Monday, July 13, 2009
I figure that's as good a title as any for a post this long.
[Me, Big Jay Atton - for comparison purposes, I'm 5'10", 185. You'll notice Jay is actually leaning, so add another inch or two to his height. That's why he's BIG Jay Atton.]
A few weeks back, I promised you some photographs of my softball teammates. I figured that, if you were kind enough to put up with these softball recaps on Mondays, I owed you something slightly more interesting than just statistics and the descriptions of what transpired. A few faces to go along with the names might make these things more personal, and perhaps let those of you who don’t really know us get a bit more emotionally involved. So, finally, as promised, here are the photos. When you read the game stories that follow, I hope they have some added life for you.
[All of the Attons - Pat, Big Jay, Jack. Pat is Jack's son, Big Jay is his nephew. Jack is the manager, and one of the nicest guys to ever step onto a ballfield.]
[Fast Freddy Goodman, Joey Baszkiewicz, Billy Botting - nice guys, all.]
[The extremely young-looking Cam Zirpolo, Billy Botting, Big Jay Atton, Pat Atton.]
[Cam Zirpolo - who looks younger even than the previous photo - Buddy Carchide, Pat Atton. Fast Freddy lurking in the background, and Big Jay's arm.]
[Emilio Zirpolo - Cam's dad - along with the only guy, aside from myself, to have been on the Bombers since their entry into the league, my teammate of 15 years, Ron Johnson.]
[Mike Minchoff, ace catcher, about to apply first aid to Billy Botting. Billy slid head-first into second base on our rock-hard infield and ripped up both elbows.]
My softball week began early. My former weekday team, The Flames, were in need of a fill-in player, so I received an e-mail from Pete Mittell, the manager, asking me if I was available to play on Thursday. I said that I’d be delighted to help out.
(I wrote extensively – and, considering my activities since then, embarrassingly – about my intention to retire from softball after age 50. I meant it at the time, but subsequent events reenergized me enough to give it hell for one more season of Sundays. I don’t think I could physically play an additional two or three games a week, in other leagues, without putting so much stress on my knees that I’d end up crippled. Pete is a true gentleman, though, and I enjoyed my years with his team tremendously, so I’m happy to help him out when he truly has an emergency. He called me once last year. I caught for three innings and drew a base-on-balls in my only plate appearance, so it was satisfying to be able to walk away with a 1.000 on-base percentage for the season. And that was the full extent of my weekday appearances on a ballfield until now.)
The game was scheduled for 6pm. I left work in Newton at 5, and arrived at the field in Boston by about 5:30. Three of my former teammates – Rob, Timmy, and Kevin – were already there. They were all wearing uniforms that had been given out since my leaving the team had occurred, so I got some ribbing for dressing in a "retro" uniform. Otherwise, it was glad hands all around and they seemed as glad to see me as I was to see them.
Rob was going to manage the team, as Pete had some sort of business to take care of that night down The Cape. A smart man, with a sly sense of humor, Rob is sort of a hero of mine. He had hip replacement surgery two years ago, but he’s still playing – and catching, at that – so I’ve got nothing but the greatest of respect for him as a teammate. You can’t find much more of a gamer than Rob. In my final full-time year, which was just prior to his having the surgery, Rob was in some pain, but he played - and made no excuses - when we needed him. Huge heart in that man.
He told me I’d be at first base and batting sixth. The first base part I appreciated, since it’s the only position I can still play about as effectively as I could prior to my knees wearing out, but I was a little surprised to see myself so high in the line-up. I’ve never been a power hitter – not even in my youth – and my specialty has always been a high on-base percentage. I work lots of walks and try to drop my soft liners in front of the outfielders. I knew Mark Bates was going to show up, and he’s a fantastic leadoff man, so I didn’t expect to have that spot, which is one I like to think I’m good at. I figured I’d be at the end, sort of a second leadoff. But, sixth it was. Since I’d have to actually run the bases – no courtesy runners in this league – I expressed my hope that I wouldn’t clog up the bases for the guys behind me. Rob, with all good humor, assured me I wouldn’t. He was batting behind me with his surgically replaced hip, so he joked that if anyone would be clogging up the bases, he’d be the one.
Other guys I knew from past years showed up, one by one, and acquaintances were cheerfully renewed. Then it was game time.
The Flames entered the game at 11 and 4, in first place. Their opposition for the evening were The Warriors, a good team not too far behind in the standings. With the team missing three or four starters – otherwise, why call me in? – a tough test was ahead.
I’ll not belabor you with the goriest of the details. We lost, 11 – 3, scoring those 3 runs in our final inning. Until that inning, we had been held to two hits, and just four men on base overall (I had drawn a walk in my first at-bat, and another guy reached on an error.) In that final inning, we got two hits and two walks (I drew my second of the evening), and that was that. I finished 0-for-1 (my two walks were sandwiched around a soft liner to the second baseman) with a run scored. In the field, I was OK. There was a grounder to my left, in the first inning, that I probably should have had, but it wasn’t a no-doubt error, so I was satisfied that I hadn’t disgraced myself out there.
I started walking to my car, and goodbyes and "thanks for helping out!" were said to me. I wish it had been a win, but it was still great fun seeing all those guys. I’ll drop by again to watch them in the playoffs next month. I’d sure love to see them win it.
And now, Sunday.
Dot Rats – 7 BOMBERS – 6
Dot Rats – 7 BOMBERS – 3
Reds – 15 BOMBERS – 15
(final score, although the score today was 2 – 1, Reds. More explanation follows.)
Three scores this week because the third game was a one-inning resumption of a suspended game from earlier in the year. That game was thought, by us, to be over, with a win at 14 – 13. However, the other team protested – it was a time-limit dispute – and the commissioner upheld the protest. Therefore, we were to complete the final inning, Bombers leading by one run going into it. I’ll recap that one last.
The regularly scheduled doubleheader, versus the Dot Rats, was played without a couple of our regulars. Cam Zirpolo and Emilio Zirpolo (his dad) were in Maine. We wrangled a couple of replacements from The Flames to fill in for them. Conrad Pacquette played a couple of seasons for us before this year, as did Hector Acosta. It was nice to see them again, and I thought we were probably as good with them as fill-ins as with our regulars.
I don’t want to go over these games in serious detail. We’ve just plain stopped hitting, as a team. Over the last six games, we’ve scored 25 runs. That’s nothing great for baseball, let alone modified fast-pitch softball. We’re averaging a bit over 4 runs a game and we’re just not that bad. It’s very disheartening.
Coming into today, if we could have won two (one in the legitimate doubleheader, and one in the resumption of the suspended game) we would have been into the playoffs in no lower than the fourth seed, and we would have had a shot at finishing second and getting a bye in the playoffs. Now were sitting in a tie for fifth, and we’ll have to win 2 of 3 next week to guarantee a spot.
(Next week is a round robin, top four teams playing each other and bottom four teams playing each other. We’re now relegated to that second group, with a record of 5-8-1. The other teams are 5-8-1, 5-9, and 0-14. Obviously, the 0-14 team is not in contention. Of the remaining three, two of us will get in. We were 4-2 at one point, and playing like we deserved even better than that. Very discouraging to have to fight for a spot now.)
We’re getting great pitching and, for the most part, wasting it. Buddy Carchide and Big Jay Atton both threw very nice games, being done in by our lack of hitting and by some lackadaisical fielding. They both deserved better.
The day got off to a shitty start. I was back in the leadoff position and feeling good because of it, too. I love batting leadoff. It’s a position with which my skill set is perfectly matched. So, what happens today? I get rung up on a 2-2 pitch that was, literally, across my ankles.
I stood there and couldn’t believe it. I turned to the umpire and said, "You’re kidding me, right?" He said, "The ball was right over the plate!" I said, "Yeah, I’ve got no argument with that. It was over the plate. But it was way low. It wasn’t even close." He turned away, and I didn’t pursue it because the only thing I could have accomplished at that point was getting tossed from the game. But, damn! The ball literally hit the dirt at the back edge of the plate. I was just... words fail me. I mean, I don’t generally give the umpires any crap. They’ve got a tough job and I’m not so monomaniacal that I believe I’ve never struck out in my life when an ump rings me up. If it had been a borderline pitch, I would have walked back to the bench without a word. But that was just wrong.
For the rest of my day, I drew three walks. That was about it. When I actually swung at the ball, I hit a couple of them well enough to be hits, but the other team positioned well for me defensively and I got nothing. As the opposing captain said to me, with a smile, after one of them, "Hey, Sully, when you play ball for 47 years, folks are likely to have a pretty good book on you." I laughed. What else is there to do?
The final bit of sadness I’ll write about is the resumption of the suspended game. As I say, we went into that one leading 14-13 after six innings. There would be one inning only, and a tie would go in the books as such.
We batted first. Billy Botting, third in the batting order in the original game, was first to the plate. He doubled sharply to right center, a nice start. Big Jay Atton followed with a walk. Hector Acosta was inserted into the next spot, due to Cam Zirpolo’s absence. He had a nice day overall for us, and this time he drove one to deep left. It held up, though, and was caught. Billy tagged and took third with one out. Joey Baszkiewicz hit a short fly to center, and Billy gambled. He tagged up at third, raced home – he’s fast – and slid as the ball arrived. Safe. Pat Atton, meanwhile, running for Big Jay, was able to tag from first and get all the way to third on the play.
We’re now up two runs, runner on third, two out. My turn at bat.
You’ve got to understand something here. When we first played these guys, aside from the suspended game, we played one to completion, losing 11 – 9. We had been trailing 11 – 6, but rallied furiously in the final inning. With one out, we had bases loaded and that score of 11 – 9. Jack Atton and I were coming up. It was a good situation. However, Jack got fooled and popped out, and I lofted a big can of corn to center. And I’ve been thinking about that at-bat ever since. If I could only have dropped something in front of the right fielder, as is my wont, we get at least a tie. Seriously, I’ve thought about and thought about it.
So, I am now at-bat against the Reds again, finally having a shot to do what I’ve been thinking about for a month. I’m going to right and getting that runner on third home. So, with a 3 – 1 count, I see an outside pitch and I try to push it into right.
I hit a foul pop to the first baseman. End of inning.
OK, though, we’re up two and only need three outs to salvage something from this hideous day.
Jay is pitching. The Reds put the first man on via a little liner that just got over Ron Johnson’s head at second base. On a 2-2 count (I think) Jay decides to throw the next guy a change-up. It was a good idea, and a good change, except somehow the guy gets enough on it to loft it out to right, over Fast Freddy Goodman. Ugh. We’re in serious trouble.
Jay bears down and strikes out the next batter. Then he gets a fly to Fast Freddy for the second out. We’re looking as though we’ll at least keep the damn tie. Then there’s a single, a walk, and a slow roller to Jack at third, but he can’t beat the runner back to the bag. Bases loaded.
We finally got the third out. And a rousing cheer was heard from Bomber Nation. Huzzah.
Well, the tie does keep us in a playoff spot, for now. But we still have to take care of business next week. If we don’t, there probably won’t be a softball report next Monday because I’ll have hanged myself.
Soon, with more something.
(Oh, I’ve got to mention one other thing. Big Jay Atton reads this blog, and not just the softball posts. I think he’s the only guy on the team who reads me when it’s not about softball. Anyway, he gave MY WIFE and me another teddy bear. This one was green. When I gave Jay a quizzical look, he said, "He got into the applesauce."
Funny. When I brought the green bear home, and announced to MY WIFE that his name was Applesauce [and explained the story to her] she said, "Be sure to tell Jay the bear tasted great with our pork chops."
And so he did.)