Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Dashed Dreams In Utah's Dixie

After a crappy night’s sleep, I awoke at 6:30 and jumped in the shower. We have to be at the field by 7:30, so I quickly got cleaned up and went down to the hotel lobby for their continental breakfast (yes, I decided to forego the e-coli ridden food at Shoney’s).

At 7:15, we all piled into our respective rental vans and headed toward the fields. Not much was said along the way, although that could have been because we were blasting Rage Against the Machine. We arrived at the field at 7:25. As we’re warming up, I notice something different about our team. Usually loose and playful, everyone was tight-lipped and uptight. I figured we were all just uber-focused and let it go. The other team, who was from Canada, was laughing and joking around with each other. Looking at them from across the field, they were nowhere near as good as we are. Their men were marginal at best and their best female didn’t appear to be as good as our worst one.

We won the toss and elected to be the home team. Our pitcher, who is usually nails on the mound, walked the first two guys on eight pitches. Eight straight out of the strike zone. This is a guy that won’t throw eight balls out of the zone in a tournament. The problem is that in co-ed softball, when you walk a guy, the girl behind him has the option of walking as well. So, after two hitters, we’re down 1-0 and the bases are loaded. Things got progressively worse from there. After another walk to a female, two hits and an error by our second baseman, the score after ½ of an inning is 6-0. Now, we’re a team that scores a lot of runs. We’re talking an average of 12-15 a game, so six runs isn’t anything to us. Just to prove that, we come back in the bottom of the first and score four runs of our own.

That’s where the bottom fell out. We kept making mistake after mistake in the field while the opposing team just kept taking advantage of it. The Softball Gods were unkind to us that game. They’d hit a 45 hopper somewhere, and it would elude our gloves. They’d hit a Texas Leaguer and it would fall in between our infielders and outfielders as if someone threw it where nobody would be able to catch it. We’d hit a rocket shot, and it would be right at someone. Throughout the game, we had our chances to score runs, but just couldn’t get the big hit when we needed it.

In the bottom of the 7th inning, I came up with bases loaded and nobody out, and we’re losing 14-9. There’s a rule in this tournament eliminating home runs. This is so that you can’t stack your team with a bunch of HR hitters. The rule reads that if you hit a home run, not only are you out, but the opposing team gets a run. That’s the stupidest fucking rule I’ve ever heard in my life. Bar none. So, I come up to the plate, look around the field for the best place to hit the ball and there it is - right center field is wide assed open. There’s a hole in between the right center fielder and the right fielder large enough to drive an Army Hummer through. If I hit that gap, the score will be 14-12 and I’ll be on third with nobody out. I’m a clutch player. If there’s a game to be won or lost, I want the ball coming in my direction. I’ve succeeded many, many more times than I’ve failed in those types of situations.

First pitch comes in and it’s inside. I’m looking for something outside to drive that direction. Second pitch comes in and it’s fucking perfect, up and out over the plate where I can hit it hard into that gap. Crack - there it goes, headed right for the very spot I was aiming. I’m thinking as I’m running to first, ‘we so got this’ when the ball carries over the fence. I was stunned. Literally shocked. Still am when I think about it. Since we were playing at a higher elevation, the ball carries farther than it does here in Portland. If that ball would have circled the Earth and come back and hit me in the back of the head, I would have been less shocked than I was when I saw that ball leave the yard. So, instead of 14-12 with a runner on 3rd and no outs, it’s now 15-9 with the bases loaded and one out. We scored exactly one run in the inning and lost 15-10. Tournament over, for all intents and purposes. All the hard work, getting up at 5:30 a.m. in the winter to hit the gym, extra hitting at the cages in January, February and March, standing on a soppy, semi-frozen softball field in March taking ground balls until my arm was ready to fall off, is all for naught. I thought this was supposed to be ya know, FUN?

Now, it was only our first loss, so theoretically we had a shot to win the tournament. However, since it’s a 32 team tournament, double-elimination format, it’s going to take 14 straight wins to win the damn thing. Not that we aren’t capable of running off 14 wins, but you’re talking seven games on Saturday (including the one we just played) and 8 on Sunday, so we’re going to be pretty gassed by Sunday afternoon.

We’re all a pretty dejected group after what just happened to us sinks into our collective heads. We should win this tournament. We’ve won four tournaments this year and came in second in a couple more. We’ve beat better teams than the one we just lost to in our sleep. We’re a close bunch of friends, who never berate or chide one another. We have fun and win games. We also never say die. We’re close during the winter and even closer during the summer. We party and play together. It’s fucking killing me to see my teammates like this, especially when I had a shot to bring us to the brink of winning that game and I failed. Miserably.

We came out with a "can-do" attitude for the second game, against another team from Canada. We won that game, but we had disaster strike. Our stud female third baseman pulled a hamstring running the bases. Shit. Our best hitter and defender is hurt, but valiantly trying to play, and just like that our chances are a little bit more remote.

We end up running off six straight wins, including a game where we scored 23 runs in the first inning of a game against yet another team from Canada. I swear that half the population of Alberta was in St. George that weekend. In the last game of the evening, we are totally spent. We lose to a team from somewhere other than Canada. I was so tired, I don’t even remember the score. I think it was like 11-7. I made an error in the 5th inning of that game and didn’t even have the energy to get upset at myself. Tourney over, thanks for coming. See you next year.

The coach of our team congratulated us on a good tournament and our never-say-die attitudes. A few of the women were crying because they had sold out. Hell, even I was convinced from day one that we were going to win this thing. I didn’t think it was possible for us to get beat there.

It was about 9:00 p.m. when we got back to our hotel. The day for us had started a scant 14 hours earlier. Being the rational degenerates that we are, we all decided to drink massive amounts of alcohol and pack up first thing in the morning and head to Vegas.

But that’s another story for another day. Stay tuned.

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