Saturday, August 1, 2015
"Once in a blue moon!"
That's what they say when one of those red-letter days happen; when the stars align and the world seems right and everything falls into place....in this case "place" was my son's baseball glove. The way this five-star championship night ended made it a night I will never forget.
There was a lot to celebrate and there's a lot to tell, so bear with me. The recycle bin out near my garage you see in the picture above shows the brown and green glass refuse of two days of collegial imbibing and celebrations. After my union softball team, the APSCUF Rams, won game one of our best of three championship series on Monday evening, I purchased two bottles of Chairman's Select recommended champagne in anticipation of toasting to a championship on Wednesday.
I didn't think I was jinxing the team with that presumptive purchase but I knew there was a better than even chance the liquid sweet stuff would be sitting on my shelf until New Year's eve. We were playing the best team in the league, Keystone Financial Services, and they had beaten us soundly at the end of the regular season, 18-5. They were fast, young and hungry; they hit the ball hard and they served noticed that night they were determined to win the title. They were clearly the team to beat.
Because our seeding was already fixed -- we finished in third place and they had already clinched first -- I told the team before that humbling experience to "have fun. This game means nothing, it's just a tune up." Afterwards, one of my teammates said: "It was a tune up all right. WE got tuned up!" Boy, did we.
But I reminded the Rams that evening after the defeat this was a serendipitious circumstance. Three summers ago, twice we were beaten soundly by the division's best team in the regular season. Each game ended early by the 10-run "Mercy Rule." But we came back to sweep them in the finals. Why couldn't this happen again, this year?
It was not an audacious statement, although none of my teammates greeted it with much enthusiam after that drubbing. But I believed in that baseball adage: no team is as bad as they look when they lose big or as good as they look when they win big. If we played good defense, and got some lucky breaks, we could hang with Keystone.
We got big-time lucky breaks. We didn't just hang with them: we took them down in three games. The last one, played last night, was an epic struggle.
Keystone's best pitcher (he beat us twice in the regular season) was unable to play in the three-game championship series. Keystone was forced to try two back-ups in Monday's first championship series game. The first pitcher they used had trouble finding the strike zone. The Rams were patient and drew 12 walks that helped us in a 11-6 win. It should have been more lopsided but the team left the sacks full on three occasions...and we didn't play well in the field. We allowed Keystone to hang around in a game we should have put away early.
Nevertheless, a win is a win. We were deliriously happy afterwards. We'd finally beaten the best team in our division. It was time to buy champagne. I put it on ice and lugged my ice chest to the field with a case of beer on Wednesday evening to the field. But missing two of our best women players left us vulnerable in game two. Keystone, meanwhile, had found a pitcher who didn't get rattled and threw strikes. Aided by some loose play in the first inning of game two, they jumped out to a seven-run lead and then coasted to a 15-6 victory.
We drank those ice-chest beers in the parking lot because it had been a 92 degree day and the humidity was still hovering near 85 percent at game time. But we sure weren't celebrating and I can't say they tasted very good.
Friday night provided heavenly weather; hot but not humid. And the game started later in the evening, so the glare of the setting sun only lasted for one or two innings, which helped our aged eyes and neutralized an advantage Keystone enjoyed in the first two games when they smashed half a dozen sky rockets at our outfielders, some of which were lost in the blazing sun.
In game three, we put up two runs in the top of the first. Keystone mercifully only plated one run and left men on second and third base when my son, Luke, made his first spectactular catch of the night, snagging a sinking liner in short right field just before it fell safely for a hit. He'd scraped his leg on Wednesday making a similar catch and opened the gash again with this catch. We washed the bloody gash off, patched him up and damn if the same thing didn't happen two innings later when he snagged another line drive and helped kill another Keystone rally that put them up, 4-2.
The Rams gamely fought back to tie the score in the top of the 4th. Then they went ahead in the top of the 6th, scoring three times. Keystone came right back with three runs of their own in the bottom of the 6th. They had the sacks full, too, with just one out, threatening to take a commanding lead. But Jim Morris made a game-saving catch in left field and Jamie Smith snagged a hard line drive in right field to end the threat and keep the game tied.
Both teams went into the last inning with the bottom of the line-up coming up to hit. Morris singled to start the inning but the biggest clutch plate appearance of the entire season came next from our catcher, Corrinne Murphy, our 12-hole hitter. She patiently drew a walk to kickstart the team's winning rally.
Leadoff hitter Drew Crossett's dying quail to the outfield found a grassy place to land but Morris, uncertain if the ball would be caught, had to hold at second and the Keystone left fielder gunned him down at third base on a bang-bang force out play.
Luke was next up and he bounced a ball to the right side of the infield and sprinted desperately up the first base line. The first baseman sprinted to his right and juggled the ball for a split second. Uncertain whether he could beat Luke to the bag, he decided he to toss it to his pitcher, who was gunning for the bag. Luke and the pitcher arrived at the base in synch. The ump dramatically called Luke safe.
The Keystone bench erupted in complaints, sure he had missed the call. Luke said afterwards he thought he was out, too, but the Keystone pitcher admitted after the game that his foot had missed the bag, so the call was correct. It mattered a lot.
Manny Otero, the Rams' best hitter, came to the plate with two outs and the sacks full, carrying the weight of the world on his broad shoulders. He'd gone 1-7 in the first two games. He was due. And man oh man oh man, did Manny deliver. At this crucial spot in the game, Keystone's pitcher turned and asked his outfielders to "move back! Don't let him hit it over your heads!" but Manny had not been pulverizing the ball as he usually does and they didn't heed their pitcher's advice. Call him a prophet.
Otero crushed the first pitch he saw about 15 feet over the head of the left-center fielder and all three of the Rams' baserunners scored. The bleachers on our side of the field erupted in jubilation.
Pitcher Kevin Flynn added an insurance run with a base knock that drove in Otero and then shut the bottom of Keystone's line-up down to seal the win and the league championship.
Once we were safely out in the parking lot, we started in on the ice-cold beer in the ice chest. Before long, we uncorked the champagne. Then the celebration really started. We hollared and hooted and hugged one another and laughed and shouted and relived the events of the evening in high, semi-inebriated style. The alcohol had no affect whatsoever. We were high on life; high on winning a championship. But damn, did that champagne go down easy!
Unwilling to let go of the evening's magic, most of the team went to the Square Bar to celebrate some more. There the alcohol finally kicked in. I finished filling out the box score at the bar and noted with paternal pride that Luke had three hits and five outfield put-outs. Three of them were on diving, knee-scrapping catches.
I didn't play a single pitch during the series, but I sure enjoyed myself!!! I am so proud of all of my teammates, proud to be part of this group of people who care about one another and play so unselfishly and never say die and do whatever it takes to win. Their competitive spirit makes me shake my head in wonderment. And how many guys get to experience a beer-league softball championship with their sons? Yes, indeed, life is good.
If we had to play Keystone 10 times, I don't doubt they would probably win eight of them. They are younger than us by an average of 10 or more years. They are hungry, fast and very, very talented. But we won the two that counted the most.
It feels good today to think about that. Nights like last night don't happen very often. Days like today don't come along very often either. I plan on finishing those left over beers in the ice chest through most of the day. I'll be smiling to myself for hours.
I can't wait for next year to get here. And for the next blue moon to show up!