42 is the key

Heading into the afternoon matchups, three teams had a shot at two championship game. One team sported a 6-1 record and the other two carried 5-2 records. With the 6-1 team playing the other 5-2 team, all three teams COULD finish with the same record. That would mean we’d check the head-to-head records. Interestingly, each head-to-head matchup had resulted in a win and a loss for three teams. So, the next tie-breaker would be total runs allowed.

2018 Game 8
Bad photo of the scorecard…

We didn’t worry about any of that, since none of it mattered unless we won. We faced Mitch, who is one of the harder throwers in the league. Since they’d allowed all pitchers to go 4 innings on Thursday instead of the normal max of 3 innings, we had a tough row to hoe. The bottom half of our order would face him to start the game. They set the tone for the game by hitting him hard, with Bill, Richard and Russ all scoring to get max runs for the inning. “Game Time Al” Ferlo drove in two runs with a timely single to right. Al didn’t have a lot of hits during the week, but this was incredibly timely!

Ric Power headed out for bottom of the inning and shut them down. One of the keys to our success has been good pitching, backed by solid defense. Ric held them scoreless in the first, gave up 3 to allow a tie in the second, but landed wrong on a pitch in the third. JT stepped up to the mound and their scoring was over.

I didn’t have much success against Mitch, but it didn’t matter, as most of our team did. I put the ball in play the second time around and we maxed out that inning as well. Evan, who had pitched 4 innings in the morning came on in the 5th, stymieing our bats. So, we entered the top of the 6th ahead 6-3.

I’d hit him really well last year, so I was being my usual positive verbal influence on the team, telling them we could hit him. We also had fans for the first time, with Craig’s family showing up to cheer on old #51. Evan must have been tired, but I think that our fans and my encouraging words helped.

Craig's FansWhatever the reason, we just kept getting on base, piling on the runs. I put one in a challenging spot in the infield (only challenging in Ponce!) and reached on a 75-foot, weak liner. We racked up 8 runs, giving us 14 for the game. I think everyone scored, but this was my one really bad photo of the scoresheet.

The other game resulted in all three teams finishing with 6-2 records, and 1-1 records against each other. When they totaled the runs given up, we had 42, Team F had 44 and JR’s Team A had 46. So, we made the championship game!


Age is just a number

In our morning game, our starting battery was 139 years old. Richard Toikka was consistently throwing strikes at 73 years old, while catcher, Bill Arnold, is a spry 66 years old. When Dave Wheeler stepped to the plate at 79 years old, we were watching 218 years of experience.

Rich pitched three fantastic innings and JT finished it off. We had some great defense by Russ Ryan and Craig Tasens among others. With double plays and deft catches on shallow flies, we tightened up our defense.Richard throwing bullets

I also got to see my favorite part of an outfielder’s uniform – the back! My second at bat forced him to turn and run for the ball, giving me my second double. I’m at 9 for 18 now!

Russ Ryan smashed a pair of doubles and really had a fantastic game. The whole team is contributing and the potential for a championship remains.

End of wood bat Wednesday

Chandler Fox hitting batting practice from Rick Knapp

I love Wood Bat Wednesday, because then everyone is playing MY game. Contact is about the same, but players who normally get hits from the aluminum of their bat instead of the quality of their swing become… unproductive. As we noticed in the morning game, this makes throwing strikes even more important.

In our 6th game, we played JR’s team. They’re all over 60 (except one) and live for wood bat play. Bob Duff started on the mound for them and frustrated us in the first. In the second, we managed to string together some hits, but this was another encounter with a big strike zone. I drove in JT with a ground out to first on a ball that may have been high and outside — I couldn’t afford to take a chance, but knew I could knock it down in the direction of first base. I drove in another (great hustle by Craig Tasens, as usual) on a sky high single too deep for third and too close to the line for the left fielder.

They had gotten to us, though, pushing across 7 runs in the first three innings. JT came in to try shutting them down, but they managed to add two after we added two in the 5th. They ended up edged us, 9-5. Well, it seemed like a tight game all afternoon.

We’re 4-2 and close enough to retain those championship hopes.

Down to earth

I stepped on the mound to pitch and my brain worked overtime. I somehow managed to strike one guy out, but walked three others and gave up one long hit. Fortunately, we can only give up three runs in an inning until the last inning, which is unlimited. We lost by four.

Fortunately, I played good defense and had two hits. Almost had three, but Shaun was called out. I’m 8 for 12, so that part is still good.

Back out to the field for our afternoon game…

I paid to hit

Our afternoon game was also very close and very exciting. They had a fireballer on the mound to start the game, so we struggled. When I came up for the first time, I got knocked down by a pitch. It was right at me, and I feel to the ground to avoid it. Bad luck for me, it hit my bat anyway. I hung in there fouling off a few pitches and taking a few balls. I struck out though, stranding Shaun after his RBI double.

Going into the top of the last inning, I was up first with our team ahead 5-3. The first pitch was inside, just under my chin. I joked with the catcher, asking if they didn’t like me. The next pitch was low and away. A 2-0 count is a hitter’s count. He needs to throw a strike and will often give you a pitch that ends up easy to hit. It wasn’t. Our grazed my belt. The umpire asked if it hit me. I told him it grazed me and he asked if I wanted to take it. I hesitated.

In our morning game, we’d had the same umpire. His strike zone was very big. Gigantic even. Shaun got called out on a pitch up at eye level. Every close play was an out. Nonetheless, I liked this umpire. He appreciated that I only use a wood bat and he’d chat with me.

I knew that if I didn’t take first base on this “hit by pitch”, I might not get on base. I knew that the count would be 3-0 if I stayed at bat. He’d have to throw me a strike.

I looked at the umpire and said “I paid to hit”. I wanted a chance to hit the ball, so I stepped back into the box. The next pitch was low and away again, so I took my walk.

Ed Confino was hitting behind me and he’s been gracious enough to let first pitches go by so that I could steal. Before my at bat, he’d said to me, “I might swing at the first pitch.” I told him, “I might run anyway, let’s not worry about it.” I took off and he hit the ball. They did get him at first, but had no chance at the double play.

I was dancing off second, thinking about stealing. I didn’t think the odds were good. He wad throwing hard and the catcher was good. I just got s good secondary lead and was able to advance when a ball scooted past the catcher.

On the next pitch, it was a grounder to third. He scooped the ball and we stared at each other. As soon as he threw to first, broke for home.

Earlier in the game, I’d seen someone tumble as a means of sliding, and commented on how odd the slides had been all week.

The throw was coming in hot. The catcher was in the right spot. I knew that I should drop to the ground and slide. I didn’t. I stretched with my last step as something like a slide. I’m told it was “poetic” and that I should give classes – for comedy’s sake!

I was safe!

We didn’t manage another run, so lead 6-3 headed into the bottom of the final inning.

JT was pitching, throwing hard and throwing some curve balls to catch them off balance. The first batter managed to hit one of those curve balls. So he was on first with his team down 3 runs. He wasn’t going to steal when needing 3 runs and wasn’t fleet of foot anyway.

Steve Liddle, who runs the camp and will be back coaching in the majors again with the Tigers, often says that he sees things in Ponce he’s never seen in baseball. This was one of them.

On the third strike, Russ Ryan fired to first. The runner was way off, having taken a big secondary lead. Turning to go back, he fell down. Strikeout, throw out.

JT got the next batter out and we notched our fourth victory, 6-3.

I’m now 6 for 9, with a double, a walk, one hit-by-pitch, multiple steals with some runs and RBIs. I’ll have to find the exact numbers….

Sometimes the ball plays you!

I spent a few eventful innings at short and third, but the ball was eating me up. Fortunately, I still made a few throws to get guys out. That included throwing the last batter out on a falling, but full effort, throw. Fortunately, Rick Powers is really tall.

20180201_163147I managed to go 2 for 3, but drove on a couple of runs. My first hit didn’t go 14 feet, but it was in the right spot, driving in a run and not drawing a throw. I had a solid drive up the middle for my second hit. When we were tied after 6, we started a “shootout” inning. In the shootout, you come to the plate with 2 strikes. This particular umpire’s strike zone was gigantic, so I punched a grounder to first that drove in a run on a pitch high and outside to drive in a run.

We won by a run to make us the only undefeated team.

Easy afternoon victory

Our afternoon game stated very competitively, with us edging to a 3-2 lead that we extended to 4-2. Our pitching and defense got very solid after that and our hitting didn’t stop. So we ended up cruising to a 13-2 win.

My first at bat, I just failed to back away from the plate and took a soft pitch to my back leg. (Update on the following Monday: still bruised.)

Our coach, Rick Knapp, had rearranged our lineup from alphabetical to on be a little more strategic. So, I was hitting 4th. I’m sure it wasn’t that I had shown power, as all three guys hitting on front of me hit the ball just as hard, but I’ll take it. The lineup rolls continually after this game, so the leadoff hitter won’t be leading off the game after this.

20180201_163143Craig Tasens led off with a hit, and stole second easily. Jonathan Taylor singled to send Craig to third. When JT stole second they threw to second but Craig was caught flat-footed and didn’t advance. A passed ball while Shaun Quill was batting bright him on anyway. Shaun singled to plate JT. I was watching the first pitch to give Shaun a chance to steal, but it just kept coming further inside and hit me. I missed seeing Shaun break for third, so we didn’t double steal. I did go on the next pitch, though. When Shaun scored on Ed Confino’s single, we’d made our limit of three for the inning.

We turned to Richard Toikka for the third inning. It’s not often that you send out a 73-year-old pitcher, but Richard posted his first shutout inning of the week. After our morning game, Rick was talking to all of us, working on some tips for JT about pitching. Balance is such a key in pitching and Rick was focusing on the alignment of a pitcher’s hips in that balance and movement. It also applies in batting, so this lesson would be repeated in various ways throughout the week. As I mentioned last year, you actually can teach an old dog new tricks. The progress of specific players from how they played before lunch on this firsy day and how they played by the end of the week is truly due to great instruction.

My next at bat came with runners on 2nd and 3rd. My fly ball landed inches inside the left field line and stopped. That pushed in the third run that inning.

In the fourth, Russ Ryan began showing the power that would make him so critical to our success during the week. His double drove in two runs and he scored to give us another max inning.

Chandler Fox led off the 5th with a strikeout on which the ball skipped past the catcher, allowing him to reach first safely. He scored to tack on another run. My final at bat came when we were already up by a lot. As such, no need to take a pitch to let Shaun steal. I hit a solid line drive to shallow center that made the play at second close.

So, 3-5 on the day, with a double, 2 RBI and a run scored. I did overthrow first (Chandler Fox is tall, but not THAT tall!), but dutifully covered second to get the next out.

We’re 2-0 with wins of 5-4 and 13-2. I know at least one other team is 2-0, but I like our chances!