CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The road to Omaha is filled with plenty of baseball games, passionate fans, long highway drives, and of course, good eats. But it’s never a bad idea to stop while on the road and try to learn a little bit about the history of the area.
With the third and final game of the Maryland-Virginia Super Regional at 7 p.m. Monday, I had time to take a step away from the diamond and see what the town had to offer.
And anyways, what would a trip to Charlottesville be without stopping by the old home of the most famous person to ever call it home?Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is just south of the city of Charlottesville. I went there on Monday morning to try to learn more about the life and times of the author of the Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States. On the surface, there may not have been much overlap between Jefferson’s life and the #RoadToOmaha experience. But as the tour guide spoke about his life and I looked around his old home, I couldn’t help but think about what this whole road trip project by NCAA.com means, and how it all relates to Jefferson.
First, there’s the obvious local connection -- Jefferson founded the University of Virginia. He cared very much about education, learning, and exercising one’s brain. He considered his involvement with Virginia a “hobby” in his old age, much like many modern fans of Virginia, Maryland or elsewhere continue their involvement and support beyond retirement. Jefferson, self-taught architect, he designed the original buildings on the grounds of Virginia, including the famous rotunda. The architecture of the university resembles that of his home -- mostly using brick and pillars to recreate the image of ancient Roman buildings. Pillars are all over the Virginia grounds, and as I walked passed them on Sunday, I thought about how this is an institution that has been a stable pillar of higher learning in this country for a long time, and recently, its baseball team has become one of the main pillars in the sport. With Virginia’s success today, both in academics and athletics, it all comes back to where it started, with Thomas Jefferson in the early 1800s.
Based on what I learned in elementary school, the Virginia aspect of Jefferson’s legacy is one small part of the whole. He was an innovative thinker, leading to his role in the American Revolution and the sentiment behind his Declaration of Independence. Once he was president, he made the Louisiana Purchase to expand the country and sent Lewis and Clark on their exploration journey.
Rehashing this knowledge made me think – I suppose in a way, Lewis and Clark are the original American road trippers. As five of us from NCAA.com set out on our journeys to Super Regionals, and some eventually on to Omaha, we all had a destination that we had never been to before. So at least for us, this was uncharted territory, as is the Omaha or Bust project a new venture for NCAA.com.
So as I stood in the entrance hall of Monticello and looked at the maps, paintings and decorations from around the country and world on the walls, I figured that the Road to Omaha is an extension of the Jefferson spirit and legacy. He left those things in his entrance hall so people could learn about the world outside of their own world. He sent out Lewis and Clark to bring back knowledge about places Americans, at that point, had never been.
That is why we are on the road this week. We are bringing the experience of the Road to Omaha to life as best was we can, so those who cannot go see it for themselves can learn about it.
In the gift shop at Monticello, they were selling a plaque with a quote on it from Jefferson:
“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”
How many times do we hear coaches and players basically repeat this refrain? Even in this series between Maryland and Virginia, both teams have harped on the fact that tomorrow is another day, that they can’t the struggles of the day before impact the game ahead.
Monday night could provide both teams the chance to enter uncharted territory – Maryland has never been to Omaha; Virginia has never won there. Whatever happens, the #RoadToOmaha will continue for some. And after my visit to Monticello, it’s hard not to think about how that road embodies the Jeffersonian spirit of exploration and innovation.