Florida Baseball: My New We

I guess this is a recap? Basically, this just took me forever to write.

Florida's baseball team lost Tuesday night. It lost in a painful fashion, without ever leading, with faint and unsuccessful scrapping to get back into a game that we were never likely to win. It lost two games in a row to a team that beat it four out of five times in the most successful season in school history, a team that was summitting Everest for a second time while we were topping out on K2 again.

It sucked. I'm not gonna lie about that. But I think this is the sort of pain that makes things sweeter at the end.

I don't remember the 2000 NCAA Tournament all that well, in honesty. I remember being home, inexplicably, to see Mike Miller's floater vanquish Butler, and I remember that we beat Illinois, Duke, Oklahoma State, and North Carolina to get to that matchup with Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament final, but I honestly couldn't tell you much about any of those games, beyond my absolute certainty that Teddy Dupay and Brett Nelson were making threes and being annoying.

I don't even remember much of the final, other than Mateen Cleaves being completely awesome and earning every bit of the hate I still have for him. I was 10 years old then; I went to sleep around halftime with a promise from my dad that he would wake me up if it got close, and woke up in the morning to a "It just never got close" explanation.

But that night confirmed my status as a fan of Florida basketball. That hurt. Seeing Mateen Cleaves' impish joy hurt. Every SportsCenter replay of a Mo Peterson jumper hurt. Knowing that Mike Miller and Donnell Harvey leaving was going to make getting back to that stratosphere difficult hurt.

There's something about the transience of college sports, and how small the windows are, that makes each triumph sweeter: My Packers will have Aaron Rodgers for years to come, but I only got four years of Tim Tebow, of Danny Wuerffel; I got three years of Joakim Noah and the rest of the Oh Fours.

And so each game, each year, is that much more important. When Florida baseball gets to the College World Series, the losses hurt that much more because there aren't that many more chances.

Tuesday night hurt. Monday night hurt, maybe more: I'd never used alcohol as a pain reliever before, and doubt I'll do it that often, but there was a lot of wine and a bit of vodka in my system shortly after South Carolina won in 11 innings. It's not like baseball's nearly my favorite sport — soccer might pip it on a scale of sports I enjoy in the abstract, and I loved the one lacrosse game I saw this season — but that hurt.

That made me realize something: I care.

I cared that Kevin O'Sullivan's silly reliance on bunting may have hampered the Gators. I cared that Mike Zunino finally got his moment to shine in the CWS. I cared about us making dumb outs with bad swings on first pitches; I cared that Nolan Fontana's great year will have an error as its last moment of note; I cared that Karsten Whitson's only loss of the year came in the biggest game Florida's ever played. I cared enough to call this team we.

We is a threshold for me; we is what I use for various Gators teams, because I'm a student and will be an alum, and because I'm a Florida-born, Florida-based UF fan. They feel like my family, my tribe. That's been true of football for about 15 years; for men's basketball, about a decade. As of this week, it's also true for baseball.

Sure, there's a bit of admitted front-runnerism here (it's easy to claim a team that was second-best in its sport, I know), but this is a team I care about. It's a team I'm going to follow; it's a team I was looking up recruiting reports for earlier this week.

We'll probably lose in the coming years. The 2012 team will be very, very good, but, then, so was this year's team. I firmly believe a national championship isn't far off, though, and when we win, finally getting to the top of Everest, it's going to be very sweet.

We lost Monday night. We lost Tuesday night. But Florida baseball has at least one new devoted fan. And I'm proud to be part of that we.

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