Sometimes it hurts too much.
It certainly did two Sundays ago when the Michigan baseball team ended its season with a crushing loss to Kentucky in the Ann Arbor Regional.
It hurt for juniors Jason Christian and Zach Putnam as they likely left Ray Fisher Stadium for the last time, tears in their eyes.
The duo knew it had an opportunity to be part of the best baseball team in Michigan history. They didn’t want to see the seniors leave. They didn’t want the season to end this way.
All year, the Wolverines’ expectations were high.
Painted on the dark blue walls of their locker room in maize lettering is “One team goal.” Next to it, “Omaha,” the site of the College World Series.
All season, the Wolverines tried to live up to the expectation of exceeding last year’s super regional appearance. That meant Omaha.
But they didn’t even make it out of Ann Arbor.
Although this team didn’t surpass last year’s moment of greatness when Michigan knocked off then No. 1 Vanderbilt to advance to a super regional, this season wasn’t a failure.
“Our goal was Omaha, and we came up short,” Putnam said. “But you can’t take away from this special season we had.”
Michigan set the Big Ten record for conference wins and won the Big Ten Tournament (unlike last year). And for the first time since 1986, the Wolverines hosted a regional.
But it hurt so much because of the success they had experienced all season.
They expected to win the Big Ten, and they did. They expected to host a regional, and they did. They expected to make it to Omaha, and they didn’t.
Michigan coach Rich Maloney and his players knew this was their year. Next season, a core group of seniors will be gone, and some important juniors probably won’t be around to lead the charge to Omaha.
“It’s just tough knowing that this team won’t be together again,” junior Adam Abraham said. “It’s over now. In the end of we did everything we could, and it just wasn’t quite enough. It’s just hard to look at the older guys in the face.”
Two of Michigan’s best pitchers in Putnam and Mike Powers and other experienced position players like Abraham, Christian, Nate Recknagel and Derek VanBuskirk were picked in the Major League Baseball draft this weekend.
The Wolverines won’t have the pressure that comes with the expectation of winning every time they take the field next year. They’ll still be favorites to win the Big Ten, but they won’t be a preseason top-ten team like this season.
Last year, they were under the radar when they went down to Nashville, Tenn. and knocked off Vanderbilt.
Maloney loves to be the underdog. Although Michigan wasn’t the favorite to win the Ann Arbor Regional, being the home team gave didn’t allow the Wolverines to feel like underdogs.
They will next year.