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The Tales of Unexpected Success

By Yong-yi Zhu

SPORTS COLUMNIST

Rags to riches stories. No matter how corny they are, those same old stories of people coming to eventual success through years of hardship always evoke that feeling of complete delight within me. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for happy endings. Perhaps I’m just sentimental. What’s not to like about people finally achieving the goal they have always wanted to attain after persevering and plowing through difficult times? Whatever the case may be, we’ve been blessed by several in the world of sports this past year. Let me give you several accounts of these tales.

Take the Denver Nuggets. Where has that team been over the past decade? At worst, they were just a step above the Los Angeles Clippers for the second worst team in the National Basketball Association. The Nuggets were to losses what Harvard is to snobs. Heck, how many people could even name two starters on those Nugget teams? Over the past decade, the Nuggets have not been above the .500 mark ever at the end of a season. From their low of 11 wins in the 1997-1998 season to their high of 40 in the 2000-2001 season, the Nuggets have never been a team anybody has been afraid of. What a difference a year, and perhaps a man, can truly make. With the drafting of Carmelo Anthony, suddenly the Nuggets became a rejuvenated organization. Sure, they didn’t have many superstars, but just with their modest roster, those 15 guys were able to take the team to the playoffs. Many give lots of credit to Carmelo, but in reality, guys like Andre Miller and Voshon Lenard have all stepped it up in the process. Basketball is not a one man sport, as Tracy MacGrady proved. When those guys finally made the playoffs, they raised their arms, waived their towels, and pumped their fists in celebration. The fans did the same, cheering them for several minutes after the game.

Another such team is the Carolina Panthers. They are a newbie as far as the NFL is concerned, and last year was their big breakthrough. From a journeyman quarterback to several veteran wide receivers, the Panthers transferred their lives around from a 1-15 season two years ago, to a 7-9 record last year, to making it to the Super Bowl this past February. Now, not only does everyone know who Jake Delhomme is, but they are afraid of what he can do to a defense. Not only does the team look stronger, but John Fox’s skills as a coach looked impeccable. After the win against the Eagles, the players celebrated the victory as though they were professionals, knowing what they had accomplished and what they still had to do against the New England Patriots. The coach praised the players about their work ethic while the players spoke to how they have come this far.

Finally, there are the Marlins. As a baseball team goes, they have seen more turmoil than many other. Their team had been sold immediately following winning the World Series, and it was the ultimate riches to rags story. So everyone wondered if they could turn it around the other way. But this year was unlike most other years, the team had a different air about them. Ivan Rodriguez brought leadership. Mike Lowell brought the home runs. Josh Beckett brought the pitching. It was a team full of miracles, from winning that wild card, to beating the New York Yankees. Once again, pure joy reigned supreme as the last out of game six of the World Series was recorded.

But success doesn’t always bring the pure ecstasy that these experiences have brought. Let’s just take Jason E. Szuminski ’01 as an example. He is the first MIT graduate to ever make the major leagues. In a way, he has made it to the ultimate goal of many baseball players around the country. However, he did come from a modest beginning. It is quite true that MIT does not do much for an athletic life. The academics here are so difficult and stressful that many times keeping up with the work is difficult enough. To put sports on top of that, without the financial help of a scholarship, can be demanding to many players. This is why MIT athletics does not and cannot compare with many schools offering easier schedules and more money. To make it from the MIT athletic program to the big leagues is a tremendous accomplishment.

Szuminski is, at the moment, the pride and joy of MIT sports. He has received numerous recognitions from papers like The Tech. Yet, Szuminski does not find the moment ecstatic enough to celebrate, at least not with his former family. He is an alum of this school after all, yet, he chooses to blast the school’s athletic program, saying the field is bad, the coaching is bad, and the players are bad. Why all the gloom?

I love telling rags to riches stories, but this one leaves a bit of a sour aftertaste in my mouth. I guess some people put their own celebrity above all else, even the thrills of accomplishment. He used his celebrity to tell ESPN what was on his mind. Perhaps it would have been appropriate to double check his mind before he spoke. After all, we are all used to double checking our psets and tests.