Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Greatest Softball Game Ever Played

A few weeks ago, I witnessed history. I saw some of the greatest athletes in the world give it their all in the sport they loved. Then we put down our beers, stopped watching basketball, and headed to the baseball complex to watch my idiot buddies play a game made for idiots. The team was sufficiently buzzed, which made them in perfect condition to play slow-pitch softball.
Now I must make an admission that I am awful at all baseball related activities. It's not something I worry about as I'm pretty great at most other things. If you've read the book Moneyball, I became the team's Paul DePodesta. If you saw the Moneyball movie, I became the team's Peter Brand. If you have not read the book or seen the movie, my main duty was keeping score, but I would still refer to myself as a bench coach. This is usually not a problem, but this game would definitely test my book-keeping skills (I tell you this only so it makes sense that despite not taking the field, I will to the team as our team, and use the we form, because I suffered through the freezing cold that February in the Midwest provides and I deserve at least some credit).

After blowing through our first two opponents, we were confident that we would cruise to the championship as we had won it all two of the last three years. We took the field first as the home team, and our raucous crowd of eight fans cheered on the squad as they stumbled to their positions. Unfortunately, this game did not go like the other games, as this team could hit the ball...and hit the ball...and hit the ball. It also didn't help that our outfielders didn't believe in cutoff men, but it was mostly their hitting that led to them taking a 13-0 lead after the top half of the first.

Luckily, our team rallied back for a total of...three runs. Yep, at the end of one, it was 13-3. Things were not looking good.

The bad guys responded with six more runs, making it 19-3 going into the bottom of the second. This is where Manager/3rd Base Coach, Jay, really took his game to a new level. He gave no inspirational words, in fact, he said nothing to the team at all. He just went out to third base as if his only job was to guide them on the basepaths. This move of ignoring the team only ignited the fire in each and every player, and a crazy thing happened. They started hitting. They started running. And most importantly, they were drinking again. They got back into the game by scoring eight runs, and making it 19-11.

Sure the team was still down eight runs, but it sucked the life out of the visiting dugout. Before the bad guys knew what happened, they produced a scoreless top of the inning, leaving the score at 19-11 going into the bottom half of the third.

The good guys kept clawing back, and put up four more runs in the bottom half of the third to make it 19-15. They had the bad guys right where they wanted them.

But here's the sad tale that nobody wants to tell you. Sometimes, the drunken assholes (good guys) can't beat the team that is sober and seem like decent human beings (bad guys). Sometimes shit hits the fan. The bad guys started spraying line drives all over the field and ended up scoring eight more runs to extend their lead to 27-15. Things were looking bleak and blurry for the good guys.

Jay would not sit idly by with silence this time around. He greeted the team in the dugout and spoke in his regular voice, "Let's go team." Three words. Three simple words. Yet, not even Martin Luther King Jr. could have ever said something so powerful so briefly. "Let's go team." These words did not echo in our heads, but in our hearts. "Let's go team."

And go that team did. Batter after batter, whether spraying a line drive, beating out an infield hit, or drawing a walk, just kept reaching base. Slowly, the lead shrunk, 16, 17, 18 the runs went up. 19, 20, 21, and the hits kept coming. 22, 23, 24, the team cheered with every batter. We didn't know what was going on, but we knew it was magical. 25, 26, 27, and the game was tied. It was pandemonium in the dugout. Grown men were hugging (honestly, this was mostly the alcohol, but the comeback helped). 28, and eventually 29 before the inning ended. Where the bottom of the fourth started as a 27-15 deficit, it ended as a 29-27 lead.

We could have put the nail in the coffin, but errors and miscues led to the bad guys putting up three runs to go up 30-29 going into the bottom half of the last inning.

Still, we had to feel good. In a 30-29 game, and our 2-3-4 hitters starting off the inning, one run didn't seem too difficult. But, like every event in this game, nothing was easy. Our #2 hitter fouled a ball off with two strikes, which counts as a strikeout.

One out.

It shouldn't have mattered. We had our best hitter up, somebody who had something crazy like eight home runs in the tournament, six of them inside the park (Seriously, MLB scouts, contact me. He gave me the right to act as his agent). With his speed, all he had to do was get on base and it was a guaranteed run. He popped it up.

Two outs.

Our cleanup hitter drew a walk. We're still alive.

Then our first basemen, fresh out of his AA meeting, and getting progressively drunker as the day goes on, rips a line drive to the outfield, and both he and the runner on first are chugging around the basepaths (speed was not a strength of this team, so they were not flying around those bases). Still, the crowd went wild as one run crossed the plate and our first basemen stood proudly at third.

Tie ball game. 30-30.

Although the tie was great, the tournament rules stated that extra innings were sudden death, so if we were unable to score a run, we would need to shut the opposing team out in the sixth for a chance to win the game. Really, what we needed was another run.

Our drunkest hitter, D, came up to the plate. This guy has trouble standing, so when you put just a tiny amount of alcohol in him, he becomes a truly decrepit piece of shit. There is nobody I have less confidence in on the team. But luckily, a miracle happened. They intentionally walked him. Our drunkest hitter walked to first, and then to second as they intentionally walked the man after him as well.

Up came our right fielder, and co-captain, Tony. This is a man who tore his MCL in the tournament the year before, because the man simply doesn't know how to not give 110%. This was the moment that every little boy dreams of. Tie game, two outs, bottom of the fifth with the bases loaded in the annual winter slow-pitch softball tournament. And so he came up to the plate, with the bright C on his sweatshirt, ready to make or break the team's hopes of a championship.

The pitcher lobbed one up (they're all lobs in slow-pitch softball) and time seemed to go in slow motion. Tony took a cut at the breaking ball that seemed to hang up there just a little too long. He blasted it into the gap. The outfielders were in hot pursuit of the ball, but they had no chance as it landed between the outfielders and rolled to the fence. One run scores, two runs score, three runs score, and even Tony would circle the bases for an inside-the-park grand slam (as scorekeeper, I am giving him credit for this, even though the game is technically over when that first run crosses the plate).

34-30 was the final score as the entire team rushes the field. The dog pile was pure insanity, and I apologize to the person I stabbed with my scorekeeping pencil. The celebration continued all night long as we ate greasy food, drank cheap beer, and sexually harassed every woman we came in contact with. We partied like kings.

If you wrote that in a script, everyone would say it was too unrealistic to ever be made. This wasn't a Hollywood ending. It was an Iowa ending, because shit gets real in the heartland.

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