Monday, February 1, 2010

5 games, 3 cities, 2 teams, 1 weekend

It would be an understatement to say that we had a busy weekend. Saturday morning Rabbit played with his new team, Mizuno, at 9 am. We got to the park at 8am and I helped with field maintenance while the kids warmed up. Helping out at these tournaments takes the place of a monthly fee. It is a trade that seems fair and we spend all day at the field anyway, so might as well get something in return. They wanted Rabbit to start, to see how he throws. We had to decline because I knew Blue Wave was going to use him extensively as a pitcher this weekend. It turned out to be a good decision.

Rabbit walked twice, just barely missed a pitch that became a pop-up and played his usual stellar defense. In fact, they had him play first all 6 innings. And he hit second. Same situation, just a different uniform.

After the game we came home to pack up and switch uniforms. We were off to Chino Hills. Game times were 2:30 and 6:30pm. In our most recent Blue Wave tournament we finished 15th out of 16 AA (low level classification) teams. This weekend there were 15 teams, ranging from AA to Majors. Our first game was against a team that we were unfamiliar with. They were big, warmed up well, and looked like a force. Rabbit was given the start and was all business when he took the mound. He struck out the first three batters on 12 pitches. It was a dominant performance. Blue Wave did not score in the first, but was swinging the bats well. In the second Rabbit retired the side on 14 pitches, allowing one hit to go with one strikeout. In the third he struck out two more stranding another hit and a walk. In the top of the fourth (we were visitors) we finally broke through for three runs. Rabbit faced one batter in the fourth, a walk, and was pulled to keep his pitch count low. The team rallied behind their pitchers and played tremendous defense. It was amazing to watch, including two diving catches in the outfield. We pushed one more across before finally ending the game in a 4-0 shutout win. Our first shutout in quite a while. It was a total team effort, with everyone participating and playing their best. This team was desperate for a win, and they got a good one early.

We got a quick meal and got back in time to watch our next opponent finish their game. They had a 7 run lead and were still running (stealing bases) and trying to bait throws. They also were using fake bunts to distract pitchers. I think that is fairly ridiculous, and extremely poor sportsmanship when you are clearly ahead of an overmatched opponent. Add in the fact they chanted and screamed like a T-Ball team and we were not too impressed. We played them tight, continuing our great defense, and held a 5-3 lead going into the last inning. As in the earlier game the sportsmanship was terrible. They would shout at our pitcher mid windup despite several warnings from the umpire. The coaches both openly questioned ball and strike calls and called the umps "incompetent." At one point, Rabbit was playing first and a player knocked him over diving back to the bag. While they were both on the ground the player wrapped up his legs so he could not get up to make a play.

The opponents scored three in the top of the last inning and were cheering like they had won the World Series. The parents were as bad as the kids and were taunting everyone they could find. We needed to get at least that one run back. We had two quick outs in our half of the inning, then they walked our lead-off hitter. Rabbit was now up, and desperate to shut the kids, coaches and parents up. Right before the second pitch to Rabbit, the opposing coach told his pitcher to ignore the base runner, focus only on the hitter. Bad advice. The runner stole second, then took third on the overthrow. While the other team was busy, quite literally, pointing fingers and arguing over who made the mistake, our runner took off for the plate. He scored easily and we were tied. They melted down and walked Rabbit. As he was on first they threw over 3 times before a pitch crossed the plate. Then, the pitcher balked about as bad as I can recall seeing at this level. He broke his hands, moved forward, then backed off and threw to first. Rabbit was already half jogging to second when the throw went to first and he got tagged. The umpire let it stand. It was a curious play, to be certain. But, we were well past time limits and everyone wanted to get out of there. We wanted a chance to play this team again and shut them down once and for all. Be careful what you wish for.

We got a hotel room in Riverside for the night since we knew, most likely, we would be playing at 8am. We were, against the same team. We were the 5 seed (out of 15) and were in the Championship Bracket. A remarkable turnaround. And we were not going to lose to that team no matter what.

Got to the field at 7:15am and were itching to get going. It was very cold, but none of the boys seemed to notice. We were the lower seed (they were 4 we were 5) so we were visitors, and were at bat first. We got just the start we needed. Our first four batters all scored before a single out was recorded. We led 4-0 before they even picked up a bat. They got two in the bottom half of the inning, and then everyone calmed down and we had a scoreless second inning. In the third, we put up 5 more. We were ahead 9-2. The cheering stopped, the parents went inside the snack bar, and the coaches had nearly packed it in. Our pitcher started to struggle, but just barely. Once the bases were loaded our coach pulled our starter and asked Rabbit to get the two outs to end the inning, and the threat. It took him a batter or two to get settled. Two runs crossed, now 9-4, and one out. Rabbit did a funny thing. He stepped off the mound, took a breath, and drew a line in the sand. He struck out the next two batters all but ending the game. We pushed one more across and they got a few late, but the game was never as close as the 10-7 final indicates. We had won a game in the championship bracket. This was amazing, made even sweeter by beating a team that we really wanted to beat.

Our reward was a game with the number one seed in the entire tournament. We played them very tight, and it was 4-1 after three innings. We were close, but were unable to find a second run to get us back in the game. At the end we ran out of pitchers and stamina. The game ended 9-1 in 5 innings. We had finished third, out of 15 teams, and won two games for the first time in a while. The boys had much to be proud of, and a good idea of where they need to be headed. It was a harbinger of how this team can be good when they all work together, and it reinforced that you win with defense.

All that said, we are leaving Blue Wave on February 15th. Coach told all the parents and players at a post game meeting. He said some very nice things about Rabbit and we were pleased by the support from everyone. It is a great group of families. We will miss them. However, our next challenge awaits with Mizuno, and we look forward to getting started with them.

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