Monday, August 15, 2011

The Adventures of the Noreasters: Champs!

2011 BASL Rainbow Division Champions

I was standing on second base.

Dan P. was at third base, after reaching base and then advancing on my double.

Spud was being intentionally walked.

The Noreasters had the bases loaded with one out, down by one run against the Gators in the first of potentially three playoff games to decide the Big Apple Softball Rainbow Division champion.

Our third baseman Chris dug into the batter’s box. I heard the shortstop call the outfielders in, trying to cut off the winning run scoring on a single. Our bench was yelling at the top of their lungs. I clapped my hands and got ready to run like hell once the ball was put in play.

And put in play it was.

As soon as it left Chris’ bat I knew the game was over. I sprinted home, screamed, and pumped my fist. Our team made a beeline to the middle of the infield where Chris had jumped into Spud’s arms and was now being carried around like a ragdoll. Once Spud put him down, the rest of us swarmed him. It might have been the only time in Chris’ life when he didn’t mind his carefully maintained coiff being manhandled.

The script for game one couldn’t have ended any more perfectly. The win ensured that the team that made it out of the loser’s bracket would have to beat us twice. That was not going to happen on this day.

But more importantly, it gave Chris one hell of a swan song. We were losing our “Puma.” After a couple of years looking for a job, he finally landed one…in Virginia. Unlike last summer, in which he informed us a day or two before he was leaving for San Francisco for three months and would miss a good chunk of the season, he emailed Spud and I a couple of weeks ago to let us down gently. To no surprise to any of us, he provided a goodbye that outshone anything Spud and I could have thought up.

I joined the Noreasters in the spring of 2007 and was instantly brought into the family by Chris. I’m pretty sure the first thing he said to me was an insult. I can’t count the number of insults that have passed between the three of us, but I can assure you that Chris has walked away the victor more times than not. When I moved into the infield earlier this season, Chris was there waiting with good-natured ribbings and plenty of olĂ© plays. I will miss his stories, his belittling of Spud, and of course, his enduring counsel and friendship. As I’ve written before, I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by good men, and I count Chris as one of the best I know.

Me, Chris, and Spud

There was still work to be done however before we could start looking for a third baseman that didn’t need a chiropractor after bending down for every ground ball hit his way (sorry Chris, I really couldn’t resist).

The Gators beat the Ball Breakers (our dear frenemies) in the next game, and it looked early on that they were going to get revenge.

Vinny, after all his heroics during the tripleheader from hell, couldn’t find his rhythm. We knew it was bad when Dan P. could be heard shouting from the outfield after every ball, “You’re killing me Vinny! Throw f***king strikes!”

Despite the handful of runs we were giving up every inning, we weren’t completely out of the game. We roared back to tie the game in our first at-bat and kept coming back each time they thought they had put enough runs on the board to make us stay down for good. We never gave up. Their best player ended up hurting himself, and their team seemed to crumble.

We put up 10 runs in the bottom half of a late inning to really seal the deal. After that, Bob, who we now call “Hammer,” came in to save the game by setting the Gators down in order. We ran back into the dugout, ready to score more runs to really etch our names on the trophy.

Turns out, that didn’t happen. The umpires pronounced the game over since we were nearing our time limit (BASL games are officially over after an hour and 15 minutes no matter what the inning), and even if we were to get three quick outs, there wasn’t time to start another inning.

The Noreasters were champs! We celebrated…by walking around in confusion as to what had just happened.

It didn’t take us long to shake off the oddness of the moment and enjoy in the hard-fought victory we had been building up to all summer. We played in some of the worst conditions, beat every team in the league, and even survived me playing an infield position. The other teams can say whatever they wanted to about us, but no one can deny that we hadn’t deserved this.

As we huddled up, I went looking for the game ball. There was another story line at work here-one I am convinced saw us through to the final game.

Our manager Trish’s 93-year-old grandmother died earlier in the week, and from what I am told she was an amazing woman who Trish and several of our teammates were extremely close to. After losing my grandmother in January, I knew how hard this week must have been for Trish and I didn’t want to let the moment pass without letting her know we were behind her.

The entire team started clapping after I presented the game ball to Trish. It was great seeing the woman who took so much time out of her life to organize our team, as well as deal with our many personalities on the field, have a moment that was all her own.

“Thank you guys,” She said. “Now who is going to Rock Bar for drinks.”

The whole team whooped and hollered!

As always, the stories from our adventure out must stay hidden to protect the innocent. But I will leave you with this slideshow that contains a picture of everyone on our team holding the WWE belt that Brad brought from his office. I’d give you more context, but really, you don’t really need it.

Here’s to the 2011 BASL Rainbow Division champs and our 2012 title defense!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Baseball Runner: Queens Half


I’ve been defined by many words in my life. I’ve been labeled writer my whole life thanks to my imagination and occasional way with words. Many members of my family would use the words shy, moody, sensitive, and emotional to describe me growing up. I’ve always been attached to the words baseball and student, and probably will be the rest of my days.

However, the past two years have seen another word come to define me like no other has.


I found myself at the start of the 2011 Queens Half Marathon this past Saturday hoping that the label hadn’t left me for dead.

I kicked my legs out in front of me, trying to keep them loose and shake out the nerves. I bent down to tighten the laces of my shoes about a million times. I had my iPod set to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” my traditional half marathon leadoff song. I watched the other runners in my starting corral and felt intimidated because most of them had trained infinitely more than I had.

What the hell am I doing standing here?

I hadn’t run in three weeks. I hadn’t had a solid week of running in months. I was out of shape and disillusioned. I had spent the last couple of months watching my life go up in flames. It was self-inflicted, and I had no one to blame but myself. Other than the people I cared the most about, a major casualty of all this was my ability to run. I couldn’t summon up the inspiration or motivation to run through the pain and replace it with blood, sweat, and tears. All I could do was order Chinese food at the end of the day, pass out, and hope the next day would bring me salvation.

I was tired of feeling that way. I could easily have remained in bed with the air conditioner cranking, my spirit broken enough to prevent me from running a race I had so eagerly signed up for months before. I didn’t have to be in Flushing Corona Park in the heat and the humidity at 7 in the morning. But I needed to be here. I needed a jumpstart. I needed to believe that runner wasn’t just a passing fling, but a lifelong definition.

As the crowd around me began to build, my mind wandered back to how the running had started.

I had a horrible hangover after one of my nephew’s birthday parties had gotten out of hand two summers prior. I don’t remember everything I drank, but I knew it was a lot. I had let the bottle attempt to wash away everything weighing on my mind, and like every time before, it failed. My Uncle Jimmy had just passed away, my younger brother was starting basic training in Texas , and my relationship was going through a rough stretch. I was trying to juggle a job and night school, unsure whether all my hard work was ever going to lead me to something meaningful.

I like to tell people that I started running because I’d have a better chance of not getting the crap kicked out of me when the Airman came back home. If I couldn’t withstand a few punches, at least I could have a chance at outrunning him. I promised myself that I wouldn’t have a drink until my brother graduated from basic training. If he was sacrificing, so would I.

I dug up my old running shoes and looked out my window toward Astoria Park. I was the only thing standing in my way.


The track at Astoria Park
I could hear my uncle telling me, “This is bullshit!” My mother points out to me often that he’d tell me no one should run that fast or that far without someone chasing you. During those first runs, a lame donkey hauling an 18-wheeler could easily have caught up to me.

My idea of a run at that time was a mile around the track. Nothing more, nothing less. I was lucky enough to have a running partner who pushed me to do more. In fact, she came up with the idea to work toward running the Hartford Half Marathon in October. It was a life-changing suggestion.

Little by little, I kept adding time and distance. I was running an out and back through Astoria Park almost every day. There wasn’t a moment during the day when I wasn’t thinking about the next time I could pull on my running sneakers.

I was alone one steamy night in July, on my way back from Ralph Demarco Park, when I noticed the lights were still on at the track in Astoria Park. I had the legs and the breath to keep going. I remember thinking about what my younger brother was going through in basic. I remember thinking about my uncle. By the time the lights were shut off, I had run seven miles without stopping. I now thought of myself as a runner.

By the time I saw my brother graduate from basic training, I was in the best shape of my life. I remember finding him in the crowd of newly minted Airmen in the sweltering San Antonio heat, eager to share with him everything that I had achieved. We shook hands and embraced tightly. We were both deeply tanned and skinnier than rails. We didn’t have to express many words to show how proud we were of each other. And we knew our uncle had a hand in both of our achievements.

I ended up finishing my first half marathon in under two hours. I wasted no time in reaching more personal running milestones. I ran a 7.25 minute/mile pace in one of the New York Road Runners’ winter races in 2009, I set a personal record of 1:41 at the 2010 Virgiinia Beach Half Marathon, and twice successfully ran up the hill at West Hartford Reservoir during the 2011 Greater Hartford Quarter Marathon without dying.

2009 Hartford Half Marathon
I was on a running schedule during the early part of 2011 that saw me running all but a handful of days from February through May. I signed up for a flurry of half marathons (including Providence on Aug. 7 and Hartford on Oct. 15) with the expectation of continuing that plan. As you already know, I took a flamethrower to my life that pretty much killed that idea.

But, here I stood at the start of the Queens Half, ready to become a runner once more.

Everything left my mind once the national anthem ended. All the memories, all the pain, all the crap took a backseat. I was now only thinking about the 13.1 miles of pavement ahead of me. I wasn’t hot, I wasn’t worried, and I wasn’t scared. My legs no longer felt nervous; they felt eager to prove there was no distance they couldn’t run. The fire was burning inside me, that primal place within me that I thought was unreachable the past few months, instead of burning down everything around me.

Queens was my borough. It was my home. I don’t break in my town. I’m not weak in my town.

Only one word thundered in my head as I heard the starting gun.


Player Spotlight: Lack of Speed

There are four players in Major League Baseball history who have some variation of “speed” in their names. However, only one of them played for more than three years.

Speed Martin pitched in six seasons for the St. Louis Browns and Chicago Cubs from 1917 to 1922.

He had his best season in 1921 for the Cubs. He won 11 games, completed 13 games, and pitched 217.1 innings. However, he also lost 15 games and only struck out 86 batters. His ERA was 4.35, but that was good enough for second-best on a Cubs team that only won 64 games and finished seventh in the National League that year.

Martin finished his career with only 29 wins, 207 strikeouts, and an ERA of 3.78.

Horace Speed played three seasons as an outfielder for the San Francisco Giants and Cleveland Indians from 1975 to 1979 (he did not play 1977¬¬–1987).

Speed finished his career with a .207 batting average, five RBI, four stolen bases, and 38 strikeouts in 120 at-bats.

Speed Kelly played 17 games as an infielder for the Washington Senators in 1909. He managed just six hits in 42 at-bats, one RBI, one stolen base, and 15 strikeouts.

And who can forget the joyously named Speed Walker? He played in only two games as a first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1923. Walker had two hits in seven plate appearances. He scored one run.

Also, check out this great article in Runner’s World magazine about a relief pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals who ran a marathon inspired by his six-year-old daughter with a rare chromosomal disorder.