University of Louisville athletics will return some day

Photo by Cindy Rice Shelton

One more day, one more day without sports. No games in any sport. None whatsoever. Who knew the world could survive this long without athletics? Certainly not the Observer, whose life revolves around University of Louisville competition.

Scheduled for the calendar on Tuesday was the season’s first baseball game between UofL and the University of Kentucky. Jim Patterson Stadium would have been packed, with up to 4,500 people in the stands. Fans lining the fences, teeming the left field berm, rocking the playground.

This could have been the year for UofL baseball, blessed with one of the best pitching staffs in college baseball. A starting lineup of young hitters who were starting to come on strong when the season was so rudely interrupted. The program predicted to be No. 1 in the nation. All for naught.

The biggest fear for now is that this nightmare stretches into the fall, threatening to disrupt the college and professional football seasons. Basketball even. And possibly baseball again next year.

University campuses are like ghost towns, with almost all students, faculty, employees and administrators working or teleconferencing from home. The bursars and other financial types, along with athletic directors, going over every line item, developing multiple scenarios. The same folks taking pay cuts, hits to their individual retirement accounts, incurring furloughs or layoffs.  All of them preparing for the worst, hoping for the best, and, if they’re smart, praying for the day when the virus becomes just another ugly memory.

Just when one believes one has endured much of what life can throw at the one, along comes something that makes past challenges seem like child play. This one unimaginable, the COVID-19 pandemic, posing an undeniable threat to humankind. The worst since the Spanish Flu which killed 50 million people worldwide, including 675,000 in the U.S., according to the CDC.

To make things worse this COVID-19 pandemic comes with a large degree of unpredictability, including stealth qualities. One can have it and not know it, routinely going about daily life. No way of many people confirming whether they have it or not, with the testing materials and protocols still in development or playing catch up. No way that is unless one already has severe, sometimes irreversible symptoms. In many cases, the inflicted affecting people they love the most.

Major shortages of personal protective equipment, with civilians forced to pay deference to medical professionals when it comes to necessities like face masks. The doctors and nurses definitely need the face masks, the gloves and other items but so, too, does everybody else. Get with it American industry.

Meanwhile, a major segment of the mainstream media attacking the Administration dedicated to finding solutions, attacking the leadership at every turn. Political partisanship raising its ugly face every time Congress attempts to provide financial assistance. All hands may be on deck but all too often they are running in different directions.

While there’s a strong desire to go back to normal, and some states are already taking steps, there are many unknowns and shortcomings about the future of the pandemic. Flattening the curve could be just a temporary thing, with scientists already warning about even worse consequences in the fall.

So much dissension, so many unknowns, so few answers coming in the near future. The memories of Al Greener and the pep band playing “All Hail, UofL,” and Sean Moth leading the fans in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” will have to sustain one for now.

UofL’s Sam Bordner will make a comeback, but at the next level

The sight of Sam Bordner confined to the bench, unable to help his University of Louisville teammates, was one of the most disappointing aspects of the 2016 college baseball season. UofL could have gone a long way with him at full strength. 

An arm injury brought Sam Bordner’s college career to a premature end (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

Bordner was not available at the end, suffering from an inflamed elbow on his throwing arm. He would miss the last month and a half of the season, and would undergo Tommy John surgery on his right arm. 

On Thursday came the final lines to his UofL story, Bordner confirming what many UofL fans suspected he would do, he signed a professional contract with the Miami Marlins. He had been picked by Marlins in the 16th round of the draft, lower than this observer expected.

At 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, Bordner was an imposing image. Add to that those shoulder-length strands of blond hair falling out of his hat and a scorching fast ball, he was downright intimidating to some batters.

Bordner was named an All American following the 2017 season, compiling an amazing 0.41 earned run average in 43.2 inning and 23 games. Didn’t allow a run in 22 or 23 innings. He was on the mound when UofL eliminated Kentucky to earn its fourth trip to the College World Series. He seemed ready for a dominant season in 2017, picking up eight saves in his first 11 appearances.

The first signs of problems came in successive games against Florida State and North Carolina State. He would be the loser in both games, giving three runs to the Seminoles and four runs the Wolfpack, in the bottom half of the ninth inning in both games. He wound up with 10 saves for the season.

Muhammad Ali inspired fellow University of Louisville fans

muhammed-ali-quote-on-fitness-observatoryMuhammad Ali attended many University of Louisville athletic events over the years, always a UofL fan, always an inspiration to his fellow fans.

Back in the early nineties, a standing ovation at Fairgrounds Stadium when he was introduced, 36,000 voices proclaiming “Ali! Ali! Ali!” Even Tennessee football fans that night were joining the chorus.

Ali was on the 50-yard line at the 2007 BCS Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida for the UofL-Wake Forest game. The biggest game in UofL football history, he had to be there, joining the 35,000 fans from Louisville making the trip.

When Asaad Ali, his adopted son, was playing for the UofL baseball team in 2010 and 2011, Muhammad was a frequent visitor to Jim Patterson Stadium, joining Tom Jurich in the hospitality suite, even making financial contributions to the Louisville baseball program.

Jurich issued the following statement after Ali’s death:

“All of us in the Cardinal Athletics family are deeply, deeply saddened with the passing of an absolute worldwide legend in Muhammad. While he was undoubtedly one of the greatest athletes in history, the Champ made a difference in the lives of so many around the world.

“His generosity with his time for anything we asked of him — or things he offered to do without us asking — was incredible, as was the financial commitment he and Lonnie made to our baseball program at UofL.  It was a true honor for me to know him and he will be greatly missed.  Our deepest sympathies and prayers go out to Lonnie and the entire family.”

Coach Rick Pitino joined in commemorating Ali:

“All of Louisville celebrates the life of our Champion.  “He shined brightest in the ring and preached peace outside of it.  He loved babies, people and cherished his friends.  We will miss you Champ.  Rest in Peace.”

This UofL fan will never forget the time his family bumped into the Champ at a Kentucky Derby breakfast in Frankfort, Muhammad Ali pulling my 4-year-old son from my arms, lifting him high and placing a kiss on his cheek. Remember thinking, “The most famous person in the world, that man.”

Always reaching out, engaging and absorbing, Muhammad Ali making people feel better about themselves and the world.

Making it through the summer

So how do fans who spend nine to 10 months a year following University of Louisville athletics survive the next two months without UofL competition? I’m not really sure. The opening football game against Auburn in the Georgia Dome is Sept. 5.

Thanks to Dan McDonnell’s team for extending the baseball season, putting the Cardinals within one game of the College World Series. One questionable foul ball/home run away. We may never know for certain. Really makes it difficult watching the championship series with Virginia and Vanderbilt, knowing UofL should have been there.2014-15-e1419956266732

Rick Pitino’s basketball team from one missed free throw away from returning to the Final Four for the third time in the last four seasons. UofL making only six field goals in the second half, Mangok Mathiang’s second free throw attempt not even close. Pitino willing his team to another incredible finish.

Bobby Petrino delivering a 31-28 win in the first-ever football game against Notre Dame at South Bend and a 9-4 won-lost record with a trio of untested, unproven and injury-plagued quarterbacks.

Continue reading “Making it through the summer”

Awestruck Louisville bows to Florida State

All the talk about Florida State’s past successes apparently getting to some members of the University of Louisville baseball team, tripping over their shoe laces in a 13-4 loss to FSU before a record crowd of 6,138 fans at Jim Patterson Stadium.

Even the best teams have bad losses. But this was one that could haunt the Cardinals as the season winds down, needing to prove themselves worthy of a national seed in NCAA tournament play.

Fears that Kyle Funkhouser would continue to struggle in the early innings were confirmed quickly, the UofL junior walking three batters and giving up three runs in the first inning. He would give up three more in the second.

Funkhouser throwing over 40 pitches in the first inning, still not finding his form. Taking too long to get comfortable in recent games. Finally settling down in the third, he would shut down the next eight hitters. By then the tenor of the game had been firmly established.

The pre-season All-American is losing confidence and control at the wrong time, prompting some serious concern about the all-important pitching rotation in the immediate future. The inability of once-starter Anthony Kidston, who was 14-1 in his first three seasons, to find the plate this year further complicates matters.