First of all, I must make note of the tour that Coach Calipari just recently took with the NCAA championship trophy across the Commonwealth, which once again shows the blindly loyal bonding and love affair with him and Big Blue Nation. It never ceases to amaze me how this man has grasped this so difficult job and continues to masterfully perform his duties in the process without exposing any outward pressure. He has developed a unique passion for leading this program that I just can’t even put into words to explain, and he appears content on setting records into the future that many dared to even talk about at any time in recent memory across college basketball.
I happened to be in town at Hazard when he came through on his stop, and I can honestly tell you that I’m old enough to have seen three presidents come through Eastern Kentucky in my time, the Kennedys come through Hazard in the 60’s on a political tour of Appalachia, Richard Nixon for a ceremony in naming an athletic center after him, and Bill Clinton made an appearance beginning with his second term to promote small town USA and its future possibilities.
I can’t give you an accurate count of those in attendance for Coach Cal’s recent appearance, but trust me, there were multitudes of people that didn’t even get within the length of a football field of him let alone get his autograph or picture taken with him. Far more folks turned out for this UK basketball coach than any of the three sitting presidents of the USA.
But as the old saying goes, he had a better year this year than any of the three presidents at any point during their terms in the White House.
Here we go again into the spring and summer off season of UK football talk show and Internet chat line debates and record prognosticating. You know, those astute individuals who say I can guarantee a season of 4-8, 7-5, 3-9, 6-6, and yes, you’ve always got several eternal optimists who have those unique crystal balls that can see and justify 8-4 all the way up to the dream season of 10-2. Yes, folks , they’re out there. You’ve just got to pick the right evening and the right talk show or Internet site, but trust me, there are all types out there.
If that doesn’t suit your fancy for this off season, you’ve always got the men’s basketball recruiting website bonanzas like www.scout.com , www.rivals.com or my favorite www.catspause.com and their 24/7 service. These websites all have up-to-the-minute info from all across the nation and may be more information-driven now with the new NCAA evaluating periods for the coaches in April and May to go along with the usual ones in July.
However, this year we have a tinkle of competitive sporting game life left for Big Blue Nation with the UK Bat Cats.
Kentucky baseball in midst of possible historic season, but it’s been a battle in past years
As we drift through this special spring of UK baseball, I can’t help but remember sitting out at the old baseball stadium on Cooper Drive during the late 70s, 80s and early 90s before it was renovated and upgraded to a small degree, and named after UK Hall of Fame basketball player and A.D. Cliff Hagan.
Keith Madison was struggling to get the Wildcat baseball program jumpstarted by having fund raisers like high school programs with players and coaches selling Cats Pause basketball yearbooks, then fighting through cold and wet springs with players serving as the grounds crew, squeezing his limited budget while the rest of the SEC was spending more money on their baseball programs than both men’s and women’s basketball combined. But Madison was never one to go down without a fight. He persevered and marched on as much as any coach ever on campus in any sport until he finally had some moderate success before he drifted off into the sunset.
I’m told by veteran Wildcat baseball insiders that early in Madison’s coaching tenure, the baseball coaching position at UK was thought of so lightly by the UKAA that Madison’s salary was listed as a part-time employee and paid accordingly.
I wasn’t a close personal friend of Keith Madison, but I did develop a cordial relationship with him while helping the various UK basketball coaches with their summer camps since his office was in Memorial Coliseum and right across from Mr. Wildcat’s (Bill Keightley). Madison was, in my opinion, one of the finest men I’ve ever met in my life, and pretty sharp on the baseball diamond as well, especially with the very limited resources he was provided.
I can’t help but think wherever he is at today, he is very proud of this Wildcat baseball team and of what Gary Henderson is accomplishing with it. And if lightning finally strikes and the Cats make it to the College World Series, then Madison can step back and say he started it all many years ago and the fruits of his labor have finally paid off.
Kentucky baseball has been the talk of the college baseball world so far this season, and several times on the ESPN Thursday night telecast the announcers have mentioned the Cats’ exploits, but this Thursday night the nation and world can see the Kentucky baseball team in live action when Gary Henderson pits his team against the Florida Gators live on ESPNU at 7 p.m. at Cliff Hagan Stadium. So BBN it’s time for you to show your true love for UK athletics in general, and not just the tradition-rich UK basketball team.
Yes, Big Blue Nation you can be just as intimidating at Cliff Hagan Stadium as you can at Rupp Arena and with this year’s obvious prospect of hosting possibly both the 1st round and the super regional’s round. You could be the difference in the UK baseball program making their first ever appearance in the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, so it’s time to show your love for UK baseball and come out to the old ball yard on Cooper Drive just feet away from the Nutter Football Training Center this weekend and during the NCAA post season run.