Grand Canyon’s Wagner exemplies the beauty of baseball, its legend and lore
There is a beauty to baseball that somehow defies description.
There is a comforting sameness to the game -- it’s three strikes and you’re out, three outs for each side in an inning and nine innings a game. There’s a bat, a ball and nine gloves. That’s baseball.
The unexpected, though, is what makes up such a part of the game’s legend and lore. Take a seat in the grandstands and you might just catch a perfect game -- 27 up, 27 down. It might be a triple play, someone hitting for the cycle or a slugger pounding four home runs.
Or, it could be a kid who’s ridden the bench for much of the season finally getting a shot at some playing time and hitting like gangbusters. It could be a kid like Charles Wagner, a sophomore from Grand Canyon University who’d spent most of the 2013 season as a reserve and pinch-hitter.
When a baseball player is a reserve and pinch-hitter, he ordinarily doesn’t see a lot of playing time. Going into the NCAA Division II West Regional, Wagner had one hit in his past 16 trips to the plate.
Here’s where the beauty of the game comes into play. When Antelopes first baseman and team leader Mike Pomeroy took a line drive off his pinkie finger in a May 17 game against Sonoma State, Wagner stepped into the void.
All he did then was just go stupid-crazy and hit a blistering .471 with three runs scored, a triple, home run and four runs batted in during the course of the next six games. When the smoke cleared, almost literally in this case after he laid waste to the place, Wagner was named the West Regional Most Valuable Player.
What got into the kid?
“I’m not even quite sure myself,” Wagner said with a laugh. “I just got in the groove. I just focused on the ball and played really well when it meant a lot.”
All Wagner could do for most of the year was wait for an opportunity, and once he got one, run with it. He did that in a huge way.
“I’ve had a tough year, but I’ve always felt confidence I could come through,” Wagner admitted. “I just couldn’t put it together for the first half of the season. [In the West Regionals], I knew I really needed to step in and help us win. My teammates are amazing. They always pick me up. I just had to grind it out and put some good at-bats together. It paid off.”
That it did. Grand Canyon’s trip to the DII championship round is its first. The ‘Lopes hadn’t been a regional since 2002, and had never even won so much as a single postseason game since joining the division in 1999.
And therein lies the glory of this game. Only one of eight teams from last year’s championship is returning, and that’s Minnesota State-Mankato. The Mavericks wound up third last year, so they might be considered the favorites this time around.
Tampa was ranked second in a May 7 poll by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, while no other team in the top 20 earned a trip to Cary, N.C., site of the championship. Minnesota State-Mankato was the next highest-ranked team, in 21st.
No other team made the top 25, and only Franklin Pierce so much as received any other votes.
Surely, that makes Tampa the favorite, right? Maybe, maybe not. That’s the beauty of the game.