OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma baseball coach Sunny Golloway said he woke up Thursday morning at 6:15 a.m., heard the rain on the window and felt sick to his stomach.
“How are they going to continue to clean up,” he said.
He went on to say that he remained conflicted, still unsure if playing the Big 12 baseball tournament is the right thing to do. And, though the weather finally broke and OU and Baylor finally took the field at 12:30 p.m. rather than 9 a.m., and the Sooners took advantage, riding the pitch-calling of Anthony Hermelyn and the pitch-throwing of Jonathan Gray to a 2-0 victory over the Bears, it only did so much for Golloway, whose heart is with tornado victims more than his team’s diamond fortunes.
“The sun clearing was a good thing for them,” he said, thinking of so many tasked with clean-up duties, “not so much for us.”
Golloway is not wrong but he underestimates the importance of his day job, particularly at a time like this.
For one thing, OU is on the NCAA bubble whether he wants to believe it or not, and while the Sooner Nation perpetually hopes for something to cheer about, there’s surely a piece of it that needs something to cheer about and not just for a day or two at the conference tourney, but in regional play, maybe super regional play and maybe beyond.
So, while the Sooners and just about every other baseball team that’s in Oklahoma City this week have pitched in for tornado relief, earning honorary Oklahoman status in the process, the best thing any group of Sooners can do for its fans, many of which are knee deep in rubble and lost in the recovery process, is to keep going, keep playing and keep winning.
You hear it all the time, that in times of tragedy, sports are the great distraction. It’s as regular as clockwork and couldn’t be more wrong. Sports are bigger than that.
Mosquitoes are a distraction. A leaky faucet is a distraction. Listening to Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith every morning on “First Take” is a bad idea and a distraction.
Sports are real.
Sports offer investment.
Distractions only distract.
OU’s Thursday victory over Baylor was real and the way it happened was real. Gray, the Sooner ace slated to be one of the first two picks in the draft, who Golloway expects to see in the big league’s this season, struck out 12 and allowed only three hits.
And after some lackluster outings of late, he got a big assist from Hermelyn, who called the pitches from behind the plate for a second time, a space that happens to coincide with OU’s current two-game winning streak.
Golloway deserves an assist, too, if only for his willingness to hold the reins of his team loosely. Every major league catcher may call his own game, but it’s a virtual revolution at the college level.
What’s a next, a quarterback calling his own plays?
“It’s definitely fun,” Hermelyn said. “It’s a challenge.”
It’s one he passed with flying colors, guiding “the big guy,” as everybody calls Gray, to his third complete game of the season.
OU’s performance opened some possibilities, too.
Maybe shutting out a good Baylor team gets it off the bubble. Maybe today, when Hermelyn’s sure to call Dillon Overton’s pitches against Texas Tech, it will go without saying that, yes, this Sooner season will live beyond the weekend.
But why stop there?
Why not just win the dang thing?
OU won the very first Big 12 tournament back in 1997 and has waited ever since to do it again.
It may not seem like it.
Passing by so much destruction on both sides of the highway between Norman and the ballpark, finally winning it all again Sunday afternoon might seem as fleeting as humanity’s dominion over nature.
Win with a heavy heart, playing for something bigger than yourself and it will never be more meaningful.
Follow me @clayhorning