All my bags were packed, and I was ready to go.
I was ready to follow the Big Red baseball team through a potential state playoff championship run as it made its way to Huntington Field in Columbus.
An admission I have to make is that I have never competed, coached, or covered a championship team. Thus, it was an exciting thought that was so close.
Instead, I had to do what I always do when I spend an extended amount of time with a team when their season comes to a close. I look its coach in the eye and tell them, "Thank you for having me along for the ride."
Unfortunately, Steubenville's card was drawn Friday, and I had to do the same with Big Red skipper Fred Heatherington.
Big Red fell just short of its ultimate goal to become one of the final four baseball teams at the Division II level and potentially compete for the state title after losing to Columbus-Desales 10-8 in the Elite 8 round of play.
The pain seen in the eyes of the kids was overwhelming. Even their staunchly dry and witty coach was welling up considering the kids he watched grow as ball players and men during their eight years together.
Despite the negative emotion swirling around the moment, it made me think of a day months ago when my cantankerous colleague, Fred Younce, came into the newsroom during the beginning of baseball season and regaled me of stories about Big Red's dugout. He laughed about the things he overheard while taking pictures of the day's game.
A twist of scheduling later in the season gave me the opportunity to see what all of the hullabaloo was.
I listened. I watched. I laughed.
I don't think a day will go by that I won't automatically think "scratcher" after somone says 'back'. If you don't watch Family Guy, you wouldn't get it. If you weren't in that dugout, you wouldn't get it.
Each of the seniors among an experienced team had their moments throughout the season.
Anthony Pierro was as competitive as anyone on the field. He also seemed to be leading off every time Big Red had one of it patented rallies. He sat in disgust at the back of the dugout when the rest of the bunch were awarded the Regional runners-up trophy.
Jordon Meyer must have hit a home run every single game I attended, or at least it seemed like it. Despite his talent I may remember him better because of chatter barked at him while at the plate Finding Nemo-style. Nine. Nine. Nine.
Josh Mamula couldn't get his picture in the paper no matter how much he begged, and believe me, we tried. He was also the most underrated player we covered all year. He just flatout produced, even without some of the fanfare of his teammates.
Darin Heatherington and former Colorado Rocky great Andres Galaragga are so eerily similar, the "Big Cat' nickname was appropriate for both. Even still, Darin's moment, and maybe the moment of the year for the team, was when Darin embraced his father and head coach, Fred Heatherington, once the regional game came to a close.
Dominic Garay, a quiet and stoic team leader, nearly gave everyone a heart attack singling home the game winning run after the team was down 5-4 to Chillicothe-Unioto in the regional semifinal game.
Joe Garay couldn't withold the onslaught of emotions after his high school baseball career came to a close. "Meatball", I had the picture. I wasn't going to let that be the one that made the front page of sports.
Lucky McClurg was the ringleader in the dugout. Many of the aforementioned cries from dugout were started by the Big Red third baseman.
I'll forever have the picture of a foul tip richochetting into a Big Red batter's groin on my computer in case I need a good laugh. I won't name names, but his father made sure to reciprocate his conversation with said player, "Yeah Dad, I don't need a cup."
All of these moments will be cherished by myself, despite just being the big guy at the end of the dugout usually joking with the boosters or in the way of the water fountain.
This group were regional runners-up. They were ranked first in the state. They were Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Class AAAA champions.
Yet, what I remember about that last title was that it wasn't even the most important event of the day. Prom was. They walked on and off the field, all business.
Despite not reaching its overall goal as a team, the Big Red baseball team proved to have the heart of a champion and a will to succeed.