three hundred twenty-three miles required nine years. A four hundred ninety-two mile trip on the last weekend in May needed forty-three years. And a one hundred twenty-seven mile bus ride from College Park to Charlottesville in June, well, that was a trip the Terps had never made. Until 2014.
The players and staff aren't the only ones on the road. Close observers of the crowd in Charlottesville Saturday might have spotted Maryland public address announcer Matt Noble, assistant volleyball coach Adam Hughes, or assistant women's basketball coach Marlin Chinn. Of course, Director of Athletics Kevin Anderson was on hand as were enthusiastic and faithful Terps' fans Doug and Susan Hoff who trekked to Charlottesville as part of a raucous Maryland contingent. People who regularly attend Terps home games might recognize the players' parents. Robert Amaro, Bob Ruse and Tammy Poyer, Dave and Deb Schmit, or Brian and Jennifer White among others.
The Ruse family
Ruse attended every home game and has traveled to all the postseason games. "I'm a salesman," he told me, "I've only spent one night in my own bed in the last two weeks. But this has been such a great ride, I wouldn't have it any other way."
For his son Bobby, the journey started when former recruiting coordinator Dan Burton approached him and told him that by his junior year Maryland baseball would be prepped for something special. As Ruse took the mound to pitch a solid one and two-thirds innings in Maryland's ground breaking fortieth win in the first game of the Super Regional in Charlottesville Saturday, neither he nor Burton could have imagined that while the season has indeed been special, the coaching staff and roster could be so changed.
The Schmit family
For shortstop Blake Schmit, whose parents Deb and Dave have made at least eight trips from Minnesota this season, the journey to forty wins began with a semester at a Division II school and wound its way through junior college before Schmit was able to realize his dream of playing in the ACC. "Forty wins would really help to put Maryland baseball on the map," Dave told me. "And we couldn't be prouder that Blake could be a part of that." Schmit went 1 for 4 with a double and a run scored as well as making a perfect relay throw to get Mike Papi on the first inning double play in the Terps signature win. He also rode it to being drafted in the twenty-sixth round by the Minnesota Twins.
The White family
"The first inning was Charlie White's inning basically," Coach John Szefc said after the game. "He gets it going for us offensively in the top of the first and that catch is as good as a double with the bases loaded because it took two runs off the board." For Brian or Jennifer White, their journey begins in Chicago. One or both has attended each weekend series this season. In Charlottesville, Brian told me, "Honestly, this is a trip we were never sure we'd make. We knew they were on the rise but they've exceeded every expectation." On the day he was drafted by the Cubs, White went three for five, scored two runs, stole a base and made a pretty good play in the outfield.
The Terp baseball family
The life of a college baseball player is filled with more journeys than most. Like every athlete, there are trips to the classroom, to the weight room, to the practice field, and to the playing field. But the baseball player's season can stretch across sixty plus games spanning from mid-February - usually someplace in the south - to late June and perhaps as far as Omaha.
Every season is also a journey. Young men learn who they are and what they they're made of as individuals. Some teams reach a critical point where their season collapses or bursts onto the scene like a supernova. Some teams respond to a four game losing streak at the end of April by calling it quits. Others respond by winning fifteen of their next seventeen games and becoming greater than the sum of their individual talents. And dreams, once thought impossible, come within their grasp.
A journey unfinished
Maryland's road to the NCAA Super Regional was long and winding. As fans, we'll never know the many ways they tried and the resources they found within themselves to ascend from the chasm that the detour of being swept by Boston College and losing to James Madison led them into. They responded not by bemoaning being lost but by looking to the only place they could to find the right path - inside themselves. And they found the road that led them to win their last nine regular season games and earn a first round bye in a tournament they hadn't reached for nearly a decade. And they took us with them.
They won two games in that tournament not quite able to grab the title but knowing the journey would continue. And they took us with them.
They traveled to South Carolina facing a challenge perhaps only they believed they had the wherewithal and guidance that could let them successfully navigate to the next road. They exceeded our expectations. And they took us with them.
When they arrived in Charlottesville, the Terps were brimming with confidence. They'd traveled far and they had seen and overcome many obstacles. When they took the field on Saturday, they showed that grit and confidence - nearly cresting the hill to merge onto the next road. And they took us with them.
The photo that accompanies this story shows the final score of Maryland's final win of the 2014 season. Look closely at the Appalachian Mountains in the distance. Though the Terps failed to find the road that crosses those mountains, they will cross them frequently in 2015 perhaps even after a June weekend.
Maryland Terrapins players have historically known those February trips to Florida or Louisiana. In 2014 they made history as the first Terps squad to be travelling in June. In 2014 they made history as the first Maryland team to reach a Super Regional. In 2014 they made history as the first Terrapins squad to win forty games. In 2014, the Maryland Terrapins traveled 942 miles in the postseason. In 2014, Omaha Nebraska was one win and 1,155 miles away. Where will they take us next year?