Jun 16, 2016 | Kevin Wall | 418 views
Bottom Of The Seventh - A Parent's Perspective
With the regular season winding down, the two teams challenging for first place are meeting for an important 4-game series. Going into the series, the Royals have a higher winning percentage (0.821 vs 0.772), so the Terriers needed to win the series to become the winning percentage leader.
The Royals are hosting the first two games on Saturday at Ireland Park in Burlington. The weather is sunny, windy and a humid 30 degrees which the weather report says makes it feel like 37.
Thank goodness for the winds. There are lots of parents from both teams in attendance and there is a friendly atmosphere. The baseball world is small and some of the boys have played on the same teams when they were younger so there is some catching up conversations between the parents. Also in the crowd, is an NCAA D1 coach waiting patiently to evaluate a star lefty Terriers pitcher that is scheduled to start in the second game. The coach sticks out from the rest of the spectators. He is standing behind the backstop with his pro-attire and radar gun and everyone knows he is here.
The game 1 starting pitcher for the Terriers is an archetypal member of the Canadian junior national team. 18 years old, 6 foot 5, 210 pounds, a 90 MPH fastball and lots of experience pitching and winning big games. His next team is a decorated NCAA D1 school as he makes his path to the MLB. When he pitches, everyone at the park talks about him and expects great things. In the heat, he pitches 5 strong innings and shows his impressive talent. When he leaves the game the Terriers are trailing 2-0 but everyone witnessed a dominating pitcher who lives up to his reputation. The pitcher represents Canada and the Terriers very well and is a good teammate, liked by all.
In the top of 6th the Terriers respond and score two runs to tie the game at 2. In the bottom of the sixth, the Terriers send another star pitcher to the mound, who has recently committed to a major Canadian University close to his home, and the Terriers defense keep the Royals scoreless.
In the top of 7, the Terriers offense scores 5 more runs, including a dramatic grand slam by a superstar-shortstop who is committed to an NCAA D1 school, changing the score to 7-2 which seems to put the game safely in the hands of the Terriers.
However, the Royals have a lot of heart to match their skill and in the bottom of the 7th, just like in the movies, the Royals start a rally and make the score 7-4 with 1 out and two men on. The Royals rally is alive and gaining momentum.
Then something happens that rarely happens. Usually the Terriers want their players to overcome in-game adversity, work out of jams and experience wins and losses. It is believed this helps the boys prepare for the future when pressure situations and expectations will be even greater. However, at this moment, with first place up for grabs, winning is the priority and the Terriers Skipper makes a pitching change mid-inning! To MLB fans, this is 'expected', maybe even demanded, but in the Terriers organization, this is unusual and lets everyone know this is not a regular game.
The next Terriers pitcher is a "righty" that has chosen, along with two other teammates, a small NCAA D2 school for his next team. He is a conventional, strike throwing, ground-ball pitcher with a reliable track record and, like all pitchers, he fantasizes about moments exactly like this. In his imagination, he has been here many times before.
After a few warm up throws the game resumes with the score at 7-4, two runners on base, one out, and the tying run at the plate. The stuff of dreams … and nightmares. The catcher, who will be attending a well-respected College, knows this pitcher very well, and together they usually try to speed up the game and attack the batters. Quick signals, followed by quick strikes and quick ball returns. Chop—Chop! No delay. Working together like a piston in a 4 stroke engine that is part of a bigger defensive machine designed to stop runs and make outs.
Today, the Terriers pitcher seems to be throwing harder than normal and the ball has nice movement which makes it tricky for batters to square up and sometimes even hard for the catcher to catch. The first batter strikes out swinging but the ball is dropped and the batter sprints to first base. The catcher, picks up the ball, holds the runner at third, and expertly throws the ball to first base to easily register the second out. When well executed, as it was, it looks like a routine play, but if the ball was poorly thrown, or not caught, or some other thing, it could allow runs to score.
With this second out, the Royals rally suffers a setback and the momentum stalls. Will the rally momentum resume or be extinguished? The next batter, gets cornered in a pitchers count, but fights back and hits a spectacularly high-bouncer to the second baseman and by the time the ball comes down, the batter is safely on first base and the runner from third scores. 7-5, the Royals rally lives!
Everyone in the park is watching a little more closely, as the tension and excitement increases another level higher. This moment is not just for the players, but for the spectators as well. As a genuine sports fan, who and what do you cheer for? The home team comeback, which would be awesome, or the visitors to hold strong and suppress a hard fought rally? We have all seen and experienced both outcomes. Crucial wins and heart breaking losses. Games, in the balance, that can go either way in the decisive moments. The clichéd, but true, promise of Wide World of Sports - "the thrill of victory and agony of defeat".
Now, the score is 7-5 with two outs and the winning run at the plate. The next batter is a lefty and he falls behind with 2 strikes. The pitcher is looking strong, and the battery is keeping a brisk pace, which is increasing the tempo of a game that is racing to its conclusion. The catcher signals the pitcher and the pitcher delivers a "pitchers-pitch", a well-placed fast ball on the outside corner at the knees. The batter does not swing. The catcher holds the ball in his glove and the umpire raises his right arm and shouts, "Strike 3!"
Suddenly everything and everyone in the park is still. It is calm and quiet, time seems stopped. There is no reaction by the players or audience. No excitement or disappointment - no movement as all. The words spoken by the ump fade away into silence and finally, someone from the Terriers dugout says, "That’s it boys, game over." and the game is over. The spell is broken, reality and movement returns, and we rejoin the real world. Terriers win 7-5.
What would have happened if the batter had swung? Would he have connected and kept the rally alive? Maybe a decisive game winning homer? Or a game tying double to continue the drama? We will never know. In baseball, these situations are played out countless times and will be repeated as long as baseball is played. Sometimes the batter will swing, sometimes he won't. Sometimes the umpire will call "strike", other times, "ball". An infinite number of outcomes played out around the world and across time by boys who love the game. Sometimes victorious and other times defeated, but always ready to play again.
After a 30 minute meal-break, game 2 will begin and both teams will start fresh and play it all over again, adding to the story book of baseball. Tomorrow, the teams will play games 3 and 4 at Kings Christian College. Avoid disappointment, buy your tickets early, good seats still available.