Monday, June 27, 2011

Four Attons And A Softball Game

[Me showing off the sort of training habits that all future softball players should strive to copy - NOT]

I’m afraid those of you who don’t care to read about sports are in for no fun. As you’ll see by what follows next, this is the first official fast-pitch softball post of the year.

BOMBERS – 20 CF – 5
BOMBERS – 29 CF – 7

That’s what happened yesterday.

(There may be a few of you who don’t know what in hell I’m talking about, so here’s the quick explanation. I play modified fast-pitch softball in two leagues, one on Sunday and the other on weekdays. The Bombers are my Sunday team. They play in The Phoenix League, in Brighton, a neighborhood of Boston, and they play a doubleheader every Sunday. They have been in existence, and I have been a member of the team, for 17 years. I was manager of the team for 10 of those years, but I’m just a player now. I am one of only two original members of the team still playing, the other being Ron Johnson [who was manager of the team for the first two years of our existence, but is, like me, now just a player.] I am 54. Ron is, I believe, 59. We are two happy old softball farts, mostly happy because we no longer have to deal with being the manager. The manager is Jack Atton [may his tribe increase!] and he’s held that position for the last five years. The weekday team is named The Swingers. They play in the M Street Softball League, one of the premier softball leagues in Boston. All-Star teams from that league occasionally travel and play in regional tournaments, and they always acquit themselves well. I am currently the manager of The Swingers [and being so has reminded me of every reason I enjoyed NOT managing for the past five seasons.] I have played in the M Street league, and sometimes managed the team I’ve played for, off and on since 1999. There’s more, but that should give you enough to understand anything that follows [assuming you give a rat’s ass.])

Despite the scores above, this has not been the softball season of my dreams.

Last year, The Bombers played in the championship round of their league. We lost in the finals. Until then, we had lost TWO games all season. With the two wins yesterday, The Bombers now have two wins. We are 2 and 6 on this season thus far.

Meanwhile, The Swingers started the year 3 and 1. Yay! I’m a managerial genius! We are now 3 and 7. Boo! I’m an idiot! Fire the bum!

Thus far, I have not been able to put the team on the field that I would have desired. There hasn’t been a single game this season where I’ve had the nine players available that I would put on the field to optimize our chances. I’ve had to patch a line-up together, at the last moment, every game. Therefore, my ability to do the best job I could do as manager has been non-existent.

As with most sports, players win and lose games. Managers, with the very rare exception, can only lose them. The main job of the softball manager is to make sure he has the optimal line-up and positioning of fielders. Given that task completed successfully, the game is pretty much out of his hands. Every so often, a decision is needed on a substitution, a strategy, or perhaps some other niggling detail. In the end, though, the players either get the job done or they don’t. The manager (unless he is also playing) will affect a game in progress, in a positive manner, once in a blue moon – maybe. It’s easy, however, for a manager to screw up a team’s chances. When he makes the right decision, the players still must bring it to fruition. When he makes the wrong decision, it can shipwreck the team without any help. Even then, an outstanding effort by the players can still save the day.

I can honestly say that I feel responsible for one loss this year because of my management. That was our opener. There was a thing I should have done to bring us the win. I didn’t do it. The way I handled the situation was probably sportsmanlike, but if handled differently I might have secured us a win.

A new rule was put into place this season regarding illegality of bats. Composite bats have been deemed illegal for league play at M Street. Without going into a lot of detail, those bats can be literally lethal. In testing, balls have been measured coming off of them at a max of 140+ miles per hour. As you might imagine, this leaves little time for a pitcher, 46 feet away, to react defensively. There have been instances of pitchers losing an eye, having their face crushed, and even dying. Luckily, no such horrific fate had befallen anyone at M Street – yet. In order to stave off the possibility, only aluminum bats are now allowed. In order to be deemed legal, and receive an ASA (Amateur Softball Association) approval, these bats must have been tested at no greater than 99 miles per hour. Aside from the injury aspect, the composite bats are obviously a major aid to hitters. It’s much easier to whack a scorcher with a bat that jacks the ball at 140 miles per hour as opposed to only 99.

In our first game, our opposition used a composite bat in the first inning. One of my players pointed this out to me. By rights, I could have alerted the umpire and had the hit made by that batter ruled illegal, resulting in an out and taking any resulting runs off of the scoreboard. I did point out the illegal bat to the umpire, and he should have made the ruling himself. However, we’re working with new umpires this year and not all of them were up to speed on league rules during the first week.

(That sounds idiotic, but it’s true. The problem is that the umps are trained in ASA rules, and the "no composite bats" rule isn’t an ASA rule. It’s a league rule. Composite bats are not illegal across the board in all ASA play.)

When I told the ump about the illegal bat, and informed him of the league rule, he asked me what he should do. Meanwhile, the other team pleaded ignorance. They said they had no idea that the bat was illegal, and that they had used the bat in previous seasons, and so forth. The umpire looked to me for a decision.

The right thing for me to do, as manager, was to ask for the previous hit to be ruled an out because of the illegal bat and to have the two runs scored on that play disallowed. I erred on the side of good sportsmanship. I believed the other team was truly ignorant of the bat being illegal. Instead of being an asshole in the first inning of game one, I only asked the umpire to remove the bat from the game. Play continued. We were leading by five runs at that point, so I was willing to be magnanimous.

We ended up losing by one run. My fault, totally. It was my job to be an asshole at that point in the game and I didn’t do my job.

The Swingers pretty much need to run the table to make the playoffs now. It’s not impossible. There are 7 games remaining. If I get the opportunity to field the complete squad sometime, maybe it can happen. I’m not counting on it, though. Half the team has higher priorities than softball. Those guys think nothing of missing a few games. In the grander scheme of things, they probably have their heads screwed on more tightly than I do. I don’t miss games for anything less than a death in the family, and I am the only team member who has been there for every game this year. So, this will be my one and only year as manager. I truly can’t understand not making a total commitment to the team once you’ve signed on, and I don’t need this sort of aggravation. By the same token, these guys would be better off with someone who isn’t harboring bad feelings about commitment issues when what we’re talking about is something that should be fun for them. I’m a head case and I can only manage other head cases without getting ulcers.

The Bombers, on the other hand...

[2010 Bombers putting on the brave faces following the loss in the finals. Big Jay Atton is far left in first row. Jack Atton is directly above him, next to me. On my other side is Pat Atton, and above me is Drew Atton.]

The other thing you need to know about me and softball is that I’ve been playing it in organized leagues for parts of five decades. I started in the 1970’s. And I have never been on a championship team.

(Some unkind souls might theorize that playing softball during five decades and never being on a championship team means that I might be the problem. As my skills have declined, I’ve had those notions myself. I know in my heart, though, that I kicked ass for many years. I might need someone to drag my aging butt across the finish line these days, but I consider it fitting payback for the years I was trying to drag somebody else’s butt across the finish line when I was younger. And if I’m a drag on a team’s chance for success, I won’t complain if I gather splinters on the bench. I’m a realist.)

Anyway, given last year’s close call, I was fully expecting The Bombers to win that elusive championship for me. I still believe they will. But the 0 and 6 start sure put a psychological damper on things. Destroying the other team twice yesterday helped to make me a bit more optimistic again. My going 4 for 8, with a walk, and one of the four hits a triple, didn’t hurt. I can still rise to the occasion sometimes, and now that I’ve contributed to a couple of wins I’ll feel like I helped earn that title should we make a strong comeback and win it.

I usually try to give a shout to those guys who played exemplary ball, so I’ll do a bit of that here. The thing is, when you win two games by the combined score of 49 – 12, just about everybody had to play exemplary ball. So, if I don’t mention you, don’t feel bad. Everybody contributed something huge.

We’ll start with Big Jay Atton because he did something yesterday that deserves recognition. He cost himself glory for the betterment of the team. That’s always number one in my book. In the absence of Jack Atton (Jay’s uncle) as manager, due to a family commitment, Jay took over as coach on an interim basis. Now, thus far this year, Jay, an excellent pitcher, is 0 and 4. And the team we played yesterday was one he likely would have torn to shreds and ribbons if he took the mound. However, with a shortage of players (we had the minimum available) he positioned folks defensively in order to maximize our fielding abilities. He put himself at third base instead of selfishly penciling himself in as pitcher. He would have almost assuredly grabbed two cheap wins for himself had he done so. He instead started Joey Baszkiewicz in game one and Drew Atton (his cousin) in game two. They both pitched well, Jay fielded third magnificently, and we won the games. It was the right thing to do and he gets applause from me for doing so.

(His reward, aside from a clear managerial conscience, is the fact that he now sports a 4 – 0 record during his two stints as interim manager. He’s not only the most naturally talented player with whom I’ve played; he’s also one of the most intelligent.)

I mentioned Joey Baszkiewicz and Drew Atton. Both of them performed admirably. And both of them, if I’m not mistaken, also picked up their first career wins as pitchers. Drew has been working hard at learning the craft, has been mistreated by his fielders while pitching for The Swingers, and it was nice to see him be able to pitch his way out of a couple of bases loaded jams. That should help his confidence. Joey, meanwhile, has been something of a pleasant surprise. He’s normally a catcher by trade, with he and I sharing that duty on both teams, and he’s also another guy who will do whatever it takes for the team to prosper even if it means his stats suffer personally. He’s thrown one shutout inning at M Street, and now he’s 1 – 0 for The Bombers. His nickname, until further notice, is Mister Perfect.

Speaking of perfection, Eric MacDonald threw an inning of shutout relief in game one. He also went 3 for 3 with a double and a three-run homer, and 6 for 7 overall. Not bad. Coming close to perfection was Pat Atton (yes, another Atton – Drew’s brother) who went 5 for 6 with 3 walks over both games. Billy Davis went 3 for 3 with a walk in game two. Big Jay Atton had two doubles and a home run, and he led the team with 9 RBI. Seth went 6 for 8, including a double and two triples. Just about everybody fattened up with those 49 runs scoring, of course.

As we lost our first 6 games, I told the team that I wouldn’t post any stats until we won. Now that we’ve made good on that, the stats can be found HERE.

To wrap this up, I’m going to tell you about something historic which will happen at M Street, weather permitting, on Tuesday evening.

(The following was previously published in the South Boston Tribune, in slightly different form.)

M Street Softball Is A Family Affair

by Jim "Suldog" Sullivan

The M Street Softball League is celebrating its 41st season this year. During the previous 40 seasons, the league has seen many family connections on the various team rosters.

Brothers are the most common. The Baszkiewicz family contributed Derek (a fine player for many years, now retired), as well as his younger brother, Joey (who still plays good ball for the Swingers.) On the Dorset Club, there's Alex Lisek, Chris Lisek, and Wes Lisek. There are tag teams of Garofalos and Deanes, Brodericks, Hourihans, and Landolfis.

In the father/son category, Sidewalk Cafe's Mark Senna had the pleasure of sharing the playing field with his dad, Don. Joey Magee, now pitching for Cranberry Cafe, started in the league at a time when his dad was a perennial all-star second baseman. Robbie Rogers, a candidate for the league lead in home runs every year, started his slugging career while his dad, Jack, was still playing at M Street.

This year, however, the league title for players from the same family goes to the Attons. There are four, on three different teams.

Jack Atton, pitcher for Telegraph Hill, is the "old man" of the group. He's the father of Pat Atton and Drew Atton, who both play for the Swingers ball club, and he's also the uncle of Big Jay Atton, pitcher for Stats-BSB.

(I've had the pleasure of being the teammate of all four of them, at various times, and I'm currently the manager of the young brothers, Pat and Drew, on the Swingers. They're all strong competitors, but also nice guys with good senses of humor. I'd be hard pressed to name another similar group of guys who are as talented, and fun to watch on a ballfield, but who are also a joy to just have as buddies.)

Having said all of the above, let me tell you about something unique to league history which will happen on Tuesday, June 28th. All three of the Atton's teams are playing that evening - Jack's Telegraph Hill team at 6:00, Big Jay's Stats-BSB squad at 7:30, and then both Drew and Pat will be competing for the Swingers in the 9:00 game. What's really special is that the starting pitcher for all three teams that night, barring injury, should be from the Atton family. I plan on giving Drew the start in the 9:00 contest. AND, if the opportunity presents itself, maybe Pat will even throw to one or two batters in relief, making it FOUR members of the same family pitching on the same night.

So, why not bring your family down to the ballpark some evening? The newly-constructed stands can accommodate a few hundred comfortably, and the players really appreciate a good crowd to show off for. And, if you come on the 28th, you'll be witness to history.


As of this writing, Jack Atton leads the league in victories, sporting an 8 - 1 record. Big Jay is second in strikeouts. And, with Drew having notched his first win yesterday for the Bombers, he'll take the hill with confidence as he attempts to get his first win in M Street play. It should be fun.

Soon, with more better stuff.


Jeni said...

My thoughts -as if you really need them -with respect to the bat rules and your decision there -is to cite that old adage, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse!" And with that in mind, I hope you won't be in a situation again where you have to make a choice and while the one you made was quite honorable, I figure you learned a valuable lesson already from having made that choice, haven't you?
The history-making games sound like it would be not just interesting but also, a lot of fun if one could attend all four games! Makes me miss my good old days of following the team sponsored by my favorite old watering hole about 40 plus years ago! Always one of my favorite Sunday afternoon activities back in the day.

Michelle H. said...

Ah, a man with a heart of gold. I understand your sportsmanship with that other team, and I applaud you for it. Next time, go in there with a knife and be cutthroat.

"Ignorance with eyes and hands lifted means you can pull their pants down for not following the rules like wearing a tight-fitting belt."

Craig said...

Eh, don't be any harder on yourself than you need to be. Willingness to not be an asshole is in dwindling supply, these days. . . (And of course, you know very well that simply trading two runs for an out in the first inning is no guarantee that the rest of the game would have proceeded identically. . .)

And kudos to your league for taking steps to maintain the integrity of SOFTball. Guys aren't supposed to be putting their lives on the line, even in really competitive leagues. . .

Attons rule!

Daryl said...

What Michelle said

Anonymous said...

You're a good man Sully Brown. I don't think it was YOUR fault that your team lost by one hit because of your choosing "to err on the side of sportsmanship."

You were definitely the bigger manager and man and were a superb example of integrity.

Good job Mr. Sully!

Buck said...

And, if you come on the 28th, you'll be witness to history.

I'd be there if I could, but it IS a long way. ;-)

Chris said...

Love this stuff. And for what it's worth, I think you did the right thing in regard to the illegal bat incident. I guess the question really is, "How much of an impact (no pun intended) did the bat's illegality have on the run-scoring play?" Was it a home run that scraped the back of the wall? Or was it a blooper that fell in? Either way, I don't think you can say that one incident cost you the game. Sure, it ended up being one run, but a lot of other things must've happened en route to the loss.

I'm sure George Brett would be on your side.

And you hit a triple? Someone collapse in the outfield or something?

silly rabbit said...

I think you did the right thing with the bat issue. Sportsmanship is getting rare! And THEY know they did the wrong thing and the win is tainted... topped off by them not graciously giving up the hit when they knew they had been in the wrong, which would have been the honorable thing for them to do.
I love these bb posts and I truly wish I could be there Tuesday evening.

Suldog said...

Chris - Bastard in CF was playing wicked shallow, daring me to pop one over him. So I did :-)

messymimi said...

Your sportsmanship brings you up in my mind anther notch above where you got to with the Juneteenth posts.

Good luck on the rest of the season, and especially Tuesday night.

lime said...

well, i'm with the rest of the commenters who say go easy on yourself for the bat issue. there is so little value on sportsmanship these days. my husband and son play in a CHURCH softball league for crying out loud and a couple weeks ago had to break up a fight between our first baseman and a guy on the other team.....oh yeah, the guy on the other team happens to be the youth pastor for his church. nice testimony guys, real nice. anyway, pat yourself on the back for being the classy guy. that counts a lot, imho.

Moannie said...

Just to let you know that I came, I saw and I tried. XX

gilbert security systems said...

You are still nailing it buddy. Keep that thing going.

Shrinky said...

Ah Jim, you are a TRUE sportsman, and even I can appreceiate that. Some things are just not worth getting down and dirty about, are they? Love the cool pic's, who needs a tight belt when you can still cut such a fine figure in a get-up the likes of that (grin)?

Suldog said...

Moannie (and others who are similarly kind but befuddled) -

Thanks! :-)

I know these sorts of posts make little sense to someone across the pond, but I need to write them every so often. Otherwise, it will all build up inside of me and I'll... well, I'm not sure what would happen, but it would no doubt be bad for MY WIFE :-)

Clare Dunn said...

Your worthiness only increases (a reference to a recent comment of yours, as well!)

I, too, have been away from the blogworld lately, and can't stay to read today's post - or even the last few days' posts - in entirety, but you KNOW I of these days.

xoxoxo, cd

Anonymous said...

I just love that you said "wicked shallow". ;-)

Suldog said...

DJ - As soon as I wrote that, I knew somebody would get a kick out of it. Truly, though, I couldn't think of a better adjective!

Anonymous said...

It wasn't fair of the umpire to put you on the spot, but despite the loss, I think you did the right thing. I hate that you haven't won a championship, but I absolutely love all the family connections. And way to go, Big Jay!

i beati said...

my money is on you to run the table- 'm thrilled you still go go ..what camaraderie and memories - what life is all about !!

Mich said...

It's tough to step up and be an a**hole. A lot tougher than most people think it is, anyway...

I tried following this post. Unfortunately, my brain is entirely incapable of comprehending anything baseball-related, despite my best efforts. (And I've really tried--my best friend is like really into baseball and I try to be enthusiastic and junk, but you can only push your brain so far.)

You've earned yourself another blog award!! <3

Carolina said...

You should be proud of yourself for not being an asshole :-)
I should be proud of myself for having read the entire post. Progress. And I enjoyed it too. Apart from the Russian parts that is. For instance: 'who went 5 for 6 with 3 walks'. What? (Don't bother trying to explain it. I will never understand.)

Oh, and me thinks that the Atton tribe is already on its way to being of impressive size. In every way possible ;-)

Anonymous said...

I look forward to playing with jay on weeknights for stats bsb and i look forward to pitching sunday mornings with the new east boston squad. Rookie breaking in to the m st leauge. ___ Ron Costello

Suldog said...

I don't think Jay is playing for Stats/BSB this coming season. I may be wrong, but I believe he has signed on with Telegraph Hill.