First, this. In mid-August, I was inside a cube-shaped Pilot Travel Center alongside an otherwise barren and remote stretch of northern Pennsylvania. That's where I met someone who might be the tallest truck stop employee in America.
He must have been about 6-foot-8, at the very least. The mop he pushed looked like a popsicle stick in his mammoth hands. I had to interrupt him cleaning up a spill near the soft drink cooler because I couldn't find the creamer or sugar for the coffee. He pointed clear across the store, near the newspapers. He made a good-natured joke about the floor plans, one he's probably found himself delivering a thousand times, so I angled in for a question.
"I'm sure you get asked this a lot," I asked, tilting my head. "But are you a power forward?"
"Center," he replied, a lazy smile washing over his face. "I played ball in college. Division I."
I never did get his name, nor enough information to figure him out with my own recollection, or Google, or my two-year-old RMU media guide. He couldn't have been more than 25, but they don't print the old rosters because it would take up too much space.
But this season -- the site's fourth -- is dedicated to him. Just one of a thousand thousand anonymous ex-mid-major ballplayers who traded their height, speed and athleticism for a free education, or maybe it was for something like love, but he somehow ended up in the service sector instead of European ball, or the D-League, or even the NBA. This season is also for the thousands of current mid-major ballplayers who harbor small dreams or large-scale delusions now, who are too young to think about tomorrow or the "big picture" or an all-too-certain fate: eventually, they will trade their playing careers for other ones, and will end up with more stories than than there are audience members willing to hear them.
There can be good chapters, sure, but there is no mid-major story with a happy ending.
This season is for those bright comets across the sky, for defending champions like Winthrop and Weber State, but it's also for the struggle to get there and for the runner-ups and also-rans. This is for the constantly-shifting, endlessly-reshuffled puzzle: five men attempting to propel an object past, beyond, above five opponents... for the struggle against limitations, physical and self-imposed; for the struggle with conscience and God, looking for answers as to which part of what happens is due to effort and which part is not.
This is for the game of basketball, which binds us together -- the greatest and best sport invented by humanity. But it's not only for our game, the only one that challenges body, mind, soul and gravity in equal measure, it most non-apolegetically is not. This isn't and won't always be about basketball, because basketball isn't always about basketball. Basketball can be about family and friendship, long stretches of asphalt that go on forever, about inspiration, last call and soggy bar napkins, and about broken things like vehicles and will and spirit. Sometimes it's about empty sacrifices, the suffering that only comes with true dedication, and occasionally it's about death.
This season is dedicated to Skip Prosser, one of the first high-major coaches to ever grant me an interview. Of course, all I wanted to talk about was Loyola. He was excited when he recalled March 1994, of how just another 11-9 team found itself during overtime of a first-round MAAC tourney game against Saint Peter's and went on to take out Canisius and Manhattan for the conference title... the perfect crystallized model of everything this site has celebrated for the past three years: drive, determination, and second chances. The kindness in his voice suggested that he would remember me the next time. There was, and will never be a next time.
This is, as it always has been, for the fans, those who root for pride instead of for vaguely social purposes. This season is dedicated to the few hundred people in the stands for a game between two teams destined for 20 or more losses, and it's especially for those who bring handwritten signs with a player's name and number on it. This season is for those who toast a tenth victory in February, and then get on an internet message board and talk smack about it.
This is for the people who remember the "100 Games Project":/season-1, and for the many thousands more who don't. This is for everyone who decided they couldn't work with me, for everyone who I couldn't find common ground with, for the ones who didn't quite understand what this is about, and for those that do. This is for the ones who have just climbed on board to join me for the next part of the ride, who believe in what The Mid-Majority is and will be for years to come.
This season might even be for the ones who say that this doesn't really matter, none of this, all the anonymous scorelines that will clog up the ESPN ticker night after night for the next four months. Or maybe it's because 30-win seasons and inflated records among the elite mean that there's just too much losing on this side of town. Because there are no ties in basketball, this game is about losing exactly one half of the time, and most of the losses fall to the over 225 teams that aren't part of a power conference.
So remember this: The Mid-Majority is a website that was, is, and always will be more about losing than winning. It's about smiling and learning after a loss, and it's about how victories are more satisfying and sweet in stark relief against a sea of setbacks. If you can handle all of that, this season is for you too.
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