Monday, May 24, 2010
[Some of you go into a coma when I write about sports. Get ready for a good long snooze! Before you go to sleep, though, admire the official game-used autographed ball, winging its way to Knucklehead even as you read, and also envy my ticket to tonight's Celtics game. Woo-Hoo!]
I went to church on Sunday. I played softball. Some of you wouldn’t consider it a religious service, but I do. When I get out on the field, I’m more aware of, and thankful for, my blessings than I ever am sitting inside an actual church building.
How blessed am I? I’m 53 years old and I still get to run around in the sunshine on a grassy field. Every so often, someone throws a ball at me and I try to hit it with a stick. Just about everybody on the field knows my name and talks to me with affection.
(One of them, Fast Freddy Goodman, is not only a great teammate who brings a cooler full of refreshing drinks for the team every week, but he’s also one of my best friends. He often invites me out for a sandwich after the games. I usually decline, but not because I don’t like FFG. It’s just that, for some reason, I’m less hungry after exercising than I would be if I were my usual sluggish self.)
As I stretch and warm up, the young pups – Pat Atton and Cam Zirpolo, who don’t need such elaborate preparation – find some amusement in me. That’s fine. As long as I can stroke a hit or two each week, I don’t mind a few friendly jokes about being an old gray dog. The ribbing only bothers me if I stop hitting.
(I went 1 for 3 with 2 RBI this week. They went a combined 2 for 11 with 1 RBI. I’m just saying. I’m the second-oldest player on the team – Ron Johnson has me beat by three or four years – but I do the job that is the most tiring, joint-breaking, and injury-prone. I did the catching for both ends of a doubleheader [I caught 10 of a possible 12 innings this day] and the beating my legs take affects every other aspect of my game. Granted, the guys in the outfield have to be able to run faster and further than me, and the infielders mostly need better reflexes than I have these days, but I’m taking short curveballs off of my shins and foul tips into my chest. When you’re willing to stick your head and body two feet behind a guy swinging a metal rod, with balls speeding at you from all angles, and with the only protection being that afforded by wearing a facemask, it tends to get you a little respect at any age.)
I’m not doing the best job of writing this. I’m sure I could have made it cuter – I could have worked at it and made it sound like I was an actual dog running around a field, for instance - but we’ve got a whole bunch of new guys on the team this year and there’s no need for me to let them know, at this early a point in the season, just how much of a flake I am. There’s plenty of time for that later. I’m going to stick to writing about how good it feels to have beaten the Titans. Those guys have won the championship, more years than not, for the 15 seasons I’ve been in the league, and we haven’t actually won a game against them in quite a while. But we did yesterday.
BOMBERS – 4 Titans – 15 (5 innings)
BOMBERS – 15 Titans – 14
Quick background for those unfamiliar with our brand of softball: We play modified fast-pitch, and games are scheduled for 7 innings. We play a doubleheader every Sunday.
We were scheduled to open the season last weekend, but the team we were supposed to play dropped out of the league at the last minute. This left nine squads in the league, thus necessitating a bye week for each team. The good news concerning them dropping out is that we got our bye week out of the way early. The bad news, of course, is that every other team got to play while many of us sat around and lost any edge we had.
(Some of us play in other leagues during the week, myself included, and that keeps us sharp, but quite a few of the Bombers only play on Sunday.)
The lack of activity on our part, and the Titans having played last week, showed in the first game to our detriment. We took a while to get our legs under us, while the Titans were ready to go. They jumped on us early and kicked us around. There’s a 10-run slaughter rule after 5 complete innings, and they beat us 15 – 4.
It’s hard to pinpoint anything in particular wrong with Josh Lebron, new to the team this year and who pitched decently. That is, he had good stuff. As I mentioned, I was catching and he looked good. Josh throws hard when he wants to – probably as hard, or harder, than anyone else in the league – and his off-speed stuff is good, too. He throws a little screwball that breaks in on a right-handed batter, and has one that wobbles back and forth like a good knuckler. There were a couple of catchable shots to the outfield that our guys misplayed by calling each other off the ball and then neither grabbing it, and one routine grounder that was dropped at first base, but for the most part the Titans just hit Josh despite his having the good stuff. It happens sometimes.
Also, we didn’t hit much at all, and that was disheartening. The top four spots in the lineup went 0 for 7 with one walk. I know we have a much better team, both offensively and defensively, than we’ve had in the recent past; maybe a better team, all things considered, than we’ve ever had. To lose to the Titans by the same old type of score was a distinct downer.
The nice thing, though, is that it was over very quickly. We could clear our heads, come out fresh for game two, and give them hell. And that’s what we did.
Dave Vargas threw for us in game two, and he tossed two scoreless innings to begin. Meanwhile, we plated one in the first inning, then put up a crooked number in the top of the third. With one out, Jack Atton singled. Fast Freddy Goodman followed with a single of his own, sending Jack to third. I followed with – God help us all – a triple.
(It was a solid shot to right center, but I didn’t think it had the legs to get me three bases. For that matter, I wasn’t sure that I had the legs to get me three bases. But there I stood on third, huffing and puffing.)
With two outs, my run scored on an E-6. Danny Espinosa tripled to drive in Cam Zirpolo, and then Big Jay Atton singled to drive in Danny. We were up 6 – 0, and we never trailed after that.
That’s not to say we didn’t still have a fight on our hands. By the time we finished the sixth, the Titans had tied the game at 12 – 12. They’re a very good hitting squad, for sure, and they have years of confidence backing up their play. They never think they’re going to lose, so they come to the plate with no doubts. It was up to us to beat them because they were not going to beat themselves.
Top of the seventh, we came through. With one out, Fast Freddy drew a base on balls. Following a second out on a fly to left, Pat Atton – 0 for 5 to that point – delivered a clutch single. Cam Zirpolo, himself working on an 0-fer, stroked one that scored Fast Freddy. Danny then came up and slammed his second triple of the day, scoring both Pat and Cam. We were up by three going to the Titans last chance at bat.
The Titans are the defending champions for a reason. They never stop fighting, and they fight well. Kenny Bean, one of the best hitters in the league for many years, led off by slashing a vicious one-hopper down the line at first. However, Big Jay Atton dove to his left and snared it, just like a big cat going after a ball of yarn, landing belly down on the bag with the ball safely in his great glove. One big out on a fantastic defensive play.
Dave Vargas, losing a bit of the good control he had for most of this game, walked the next two. Then he induced a can of corn to left for the second out. Dave Sheridan, hitting at the bottom of the Titan’s lineup, got a clutch single to load the bases. That brought the top of the order, and the winning run, to the plate.
They kept coming. A single scored two, leaving us with a one run lead. Another single loaded the bases again. No margin for error. Titan’s #3 batter up. And Dave Vargas worked him magnificently, a no-problem grounder to Andres Pantoja at second, who flipped to Danny Espinosa covering. We win, 15 – 14.
Aside from those heroics mentioned above, there are other kudos to hand out, and I’ll start with our manager, Jack Atton. He made some swell strategic substitutions, as well as keeping all of our heads in the game. Can’t ask for more that that from a manager. Robbie Rogers, in his first time playing for us, had a perfect day at the plate, going 3-for-3, including a triple and an absolutely crushed sacrifice fly that would have been a home run in most parks. Josh Lebron cracked two homers, driving in four runs. Danny Espinosa had three extra base hits in game two, a double and two triples. Alex Acosta had a damn nice day, pounding out a triple and a home run.
(I have to believe we set a record for triples in one doubleheader. We had seven. I’ve been on this team in years where we didn’t have seven triples as a team for the entire season. Speaking of records, Big Jay Atton's team record of consecutive at-bats without a strikeout ended yesterday, at 152. Hell of a streak.)
Final big ink goes to Dave Vargas. He’s a money pitcher. He might falter here or there, but when the game is on the line, I’d trust him with my life. This was the third time in the last two seasons I’ve seen Dave bear down and stop a team with the winning runs aboard in the final inning. He isn’t fazed by pressure. And it was Dave’s final game as a Bomber, unfortunately. He’s moving to Atlanta for business. I’ll miss him, not just as a player but also as a human being. He’s a good guy. I’d have him on my team any time.
So, that was a big write-up for a split of a doubleheader, but it may well be the toughest doubleheader we face all season. A split in this one bodes well for a very successful season. We still have to take care of business, but now I know for certain that we have the horses to win this league. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens the rest of the way.
BOMBERS STATS and LEAGUE STANDINGS
Soon, with more better stuff.