As most of you know, I am leaving the sports writing world behind and entering the non-profit field, but my job at the Gettysburg Times saw fit to reward me with a nice sendoff; a reminder of what made this position I held for three-and-a-half years so special.
The magical high school baseball season of 2010 notwithstanding, June is the time of the year when things really slow down at the office. Our coverage mainly consists of American Legion and South Penn League baseball games (for those who don't know, the latter is a local nine-team, men's league).
I recently experienced a unique stretch consisting of four Legion and two South Penn contests over an eight-day period, and they reopened my eyes to the wonderful randomness of baseball. In nearly every game, I saw something I had never before witnessed, and I stumbled upon a few cool story lines. I now happily share them with you:
June 13 & 15 - Hanover's Legion team laughed in the face of conventional offense in back-to-back wins over Bermudian and Dallastown. In the two games combined, Hanover scored 18 runs and a whopping 10 of them were scored on either wild pitches, passed balls or sacrifice flies. Numerous walks and stolen bases came into play here as well. In the 14-3 win over Bermudian, Hanover had just seven hits, four of which came in one inning. The team took an early 8-0 lead on the strength of just two hits, both from the No. 9 hole guy. I've never been so confused looking at my own scorebook.
June 14 - The Cashtown Pirates beat the Biglerville Black Sox 1-0 in an unlikely South Penn pitchers' duel. Cashtown starter Paul Price was still getting used to longer outings again after spending his college freshman season as a freqently-used reliever. The deeper he went into this game, however, the better he looked. After giving up two hits in the first inning, he held the Sox hitless the rest of the way, striking out 11 (6 from the 5th inning on) and walking just one. Even more impressive, however, was the gutsy performance by Biglerville pitcher Kyle Knouse, who hadn't ascended a mound in nearly a year, and did so at the last minute because no other pitchers were available. He spent most of the outing pitching out of the stretch through pain in his throwing arm, but he allowed only one run to score on an RBI single in the fourth inning. His defense helped him out with some great plays, including the lovely, but seldom seen 5-2-3 double play. One of those games where you're sorry one of the teams has to lose.
June 18 - Unless you're the 2010 Bermudian Springs Eagles (they made an art out of crushing first-pitch fastballs), if you don't work the count, you're going to lose. New Oxford's Legion team, mostly made up of sophomore JV players due to Senior Week, learned this painful lesson through the first six innings of its game against Bermudian. The players were facing a 3-1 deficit going into the seventh and final inning. They hadn't drawn their first walk until the sixth and had worked just one three-ball count in the previous five innings. It was now up to the No. 8 and 9 hitters to laugh in the face of their team's nearly-evaporated win expectancy. Low and behold, they each got on with a base on balls. Bill James had finally coaxed the players into removing the gun barrel from their collective temple. However, they then shot sabermetrics in the foot with a bunt attempt that got the lead runner thrown out at third. Lucky for them, it was only the first out. During the following at-bat, Bermudian's reliever threw THREE STRAIGHT wild pitches that allowed the tying runs to score. The batter then tripled to deep right and trotted home with what proved to be the winning run on a throwing error. Baseball, don't ever institute a timer! As an interesting side note, this game was the first time I had seen the losing pitcher on the mound since he pitched that very same 2010 Bermudian team into the state finals.
June 20 - We're all taught from a very young age that sportsmanship and dignity are essential components to a successful team. Sure, heated moments can pop up, but when all is done, you shake hands and congratulate the other team on a game well played. In this particular Legion game, however, one player decided to use his hands to express himself in quite a different way. I can say with both certainty and relief that I will never see another thing like this on a baseball diamond. It was the top of the fifth inning and Glen Rock was pounding Hanover 11-1 and threatening for more with the bases loaded and two outs. The next batter up hit a grounder to the third baseman. After he fielded it, he pivoted toward home for what should have been an inning-ending forceout, but instead he hit the baserunner in the back. It was such a bizarre event that I didn't even realize it was intentional. The home plate umpire did and tossed the aggressor. His ejection forced a premature end to this blowout because Hanover had no substitutions left. The players on both sides had to shake hands with a mix of resentment and incompletion. Maybe I'm crazy, but there are more mature ways of handling conflict than throwing a baseball at someone while his back is turned. Pure Bush League, man. I must admit as journalist, though, it turned a nothing story into something.
June 21 - Even if it is more common at this level, a no-hitter is a remarkable achievement and such a thrill to watch. In this South Penn contest, New Oxford Twins pitcher Charlie Werner was in total control from start to finish, and his secret was really no secret at all: keep the ball down. He had Littlestown's hitters biting at his fastball all evening. He struck out just three batters, while 14 of hits 21 outs came on the ground. His middle infielders showed impressive range and accuracy, while his left fielder made the play of the night, chasing down a blooper in shallow left that was fading toward the line for the first out of the sixth inning. It was the first no-hitter of Werner's life and even more amazing, he pitched with a cold and before this season, he was New Oxford's starting catcher.
This crazy game of baseball always keeps me on my toes, and it's without the doubt the sport I'll miss writing about the most when I leave Gettysburg in a few days for greener pastures. Then again, I will always have this blog to come back to if the urge becomes overwhelming. Thank you so much for reading and I apologize for this post's crazy length. I guess that's what happens when you don't write a true one for several months. I hope you all have found it entertaining and insightful! Until next time.