Tuesday, March 1, 2011

25 Years of Memories

The 2011 Trojan baseball team has gotten off to a good start at 6-1 in our first two weekends of play. There is a long way to go and many more games to play but our players are focused on competing for a championship at the end of the season. They embrace the idea of Omaha and fully understand the amount of hard work, commitment and sacrifice required to accomplish such a lofty goal. All these thoughts lead my back to exactly 25 years ago when I was a member of the 1986 NCAA Division II National Championship team here at Troy.

In fact this coming weekend (March 4-6), as our team hosts Southeast Missouri State University in a 3-game series, the 1986 championship team will hold a reunion in Troy around the three games. Many of the players from that outstanding 46-8 team that secured the national title in Montgomery's Paterson Field will be on hand for the festivities. Each player will be honored on the field in a pre-game ceremony prior to the 6:00 game on Saturday, March 5.

It's difficult for me to fully comprehend the 25 years that have passed by since I was playing the game of baseball here at Troy and competing with some of the best players and best competitors you could imagine. The memories from those day will become more vivid as the week progresses and this weekend will bring about many more lasting memories to cherish for years to come. Most of the players from that year have remained in close contact through the years and we all have a special bond that will never be broken. Championship teams have that bond while they are playing but don't truly realize it until time passes by. The most unique part of the bond is that it is never broken. If any of my former teammates were in need, I can assure you that me or any other teammate would do whatever necessary to help. That's the special feeling that we all have for each other.

Over the last 25 years, we all have gotten older, a little heavier, probably a little smarter and most likely a better player in our stories. We've lost one teammate, lost track of a few others but one thing that none of us will ever lose is our love and admiration for our head coach, Chase Riddle. For many of us as players, Coach Riddle was a larger than life figure that always led us in the right direction. He's not only the smartest baseball person I've ever known, he's also one of the best people I've ever had the privilege of knowing. Coach Riddle is now in his 80's, still living in Troy with his beloved wife Ms. Betty, and hopes to participate in the pre-game ceremony on Saturday. Everyone associated with Troy athletics knows the importance of Coach Riddle's contributions to not only the game of baseball but to the university as well. The field bares his name and his #25 is still the only retired jersey number in school history. Fitting that we get to celebrate a 25 year reunion and the #25 is such a special number in Troy baseball history.

Although my focus remains on the 2011 baseball team and their pursuit of a championship, this particular weekend I will have an opportunity to enjoy some great memories with some of my closest friends I'll ever have. It should be a great weekend of college baseball on the field and a wonderful opportunity for former champions to be celebrated by all the Trojan faithful. Please make plans to be at Riddle-Pace Field all three days to help the 2011 team continue to build their own memories and celebrate the 1986 team for their incredible season 25 years ago!

Go Trojans!

Mark Smartt

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