Good Sport: On mystery, the past and a long goodbye

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jeffby Jeff Laughlin

The sun set behind the stadium, leaving the scantily clad college girls to fight for reasons to stay at the game or head back to the dorms to warm up. It would be easy to laugh at them or to do the creepy old man thing and offer a jacket, but I just watched them shiver until the crowd emptied by around a third.

That’s the way I’ve operated the whole time I’ve worked at the Beat. I could have interviewed any number of athletes or coaches. I could have met the mothers and fathers of players to get inside scoops. I could have wandered from school to school searching for athletic directors to talk to about the future.

Instead, I just sat there and watched.

For all I know the March 17 NC State-UNCG baseball game will have been the last game I watch as a professional. Why should it be any different? Why should I change now?

I’ve always been a sideline junkie, addicted to what happens rather than what happened. History is for gamblers and the future is for suckers. I live by that sports creed and now my career at Triad City Beat has died by it.

When Eric Kalbfleisch stepped up to the plate in the second inning, I knew as much about him as I did about any stranger. By his uniform I knew who he played for and the scoreboard pointed out the important stats. When he slaughtered his first home run of the year, I certainly had no idea it would be a deciding blast in a laughably easy win for the Spartans.

That’s the way it is supposed to work. When it comes to filling out NCAA tournament brackets, predicting races, telling someone about a boxer’s form — when it comes to sports — truth only exists in mystery. And mystery surrounded me by the diamond.

I have no idea what I am doing in moving away. I have just as much knowledge of Austin Embler, the UNCG shortstop that legged out a beautiful infield single and walked twice, as I do my new job right now. I’m sure Aaron Wright, the Spartans’ first baseman with the worst at-bat music I’ve ever heard, has somewhere to live in two weeks. I don’t yet.

I’d like to say that the mystery motivates me; that the idea of walking into cloudy, ethereal newness will light some mystic fire inside me.

Problematically, I’m scared it won’t. The embers of the past certainly don’t bode well and we all know the future is a mess of the unknown.

I’m sure if you asked Kalbfleisch what the pitch was going to be that he tattooed into left center, he would have guessed correctly that it would be a fastball. That’s why he gets to play, because every now and again, about 25 to 30 percent of the time, he guesses correctly and hits the ball where they ain’t.

Would that it were so simple off the field. Would that I just had to hit them where they ain’t or just had to straighten it out after fouling one off.

Instead, I’m off to greet the future. If that sounds like some nonsense speech at a high school graduation, I apologize. And I’m sorry for the platitudes, the poetics and the long-winded, pretentious ideas I sullied sports’ good name with in this column.

But I won’t apologize for not knowing the future. I never wanted to talk about sports with anyone. I just wanted to tell you all what happened.

I could thank everyone who allowed me access to their games; my editors for their faith, vigilance and kindness; the players for their workman’s ethic, my sister for hiking alongside me to capture the moments on film; and I could thank all of the readers I never met. I could do all of that.

Instead, I’m going to tell you what happened.

My friend Mike and I sat there as the chilly March air settled in amongst the disgruntled State fans. I poked a little fun at them as the UNCG runs plated. Mike and I heckled the umpire quietly for maintaining one of the worst strikes zones I’ve ever seen.

UNCG put up 4 in the 2nd including the Kalbfleisch dinger and 2 in the 8th — insurance runs that would serve to keep the game out of reach when NC State’s Preston Palmiero crushed a line-drive, 2-run homer in the 9th.

UNCG won 7-3.

Fittingly for my final column, my alma mater beat my childhood heroes. As I walked to my car, I smiled amidst all the mystery, ready to call the past exactly that.

Plus, I was smart enough to wear a damn jacket.