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Railers, Cardinals taste the
promised land    
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By Jeff Mayfield

[OCT. 11, 2004]  This lowly member of the LDN staff was limited to the role of drive-by fan celebration, but there is little doubt that the Lincoln Railer football squad will remember Friday night and homecoming week for the rest of their lives.

How do I know that? Glory days, my friends. Even this no-talent reporter stumbled and rumbled with an exciting opening kickoff return and later caught a pass for a TD at his senior homecoming game, and I would have to say that it was one of the most thrilling nights of my life.

But this whole Railer week was great. Even rain showers before the homecoming parade (BTW, congrats to Lauren Perring and Nick Shehorn, queen and king for 2004) could not dampen the spirit or the festivities. And by the way, for added measure, this Railer football squad accomplished something that has never been done before… They became the first Lincoln squad to win at least three conference games in a season! CONGRATULATIONS!

What you should also know is that they were a snap or two away from winning four and possibly on their way to the playoffs. Whatever the case, they are a scrappy bunch that never quit and get contributions up and down the lineup.

It takes time to build a program, and unlike untested politicians, Railer coach John Oaks never made promises he couldn't keep. He said it might take a few years. Slowly the numbers going out for the squad began to increase. More emphasis was given to shoring up the underclass teams as later preparation for varsity play. Youth football got a shot in the arm (and I'm betting they could STILL use your financial contributions and maybe more volunteers as well) and seems to be attracting more young people once again. All of these things and many more have made the Lincoln football Railers not just a competitive team, but a team knocking on the door to the promised land.

For the last two seasons these Railers have tasted the fruit of that land, but we're all hoping that they are not satisfied. In fact, I am personally hoping that they do not wait for the door to be politely answered. I say, kick it in! Kick it down! Take no prisoners! Let the people know what many of us already do know -- that YOU are the Lincoln Railers and the promised land belongs to YOU!

Thanks for taking some of us old-timers along for the ride, but to be honest I will not really be happy until I'm sitting in the press box or standing on the field in a few weeks clapping for the postseason-bound Lincoln Railer football squad!

Cardinals in the land of milk and honey too

Honestly, heading into postseason play I was worried about the Cardinals. I thought they were more vulnerable than I thought they were dominant. Their starting pitching was keeping me up late at night. And while it STILL has me extremely worried (more about that later), the bullpen has continued to pick up the slack… as they have done all year!

It is easy to love the way that this team plays, not just because they are winning but because they are playing the game the way it was meant to be played.

Baseball stat gurus will look at this team (and some day they will look back on it) and see powerful offensive numbers: NL leaders in batting average, second in homers (I think the Phillies were first), and on and on the list will go. It will show the team's ERA as the second best in the game.

But if that's all they look at and if that's all you look at, it will have only missed the point. This is a true epitome team. The chemistry is as good as I have ever seen on a professional ballclub from any sport. These guys are unselfish and pull for each other in a unique way. Somebody is always picking somebody else up. I get the feeling that it is like that in the Cardinal front office too. I get the feeling that Walt Jocketty and Mark Lamping probably have excellent secretaries that pick them up on their very few off days. What I am trying to say is that this Cardinal franchise goes about their business in the right way.

I love the way they execute. Even guys in the No. 2 to No. 5 slots in the batting order are not too much of a prima donna to bunt a runner into scoring position. They will hit behind a runner and give up an out but place a potential scorer at third base. They thrive on scoring two-out runs (I think they scored 16 of 22 in this series with LA with two outs). Players know their roles and try to stay within them.

Maybe Tony LaRussa learned something from Whitey Herzog after all. I do think Tony has done his best managerial job this season. This "small ball" talk that I am blabbering about was not always a LaRussa staple. In fact, I have seen more of it this season than in all the time since he came in 1996. All it has done is given St. Louis six more ways to beat their opponents.

While I didn't like his decision to start Matt Morris (and not just because he pitched badly) in the third game, I understand that not many other options were available. On the other hand, I loved his decision to start Jeff Suppan (not just because he pitched well) in the fourth game. I loved it because Suppan is something like 10-1 on the road in 2004. I do not know if he is calmer away from home or just does not like the mound at Busch Stadium, but like Whitey, I really like to dance with the one who "brung ya" (hear that, honey? I hope she reads this column).

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I am sure that Tony does not need suggestions from the LDN (but you never know, maybe he reads the crazy thing), but what about giving Danny Haren a playoff start? I do not know much about baseball, but he seems like he has been mowing down batters the last few times I have seen him pitch. I might even consider letting Rick Ankiel pitch a few innings.

At any rate, the Cards have tasted the spoils from the promised land. They can see it on the horizon, but they have left us wandering for 40 years (actually it has only been since 1982, but do not stop him when he is on a roll).

Do you want to face Atlanta or Houston? I want to face Tampa Bay! I think Bud Selig should just send the Braves and the Astros home for the winter… but I am just a guy who longs to spend the rest of my days in the promised land!

Sportsmanship is not dead

Everywhere you look it seems as if true sportsmanship is omitted from the games anymore. Part of the blame is on the media that loves taunting, heckling, showmanship instead of sportsmanship in win-or-lose situations. The LDN has learned that Larry Walker wants to stem that tide and was not afraid to say so. Before this series even began he went to LaRussa and shared with him what NHL hockey teams do after every playoff series. Win or lose, they line up and one by one they shake hands with the players and the coaches of the other team.

Tony checked with Dodger manager Jim Tracy, himself one of the classiest men in sports, to see if the Dodgers would have any interest. He did not know Tracy's answer until the ninth inning of Sunday night's game. As LaRussa peered into LA's dugout Tracy nodded that they were willing to do it. After the game, instead of sitting on their bench looking like deer in the headlights, they joined the Cardinals on the field and exchanged handshakes and hugs.

Many purists will probably criticize this decision. I think it was one of the most poignant moments I have ever seen in sports. I wish it would continue with the other teams in the other series. I wish teams in high school, college and other pro sports would make it a major part of the games… but I realize that I am guy who longs to live in the promised land.

Others headed for the promised land

Congratulations to two Lady Railer golfers, Kristen Fleshman and Jeris Freesmeier, for advancing to the sectional tournament. Further kudos to Freesmeier as she shot a blistering 78 (I once shot a round in the 70s) to advance to the state tournament.

The LCHS boys soccer team (8-8-1) celebrated their senior night in a big way last week with a convincing 5-2 victory over the always-strong team from Peoria Christian. Joey Papuga took a walk into the promised land by tying a school record by kicking in his 18th goal of the season… but gave credit to his teammates (maybe this sportsmanship thing will catch on yet).

The LDN salutes Gary Baugh and Norm Horn for a very successful first year of racing at the Lincoln Speedway. It was especially impressive to see their willingness to work with other groups in the community.

The ISU Redbirds made a dramatic comeback and beat SMS on a Steven Carroll field with 12 seconds left, 34-31. Early in the fourth quarter the 'Birds looked dead in the water after a playing a lackluster game for most of the first three quarters. However, they sent over 12,000 delirious fans to the exits on Family Day with a miraculous comeback to take their record to 3-2 and have an eye on the promised land of the playoffs.

The Illini are not living such a charmed life. The LDN was not able to attend the game nor were we forced to watch it, but sadly it looks like the beginning of the end. It appears that the Illini and their fans will be lost in the wilderness for some time.

I know that LCC's Lady Angels swept Moody Friday night, but I have no further reports on them, LC or LCHS.

Please join Greg Taylor and me this week as we will be filming "FANdamonium" from the campus of Lincoln Community High School. Stay tuned next week as we will be coming at you from the beautiful campus of Lincoln College. (BTW, our condolences to LC regarding the fire that their campus sustained on Sunday afternoon. We trust that there are no injuries and that LC will be able to replace all lost items and continue to be the strong institution that is so well-respected in our community.)

It's on to the NLCS. Wow, would I like to go to a World Series game?!

That's it for me… Have a nice week, everybody!

[Jeff Mayfield]

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