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A tip of the cap to the journey, and to Wake Forest baseball

To so many – thank you

Essex Thayer/Blogger So Dear

When the first pitch of the 2023 Wake Forest baseball season was thrown on February 17, I was working with a completely different site and parent company. My fate had already been signed, sealed and delivered, though.

Sports Illustrated and the Arena Group had decided to pull the plug on Deacons Daily — the brainchild of myself, Christian Odjakjian and Ben Conroy — just six months after its inception. It was a jarring and humbling moment, one that I was neither expecting nor prepared for. As a result, in the following days and weeks, I was left wondering if and how I was going to be able to continue doing what I truly loved — covering Wake Forest athletics.

In that time, I found solace in Wake Forest baseball. I found relief in the team’s sheer dominance on the field, the camaraderie of the press box, the media sessions with Tom Walter and his team and so much more. I found peace in the drives to away games and the knowledge that I was still doing it.

And then, when the time came for us to announce the end of our site in March, I discovered a new home in Blogger So Dear. I was reborn. I could again write about the teams I devoted so much of my life to. I could put deeper meaning behind what at one point was a running joke between Ben and myself — #BootsOnTheGround — but soon became a rallying cry for what we did.

My journey, circuitous and trying, came in the midst of an entirely different one — that of the Deacs — and soon became joined in my mind. This team, after all the trials and tribulations of COVID-19, the pure despair of falling in 2022’s College Park regional, banded together and became something truly special.

The Deacs set a program record for wins — 54 — while securing their first ACC regular-season crown since 1963. They hosted a regional as the No. 1 seed in the country, another first. Then, Wake Forest swept Alabama in convincing fashion, winning a Super Regional and clinching the program’s first College World Series appearance since 1955. An 11th inning walk-off home run kept the team from being one of the final two.

Talk about a season. Truly unbelievable.

And, fortunately for me, I got to be there every step of the way. I traveled to places like Durham, Boone, Lynchburg, Louisville and Tallahassee, while also frequenting David F. Couch Ballpark like it was my second home. I was able to see and feel nearly every moment of this team’s journey.

But, most of all, my favorite destination this season was Omaha.

When talking about the College World Series before the Winston-Salem Regional, Brock Wilken responded to one of my questions saying he would “literally give anything” to be there, to make that jump.

It felt like one for me, too. I’ve covered conference tournaments, bowl games and several more big events in my time at Wake Forest, but never before have I been to something like Omaha.

Omaha felt like a pinnacle of sorts, a glowing cap to the time that goes into following a team the way the Wake Forest media members have this year.

The spirit that enveloped the town was unlike anything I had ever experienced before — the fan fest, the bars, every restaurant packed with people. 25,000 fans filling into a stadium to watch college baseball is truly something to behold. Hearing the “WAKE … FOREST” chants in that environment gave me goosebumps.

When I walked into Charles Schwab Field for the first time, it evoked some serious emotions. I knew that Wake Forest’s last out, win or lose, would bring forth even more.

But it didn’t.

I expected to be heartbroken if Wake Forest lost. But, when Tommy White knocked Cam Minacci’s first pitch over the left-field fence, the pain wasn’t so pronounced. I instead felt pride for this team and THEIR journey.

So, as the astonishing 2023 season comes to an end, I write this epilogue with an immense sense of gratitude. I am grateful for the path I took with Deacons Daily, and the door opened by Blogger So Dear to continue onward. I am incredibly appreciative of Les Johns, Conor O’Neill and many more, all of them inspirational beacons to the kind of journalist I aspire to be someday. Their acceptance of me into their circle, and their continued friendship, is something I will never forget.

I am deeply indebted to Team 109 — head coach Tom Walter, the coaches and his players for their quotes and stories that I leaned on to tell the tale of this season. A huge shoutout to Ryan Sosic, Wake Forest’s baseball SID, for helping make it all happen behind the scenes.

And lastly, I want to thank you — the readers and fans of Deacons’ athletics. I never thought that I would get to do something like this going into my college career, and without you, none of it would have been possible. Lucky for me, I have one final year of my education to keep this whole thing going.

With that, a tip of the cap to this journey, and a tip of the cap to Wake Forest baseball. They deserve it; it’s been one hell of a ride.