Ryan Johnson is a senior at Wake Forest.
Each week, the All-American outfielder will keep us posted on
the happenings at Wake Forest, a team that should challenge for the ACC title.
Johnson, who batted .366 a year ago with 13 home runs and 77 RBI, is a
tri-captain for the Demon Deacons.
March 11, 2003
Feeling Blue? Lasorda is the
Our first game last week was Tuesday, against a tough Charlotte squad.
Traditionally, we have struggled during Tuesday games for primarily two
reasons. First, Monday is our off day. While off days can be a refreshing
break from the game and give players a chance to catch up on their studies, they
also can cause position players to lose their timing both at the plate and in
the field. The second reason we tend to struggle is because many people on our
team have to take 12 o’clock Tuesday classes, which don’t end until 1:15. By
the time they reach the field, it is about an hour away from game time, and
batting practice is halfway over. These two factors, combined with a quality
opponent, usually lead to us falling behind early in the game.
The Charlotte game was no exception. They took a 3-0 lead
in the top of the first, and we found ourselves behind for the fourth straight
game. We were unable to score until the third inning, but chipped away and
scored a run in each inning after that. Charlotte pulled within one run in the
top of the eighth, but Daniel Davidson closed the door in the ninth for the
first save of his career, and we won 8-7. Our offense was led by Ryan Hubbard’s
three hits and home runs by Jamie D’Antona, Brad Scioletti and Doug Riepe.
On Wednesday, we had practice. During the season, practice
is a day to get our kinks out and work on whatever we are struggling with during
the games. Usually, at the beginning of the season there are an abundance of
aspects that we still need to work on, such as cuts and relays, bunt defenses
and pop-fly communication. These practices are usually very routine. However,
this practice was very special because we were fortunate enough to have a
special guest come visit. Towards the end of practice, I came out of the dugout
and saw a prestigious array of Wake Forest alumni and administrators. Standing
among them was none other than Tommy Lasorda.
I stared at him for a few seconds, then looked away and
shook my head a few times. When I looked back he was still there, and I was
stunned. I was a devoted Dodgers fan growing up, and Tommy Lasorda was their
symbol of pride, character and success. Even though I lived just outside Los
Angeles my entire life, I had never been closer than the upper deck of Dodger
Stadium to him. He was scheduled to talk to our basketball team before its game
against Carolina that night and had decided to come and talk to us as well.
No one on our team had ever heard a motivational speaker
like him. He spoke with an enthusiasm and firmness that demanded respect. The
message that he was trying to convey to us was the importance of playing as a
team and each individual accepting his role within it. He said, "You play for
the name on the front of your jersey, not the name on the back." He also told
us that if you don’t practice like a team, you won’t play like a team. The
importance of repetition in practice was emphasized heavily. To get this point
across, he told us a story about one of his players who spoke limited English
and did not know what repetition meant. Supposedly, his player had a dog that
went to the bathroom on the floor everyday. Each day the player would rub the
dog’s nose in it and throw it outside. This went on for 30 days until one day
the ballplayer came home from a game and the dog stuck its own nose in the
carpet and threw itself outside. Lasorda explained to him that this was
repetition, and that it is the only way to build good habits on and off the
field. (Unfortunately my cat doesn’t seem to understand repetition yet, but I
am trying this method now and am only on Day 5.)
Lasorda closed his talk by emphasizing the importance of
believing in yourself and your teammates. We were all surprised that he stayed
after he was done talking for 45 minutes and talked baseball with us causally.
It was something that he didn’t have to do, but it was obvious that he loved
the game so much that he would talk about it and share his knowledge with anyone
who would listen. We listened carefully - I have never heard our team so quiet
On Thursday, we played Albany, and Lasorda’s pep talk
seemed to have worked: We won 25-1. Our pitching combination of Brian Bach,
Kirby Wedekind, Indy Wilkinson and Kyle Young was nearly flawless, allowing one
run on four hits. Our offense was spectacular, and many guys had career days at
the plate. It was also nice to see guys play who do not regularly have the
opportunity to play. It seems like we cheer the loudest for them because they
may only get a few at-bats in a season, and we desperately want them to do well
because of how hard they work. Their names may not be in the box score everyday,
but their contributions to the team are as important as anyone else’s.
On Friday, we began our three game series with Le Moyne.
We won a nail-biter, 3-2. Kyle Sleeth took the mound and had another masterful
outing, allowing only two runs on four hits in nine innings. Brian Matton from
Le Moyne was equally impressive, holding us to three runs on six hits, while not
walking a single batter in eight innings of work. After the game we knew that
we were in for a battle all weekend because they were the most enthusiastic team
that we had played all season.
On Saturday, we tried to match their enthusiasm, and it
paid off. We won 6-3. Sophomore Tim Morley continued our season of strong
pitching performances with a seven-inning, two-run outing. Our offense was
balanced, with six different players having a RBI. We jumped out to a six-run
lead after four innings, but we could not manage to add any more runs after
that. They gave us a scare by chipping away at our lead and scoring three runs
in the sixth and seventh innings. However, Adam Hanson shut them down in the
final two innings and earned his first save of the year.
On Sunday, we played the third and final game of the
series. We lost a seesaw battle 6-5. No team can expect to win a baseball game
when it strands 12 runners on base and the defense commits four errors. Le
Moyne capitalized on our mistakes and gave us our first home loss of the season.
The Dolphins were a very good ball club, but we hate to lose, and making that
many mistakes was unacceptable. We also take special pride in winning games at
Gene Hooks Stadium. In my 3½ years at Wake, I can count the number of losses
that we have at home on two hands.
Even though we were disappointed by the outcome of the
final game, we are still going to remain positive going into our Spring Break
Week. While our classmates are enjoying the sun and surf of exotic locations,
we will be living vicariously through MTV’s Spring Break shows while staying in
Winston-Salem, Lynchburg, Va., and College Park, Md. They are hardly the places
that come to mind when you think of Spring Break, but we will make the best of
it and will be focused on winning each game we play. We are scheduled to play
Liberty on Tuesday, Wofford on Wednesday, and open up ACC play Friday against
Maryland for a three-game set.
Karaoke and Playing in a Big-League Dome (3/4/03)
(photo courtesy of WFU Media Relations Office)