I often say that an evening spent playing (or coaching, in my case) baseball is better than an evening of pretty much anything else. We got to test that tonight.
It had been drizzly all day, with periods of heavy rain, and at game time, it looked like we were going to get maybe two hours of cloudy-but-not-rainy before the storms moved back in after 8 PM. Our opponents were the North St. Paul Polars, the only team that NSP is fielding in MAA this year. They’re not having a great year, with a 1-4 record, and tonight, they were missing one of their two pitchers.
A side note on youth baseball at this level: pitching is huge, with catching a fairly close second. Having good pitchers makes a gigantic difference; when a pitcher is struggling to hit the strike zone, the fielders get back on their heels and misplay ordinary balls, resulting in game-killing rallies. We’re extraordinarily fortunate to have six pitchers – so many we have a hard time getting them enough work – and three catchers. I am reminded of how lucky we are every time we face a team that only has one experienced pitcher, because a pitcher can only throw 4 innings in a game, and putting guys out there who can’t get the ball over the plate is disheartening.
So, the Polars. A light rain is falling as we start the game.
We’re the home team again, and Craig has decided to give Alex the night off, since he’ll be pitching twice next week. We’re also going to try to get some work in for our pitchers that have not been seeing game time lately, so we start Lucas B. He has a bit of a rough time in the top of the 1st, giving up a run. We respond with one in the bottom of the 1st to even it up, and Lucas settles down, getting three quick outs in the top of the 2nd. We add another run in the bottom of the inning, and Lucas pitches out of a jam in the top of the 3rd, getting a strikeout on the Polars #3 hitter with runners and 2nd and 3rd.
In the bottom of the 3rd, the skies break open and we break the game open, sending 11 batters to the plate in steady cold rain, and scoring 7 runs to end the inning. The Polars pitcher – who spent most of the game at catcher, and was good there – walked 5 of our guys, 4 of whom scored, as we ran the bases in the rain. The pitcher was having a hard time finding his grip on the ball in the rain, and the catcher was not blocking the plate, meaning that balls in the dirt skipped past him and rattled around behind home plate. We scored 4 runs in a row on guys who got on base, stole second, stole third, then scored on passed balls.
Luke enters the game in the 4th and retires the Polars in short order, striking out 3. He also hit a batter, with a pitch that slipped out of his hand. It was a night for that – we had two guys hit as well, with the rain making the ball slippery.
We’re concerned about the rain, and the impending thunderstorms. We need to get in 5 innings to make this an official game – 4-1/2 if the home team (us) is leading, which we are. But we only have 3-1/2 in, and it’s dark and raining hard. We come to the plate for the bottom of the 4th, and can’t get a hit against the new Polars pitcher. Strikeout, grounder to first, walk, liner to 3rd – that’s our inning.
We need to get through the top of 5 to make it a game, and the skies have lightened a bit, the rain has (mostly) stopped, and it’s not quite so cold. Maybe we’ll get this one in. Luke powers through the inning – strikeout, walk, strikeout, strikeout. It’s an official game, but we’re not done playing yet – the weather is cooperating.
For the bottom of 5, we send the bottom of our order to the plate, and again can’t solve the Polars pitcher. Strikeout, strikeout, single on a dropped 3rd strike, strikeout.
Top of 6, with the clock ticking down – it’s almost 8 PM, and we can’t start a new inning after 8:15, which means this is probably the last inning of the game. Luke is in full-on closer mode, and gets the Polars #2, #3 and #4 hitters – 3 unassisted (with Alex displaying great range at first), strikeout, strikeout.
We get to bat again – if the Polars can get us out in less than 10 minutes, they get to bat again and can try to tie it up, with unlimited runs in the 7th inning. Sadly for the Polars, the bottom of 6 goes like this:
Sean: Out on a grounder, pitcher to first base.
Alex: Home run (scoring Luke)
Marco: Reached on an error
Lucas: Single (scoring Marco)
Anthony: Out on a grounder, pitcher to first base
Sam: Single, scoring Lucas
Justin: Our on a strikeout
So we scored 5 runs to make it 14-1, and ran out the clock. It was 8:20 by the end of the inning, so we lined it up and congratulated the Polars on playing hard.
It was a cold, rainy night, and it was still better than pretty much anything else, because it was baseball.
Final score: 14-1, Ironpigs win.
Season record: 8-0