Monday, May 23, 2011

Game Reflections - SDABL Playoffs

This post is not about the Padres, because that post would have looked a lot like what I've written the past 2 days.  Padres score 1 run, strike out a lot, lose to Seattle.  Instead, this post is about adult baseball in San Diego.

I still try to play baseball on Sundays.  Actually I am on a field somewhere in San Diego every Sunday; the try describes my level of play.  If the Majors are the pinnacle of baseball in this country, the San Diego Adult Baseball League 38+A division is near the bottom of the mountain.  No one in this league plays because they still harbor major league aspirations, they play because they love it.

The team I play on has 18 guys who share that love.  We range in age from 40 to 67 years old, and we're still pretty good - good enough to make the playoffs as one of the 4 best teams in our league each season.  This season, well, it was different.  We lost our first 2 games, then reeled off seven straight.  We finished second by a 1/2 game (same number of losses as the #1 team, just we played one fewer game; we chose not to play on Mother's Day).  You never know what might happen, but this team had the best chance of any I've been on to win the playoff tourney.

The playoffs started today, and we played Berry's Athletic Supply's team.  If you know anything about Berry's they always put good teams on the field.  They sponsor teams in every division of the SDABL, and typically win.  The Berry's team in our bracket is no different.  We only lost 2 games this season, and squeaked by in a couple of others, but Berry's was the only team that really handled us.  We had an ace in the hole, though - our best pitcher missed the first game, but would be on the field today.  I liked our chances.

Berry's jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first, when with runners on first and second and two out, Juan Eichelberger (yes THAT Juan Eichelberger) singled to left, scoring the runner from second.  I, who was playing left at the time, threw to the plate but the throw was going to be late.  Instead it was cut off and we cut down the other runner between second and third.  Berry's scratched out another run in the fourth to make it 2-0.

In the meantime we had trouble solving Berry's starting pitcher, but our ace kept their lineup in check and us in it.  In the bottom half of the fifth we put two runners on for the first time all game, and when they moved up on a wild pitch to second and third we had our first real opportunity, albeit with two out.  Our shortstop engaged their pitcher in an epic battle, eventually singling to center on a full count, scoring both and tying the game at two.

Like I said, it looked to be our day.

In the top of the sixth Berry's eventually put two on (again at first and second) with two out, and Eichelberger stepped up again.  This time he took an 0-2 pitch and lined it to right for a hit.  I, who was playing RF this time (funny how I was involved in both of his RBI hits), played it on a hop, then threw a strike to the cut-off man, who threw a strike to the plate, which beat the runner by 6 feet.

Umpire called him safe.  Said later he got his toe in before the tag was applied.

But that's not the worst of it.  On the next pitch our pitcher broke his arm.  Or that's what we think happened.  I heard a loud pop from right field, watched the ball sail to the backstop, the runner on third score, the second base umpire call time, and our pitcher walk off the mound.  All in the time it took you to read that sentence.

It may turn out he tore the tendon that holds his tricep to his radius, or something like that.  I don't know; I probably won't for about 2 weeks.  We called the paramedics, and after they stabilized him he left the field under his own power.  Those of us there (about 40 or so including some family) did the only thing we could:  we gave him a standing ovation.  The EMTs put him in their ambulance and headed to the hospital.  I had heard about players being hurt while throwing but had never seen it in person before today.

No one would admit it, but losing him deflated us.  Berry's scored 7 in the seventh and 4 in the eighth to put the game out of reach.  What had started out as a crisp, tense, well-played game ended up a 15-3 rout.  Those who care will see that on the website and perhaps in tomorrow's paper and think we got blown out from the get-go.  There is texture to this story and I wanted to write about that.

I don't care that we lost.  My heart goes out to John.  This is not like a sprain or an ache, this is serious.  I love playing baseball and it would tear me up to learn I could no longer do it.  I sincerely hope that is not in John's future, and that we see him on a baseball diamond very soon.

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