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OUR OPINION: Terror, joy, tragedy and double plays

Our Opinion

Now and then, a local sports story stands out for what it teaches about sports, dreams and life. The intertwined fates of Grand Forks’ two high-school baseball teams at last weekend’s state meet in Bismarck is such a tale.

Red River was the Eastern Dakota Conference’s top seed, having won 14 straight. That includes three against Central, one of them an 11-1 victory that got called early because of baseball’s mercy rule.

But there’s no mercy in the unforgiving brackets of “one and done” tournaments like the North Dakota state meet. Then there’s the fact that baseball’s a lot quirkier than other sports. In football, teams often roll undefeated through a season. Not so in baseball, a “game of failure” where great hitters strike out, great pitchers give up home runs — and the San Francisco Giants, the pro team with baseball’s best record, lose one game in every three.

With that, let’s set The Scene: Red River v. Central, in their contest at state. The Setting was the semifinal on Friday, with the winner moving on to Saturday’s championship game.

And The Result?

The Result, to Central’s joy and Red River’s heartbreak, was a Central win, 3-2.

Hearty congratulations to Central’s players, including the four freshmen who proved to be the Knights’ Four Horsemen, complete with lances in the form of bats and pitcher Brock Reller wielding a mace. Congrats as well to Coach Kyle Beckstead, who clearly energized his players by reminding them that in baseball, the odds of an upset in any given game are way better than zero.

On Saturday, Central’s own postseason run came to an end with a loss in the championship game. But what a great future the state meet portends for baseball in Grand Forks, with both high schools’ teams showing such power, promise and poise.

As for Red River’s players and coaches, still reeling after the agony of watching their high-flying dreams fall crashing in a fireball to earth:

Though only 5 feet 4 inches tall, Dena Evans was named Miss High School Basketball as a Texas high schooler and then played basketball at the University of Virginia. Now a coach at PGC Basketball, a basketball camp, Evans once got a letter from a PGC grad who spoke of his high-school team this way:

“This year, it just felt as if the dream and the goal of winning the state championship had kind of slipped through our hands, and it really was just two games away. And the fact that I think this was our best shot is something that makes it harder.”

Here is part of Evans’ answer to that player.

“People who have never experienced those kinds of losses can never understand just how much all of that hurts,” she wrote.

“You gave yourself completely to something, and it didn’t turn out like you wanted. And to make it even worse, now it’s gone. Over. Done. That’s hard, and it hurts.

“But (and this is the part you probably don’t want to hear, but it’s true so I’ll say it anyway), that’s how life works. Everything passes. You’ll eventually lose everything — your parents, your friends, your health, your pets, your youth and, inevitably, your life. It’s all gonna pass away, just like this season and this team.

“Which, to me, is all the more reason to give those things you love and care about everything you’ve got. … My point is, everything you’re feeling right now is appropriate and even good. Don’t resist it. Be sad. Be disappointed — until you’re not anymore (and it will go away, I promise).

“And then, you’ll do what every great athlete and every great hero does: You’ll pick yourself up, dust yourself off, dream your next dream and go at it again — even though you know the risk and how much it will hurt when it’s over.

“But really, that’s the only way to fly, in my opinion. Way more fun, exciting, meaningful and fulfilling than living a life where you play small and never put your heart on the line for anything that matters to you.”

Here’s to you, Red River and Central ballplayers. And here’s to all of you other students who take to the field, the court, the stage and the debating platform to “put your heart on the line.”