By James Smith
May 29, 2012
Expectations. We all have them. The 2012 Broncos were no exception. They had them too, and it is for this reason that the season did not go as planned. Going into the 2012 regular season, if there were expectations in the mind of the Broncos, they were bad. We had won only 17 games in the 2011 season, we had lost much of our great talent to our graduating seniors the previous spring, and we had a brand new coaching staff, all of which left us unsure of how our year would play out. After a late September night meeting, however, the team’s five seniors – myself included – knew something was going to be different.
After the September practice in which our skipper demanded we get down on our hands and knees around the field and literally start talking to the grass, I knew something was going to be different – and better. He does things differently, and he does them better. He, unlike several of the players, had high expectations. They weren’t result-oriented and driven solely on the prospect of winning. Rather, they were great expectations. Not the Charles Dickens kind, but the kind that were rooted in the team’s process, effort, and heart. He has the innate ability to motivate the Broncos internally and externally – something few of us had ever had the chance to experience. He was the great leader we had been looking for. He is someone who can get in our face and challenge us to be great. Through these challenges, if we accepted them, we could become great. And through the fog of a thousand different philosophies and hundreds of O’Brienisms, he became our leader, and we bought into it.
We bought in – even while having negative expectations of a winning season, let alone a conference title. And suddenly, there we sat at 5-0 after defeating opening night at Stephen Schott Stadium and having traveled to Texas and San Luis Obispo. We were a bunch of Broncos with Seven of Clubs on our foreheads. We were on cloud nine. It was like something out of a movie; similar to the story of the underdog, the Broncos – who did not realize their own potential – suddenly began to believe in themselves. A conference title, a regional win, and dreams of Omaha danced around in our minds, just as the dugout dances while “Who Da Neighbors” bursts through the stadium speakers as #4 walks to the plate.
Opposing teams, newspaper writers, and even umpires got caught up with our dugout antics. The Bronco dugout took on the characteristics of an old western corral. We ran laps in the minds of opposing teams, journalists for local newspapers couldn’t help but mention our perfectly executed time bombs, and the umpires seemed to focus more on our boisterous and orchestrated exploits than they did on making the right call on a bang bang play at first. At times, we had teams beat before the first pitch was thrown. Psychological warfare as Skip calls it. And guess what? We bought in. So enthralled by our success, however, we the “PEEPO” got caught up in the expectations of others. Suddenly, that Seven of Clubs transformed into an Ace of Spades.
We lost late against San Jose State, were swept in the opening series of WCC play, and played poorly against Bakersfield. Something had happened to the Broncos. Metaphorically speaking, we might as well have been a noble steed galloping through an open field, suddenly crunching down into a deep gopher hole. The life that was the 2012 Bronco baseball season, suddenly seemed crippled.
Maybe we lost steam, maybe we were plagued with injures, or maybe we simply played bad baseball, but the fact of the matter remains that we stopped winning baseball games on a consistent basis. And I blame it on expectation. We went into baseball games expecting to win. And by the fifth inning, when we were tied or even down by a single run, we began to do what our opposing teams had done earlier in the season; we began to press. Soon thereafter, we were hoping and waiting, rather than knowing that we would get the next big hit. In this process, we were the ones striking out and booting easy ground balls late in the game. Somewhere along the way through our 54 game season, we had been bitten and poisoned. And we carried that poison with us everywhere, not knowing how to cope.
Even our new leader could not stop the spread of the poison that was expectation. It seeped through the fortress, crept in through Stephen Schott’s walls, and stormed through the Fort Knox doors of our clubhouse. It permeated the still air of the Bronco locker room and finally saturated the young minds of Bronco Nation. Skip – aware of this rapid spread of poison – needed to overcome it. So again, he challenged us and demanded our courage.
Courage. Some of us have it. And if we didn’t, we were about to have it put to the test. Skip easily could have given up on us. But he didn’t. “Embrace the suck,” he said. And oh boy, we certainly have. It takes courage to stare a losing season directly in the face and resist the temptation to follow the same well-known path that alumni Bronco have experienced in previous years.
The 2012 Bronco’s bravery is illustrated by our divergence from the beaten path, and our creation of a new one. We created a clean slate, and it was ours to control. Each Bronco has a decision to better himself every moment while on the field. The result of this decision will either help or hinder the program as a whole. We are only as strong as our weakest link. During out BYU series, this courage was exemplified. We continually competed at the plate. Our courage picked up our fellow Bronco pitchers when they refused to retire hitters and while our hitters refused to miss a barrel.
“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” When I read this quote on expectations, I felt that it spoke to the mystery that is baseball and its endless metaphors for our lives. The Broncos won games early in the season because they expected that the process would take care of the results. We lost games late in season because we got away from the process and once again returned the destructive and unenthusiastic ways of the past. In baseball what we need to do to succeed in this game is to focus on the task at hand. This game is played one pitch at a time. Therefore, why should we have expectations of events that have yet to happen?
So as a passer byer, when you see the Broncos standing on that foul line preparing themselves for yet another great year at the yard, don’t expect great things from them. Just know in your mind, that when you walk through the gates of Stephen Schott Stadium on a Friday evening to watch the Broncos go about their business, you will be surprised. No matter the final score of that ball game, it is the process that matters in the long run.
And one day, you will turn on that television on a late June evening and see the Broncos dog piling on a field in Omaha. And you, again, will be surprised.
Santa Clara University
Class of 2012