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 olé 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!

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