We just don’t recognize life’s most significant moments while they’re happening. Back then I thought, “Well, there’ll be other days.” I didn’t realize that was the only day. – Moonlight Graham “Field of Dreams”
Playing for fun. Baseball is a child’s game and it is played in backyards, local diamonds, youth leagues, church leagues, and sandlots. From the moment we ask, “Hey Dad, wanna have a catch?” to our last at bat, being an amateur baseball player is an experience most people can relate to and draw fond memories from. But baseball can also be a job and for Kyle Funkhouser that’s a reality that is juuuusssttt a bit outside.
On Friday Kyle Funkhouser will take the hill for the Cards vs. Morehead State. 10 days later Funkhouser will hear his name called in the 1st Round (if not the first 10 selections) of the Major League Baseball Draft. The NCAA Tournament is Kyle’s final opportunity to play baseball…….for fun. Being selected by a big-league club in the Top 15 means two things: 1) Lots of Money & 2) Lots of Responsibility. That kind of thing can really put the pressure on a 21-year old.
Being a ballplayer from the South Side of Chicago, Funkhouser came to Louisville with enormous potential and started realizing that promise right away. In his 1st two seasons at Louisville Funkhouser posted an ERA of 2.01 through 175 innings pitched with an 18-4 record and 177 strikeouts. And everyone starting talking about ‘Funk’s’ million dollar arm and Kyle’s potential in the Major League Baseball draft.
Coach McDonnell often talks about “being where your feet are” and Kyle Funkhouser is in the middle of an era that could be the ‘Golden Age of Louisville Baseball’. Two trips to the College World Series (going for 3), an ACC Atlantic Divisional title, the best record in ACC history, the #3 Overall Seed. Funkhouser has been there for every moment during this run. A run that has produced a series of professional ballplayers too, but for some of Funkhouser’s teammates this is THEIR PRIME.
The point is, a lot of ballplayers that suit up for the Louisville 9 actually PAY TO PLAY. Kyle Funkhouser started that way too, same as everyone, playing for nothing, taking in the sounds of a ballpark and the smell of his glove. Passion and love for baseball.
Since the calendar turned to May “FUNK” may have been a little consumed by the idea & pressure of his impending future in professional baseball. 4 starts, 3 losses, 17 earned runs. Plans after college, the uncertainty of which club will select Kyle, what their plan for him will be, the financial implications, all of that has to weigh heavy on a hurler who just finished his 3rd year of college. It’s real-world pressure and it distracts from the purpose of baseball: It’s a game!
Louisville fan’s message to Kyle Funkhouser this week:
“WE WANT THE FUNK!”
Relax! Let’s have some fun out here! This game’s fun, Fun! And don’t hold the ball so hard, It’s an egg. Hold it like an egg. Breathe through your eyelids. Sacrifice a live chicken.
There is plenty of time for professional baseball. But right now, be where your feet are. By the way your feet just happen to be at the NCAA Regional in Jim Patterson Stadium against the best hitting team in college baseball. One day Funkhouser will point to his contract and tell his manager: “I don’t have to do any calisthenics that I don’t feel are necessary.” And there will come a day when Kyle will go from a ‘high-priced talent’ to just ‘high-priced’ and he’s looking for anything he can find to create an edge on his curveball.
There’s going to be plenty of time to work on clichés “You’ve gotta play it one day at a time.” It’s boring…and that’s the point! In College Baseball you get to be yourself! You get to have fun! For the FINAL time in the history of Funkhouser & Co’s baseball career, they get to play on a team that with every one of his teammates that CHOSE to be here. In Louisville. And if it goes well enough this group will cement a legacy of 3-consecutive College World Series appearances…..a perhaps more.
Until then, Funkhouser should know by now to never shake off your catcher when you are throwing a 2-hit shutout, you can’t really breathe your eyelids, and baseball is a game that is supposed to be fun. The lucky ones just get paid to play. At some point, if all goes well Kyle may ask: “Is this heaven?”
The answer is, “No Funk, it’s Louisville.”
But one more thing: The rose goes in the front, big guy.
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