It wasn’t easy. And, truthfully, that made it all the more sweeter.
For the second straight year, our team won the Oneonta City League men’s softball championship. The boys from the Therford’s Towing/Legend’s Filling Station crew showed some determination to rally and win Game 3 to clinch the title.
But boy it’s wasn’t easy!
We battled Mother Nature. We battled ourselves. We battled a hell of a good team. In the end, we won those battled and walked away with our second straight championship.
The opening game was a 6-3 victory on August 4 (yes, two weeks ago!). We led, 6-1, going into the seventh and the opposing team scored twice in the seventh. But it was one of those games where you never felt like you were in trouble.
After a rainout August 9, we looked to wrap things up last Thursday (August 11).
Things didn’t go according to plan and hope.
They jumped out on us and we looked bad. We had more physical errors in that game than we had done all season in a game. Worse yet, we made several mental errors that hurt. It was easily our worst game of the season.
Still, we started pounding the ball and held a five-run lead entering the bottom of the sixth inning.
Things, again, went wrong and we ended up trailing by one at the end of that inning. An inside-the-park homer by Justin tied the score. Alas, they had last cracks and scored once, forcing the game three.
I was thankful we would have last cracks at the plate in Game 3. The benefit of being the top seed shined through!
Then that game got rained out this past Tuesday. Sheesh.
Finally, a beautiful night came Thursday and we were all set to play. Again, it started rough. A couple of bloop hits and a home run put us down, 3-0 right away. We closed to within one when Dylan smacked a two-run homer in the bottom of the inning. But Miller’s kept ahead of us. A run here, a run there.
It was 6-4 heading into the bottom of the sixth.
Two outs came quickly on a pair of groundouts before Marc hit a hard shot to second base, which got the second baseman on his heels. The hard bounce went high and clipped the glove as Marc was safe at first.
Then Dylan came to bat.
As I coached third base, I turned and walked toward the outfield. To myself, I said: “Dylan, if ever a homer was needed, this is the spot to do it.”
Dylan, for the record, is one of our top power hitters.
One pitch, one swing, 6-6.
The fences on the main field in Oneonta are, I believe, an ASA legit 265 feet. This ball landed 25 beyond. It was a shot. And it energized us. At the same time, there was a little deflation in the other team.
To the top of the seventh we went!
A quick out started the inning before their leadoff hitter singled for the fourth time. Alas, the next two players grounded out and to the bottom of the seventh we went.
Dean, who had a two-run double earlier in the game, flied out to left on a sharply hit ball to lead off the inning. To be fair, the left fielder made a nice play, tracking down the ball and reaching low to snag it before the ball could touch the grass.
Justin followed with a four-pitch walk.
And the first two pitches to Jeremiah were balls as well. Conventional wisdom says to take a strike, right?
Not so, apparently, for Jeremiah. He sent the opposite way for a dinker. The outfielder was back a bit, but was speedy enough to likely grab it on one bounce. Justin was motoring to third. As I watched the play unfold, the outfielder bobbled it.
Now or never.
So I started waving Justin to keep going. His eyes grew wide as he made the turn and headed home. The outfielder grabbed the ball and threw, but the catcher came out from the plate to grab the ball as Justin slid home safely in front of the tag as the Thetford’s/Legends bench emptied in celebration.
Truthfully, this is how softball should be — especially in a championship series.
Though Miller’s was the third seed this season, they were easily the second best team in the league. They were our equals to be sure when it came to head-to-head competition.
The season series? Including the finals, we won the series, 3-2. The combined score of our five games? We won that, 45-40.
Consider this: We outscored opponents this year, 382-125. Take away the games with Miller and we outscored the rest of the league, 337-85. That really shows how equal our teams were. We played each other well and they were all close. The games were intense and a lot of fun. It’s softball.
I anticipate, as long as the teams remain somewhat the same, the two of us will continue this rivalry well into the next few years. Over the past two seasons, our team is a combined 35-4. Of those four losses, three of them come to this Miller team.
But next year is far away. As the bats, balls and gloves get put away for a season and the page turns on another season, we celebrate as champions once again. Since starting a team back in the early 1990s, we’ve won three championships. One in the now-defunct Brookside League and two in Oneonta. We’ve been to many more finals, but lost. Still, it’s fun to win these titles when they come as they are hard to come by.
There are just three of us — me, Marc and Leap — who have been part of all three titles. It’s a pretty cool feeling, too, to have the three of us still together on this squad. A couple of the guys — Luke and Gideon — each joined the year after we won our first title in 2001. Over time, we added cogs. Dylan, Sully, Dean and Matt all came along in key spots and became integral parts of the team. Justin had played with us for 4 or 5 seasons, but his travel from an hour away got to be too much (who can blame him?) But this year, he was looking to play a bit more and joined back up with us and played the final 11 games. It was nice, too, as he was on a few of those teams that lost in the finals. So it was a swan song. Kyle played a few seasons with us, missed last year because of an internship and returned this season to play some quality ball. Mison and Riley joined us last season and have become big parts of this squad. Tim was the “free agent” pickup we needed as he filled in a lot of roles for us and had an excellent season. Trent helped us in some key times when we needed players this year and his raw ability should blossom in the future, helping the squad continue to move forward.
It was a season I won’t forget.
No matter where my current job search takes me — whether I remain in the area and continue to play softball here, or move on and this was a swan song — this team is one I’ll always remember.
We don’t get rings like the big boys, however. So the memories, photos and whatever else will suffice. We’re getting t-shirts, however! We have to have something to show off the accomplishment!
Great job by the boys of Thetford’s/Legends. What a ride it was. And what a way to win it.
(Note on the photo: This was taken mid-season. Someone took the team photo of us with the championship trophy — if I can get it and get permission to use it on the blog, I’ll switch it out with this one).
Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at hoohaablog [at] gmail.com.