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Somewhere in Middle America

I fear that any attempt to laude a team possessing the amount of resolve that the Cardinal Nine displayed on Sunday with an eloquent prose would fail horribly, so instead I'll start with this: that was f***ing awesome.

The Louisville Cardinals are going to the College World Series.

For those in desperate need of an analogous reference befitting this area, it's the equivalent of Northwestern making the Final Four next season.

How these guys who had never played in an NCAA Tournament game before this season, and then had to spend 24 hours thinking about how they had just been three outs from Omaha, managed to bounce back and put on that performance in the biggest game of their lives is beyond me.

An enormous portion of the credit for Sunday should be placed on the latest shoulders to have been graced by the Midas touch of Tom Jurich.

Dan McDonnell's pregame speech was so simple and yet so perfect that it finally hit me that this whole thing isn't a fluke. The first head coach in nearly thirty years to take his team to the College World Series in his inaugural year as a skipper is the real deal.

In the climatic moment where the hard-nosed albeit lovable Hollywood movie coach takes center stage, McDonnell put Gordon Bombay to shame. He stressed living in the prescious present, understanding how special this day was regardless of what happened, and how his audience had already set the standard for future Louisville sluggers.

"It's a win-win situation for us," McDonnell told his players. "Omaha will be great, but this will be one of the greatest experiences of your lives. This is your home field. These are your home fans. We talk so much about getting to a certain point in life that we don't enjoy the ride. We talk about getting to the big dance. This really is the dance. How you get here is what makes the year so special. Don't look past this. Take advantage of it, soak it all in. This will go down as one of the greatest memories you ever have. You are going to go down as the greatest team that has ever played here. So win or lose today, realize that, and enjoy it."

For a group of young men still wondering whether or not they would forever be remembered as the team that blew their chance to take part in one of sports' greatest events, those words had to alleviate an incalculable number of nerves.

"By the time he was finished talking, our heads were right," said second baseman Logan Johnson.

It's no wonder that Johnson continued to rope any pitch that dared catch too much of the plate, that Isaiah Howes belted his eighth home run in 12 postseason games, or that Chris Cates (did you guys hear that he's the smallest player in college baseball? thanks pam) had the poise and focus to come up with a Herculean at-bat to get a run home from third when the game was still in doubt.

Of course if I'm going to shower McDonnell with praise, then I probably ought to send at least a little the way of the man for whom my first child (boy or girl) will be named, Tom "JFK Who?" Jurich himself.

I really wasn't sure I could love Tom any more, and then I read what he told Eric Crawford on his way down to the field yesterday.

"This is the biggest thing we've done," he said. "The other things have been huge. But this, this is unbelievable. Louisville in the College World Series? Are you kidding?"

The words read like something a giddy kid in the heat of the moment might have said - which makes them even cooler -, but there's a lot of truth in there as well. U of L being in the College World Series is still something that is beyond the realm of my comprehension, but five years ago anyone who would have forecasted what we've just seen would have been slapped in the face by me on principle. I don't put up with outlandish fantasies, and up until a week ago the thought of the Cardinals taking the field on Omaha made The Lord of the Rings look like a Ken Burns documentary.

The other fantastic thing about all this is that it really did galvanize the city's baseball community in a way that before I hadn't been completely sure was possible. The guys on the roofs, the people on buildings across the street, the packed berm, it all made Jurich's prediction of fans "hanging off of the twin spires" seem plausible.

The best description of the atmosphere that I've read so far was written by Doug Kroll, an objective CSTV blogger who obviously left the Derby City a Cardinal baseball fan.

It's tough to put an adjective on the weekend as a whole, but I'll try my best to do so describing what it was like. The Cards weren't used to crowds that were even half or a quarter of what were there this weekend. Many of these fans had probably never been to a Louisville baseball game in their lives, or maybe one or two. It was a learning process for everyone there. While they were very knowledgable baseball fans, it was great to see these people really embrace the Cards as their own, even if they hadn't seen a pitch all year. The fact is, they love the University of Louisville, and when people leaned over to ask me who the catcher was, or who the third baseman was, I didn't mind telling them.

Louisville baseball is certainly here, and shouldn't be a flash in the pan. Despite losing ten seniors next year, a trip to Omaha will not only help one of the best recruiters in the nation in McDonnell, but the fan support will just be that much better in years to come. They are certainly hooked.

Second baseman Logan Johnson put it best when asked about this weekend and how he'll cherish it.

"It's a still frame in my mind that I'll remember for the rest of my life."

There's a good chance that nothing we'll see from the Cardinal Nine over the next week or so will top what we saw on Sunday. It doesn't have to. U of L can get blown out by Rice on Friday night, and spanked by somebody else on Saturday, and Sunday's still frame is still going to be there.

The strange thing is, I've slowly become convinced that this team can actually make a run in Omaha. They could have hung their hats on being the Cardinals to win an NCAA Tournament game or a Regional chamopionship, but since they didn't you can probably bet that a Super Regional championship isn't going to quell whatever madness has taken over this squad either.

With its fairly recent surge in popularity, the College World Series has quickly become known as one of the most unique and exciting events in sports. I've always wanted to go just to take in the atmosphere and experience Rosenblatt Stadium, but now I feel like I can't not go because something very special is guaranteed to happen there starting this weekend.