Saturday, June 14, 2014

If it's Tuesday, This Must be the Red Sox...One Family's Journey through the Los Gatos Little League AAA Tournament

My blog is not about when I was contacted by, a leading online pro sports apparel retailer, to write a piece about a time when sports brought my family together, I was hesitant.  Besides, I really couldn't think of anything to write about.  Then it came to me, the AAA tournament, nine days of emotional excitement, during which the whole family fell into a routine of laundry, late nights, hoarse voices and superstition, leading up to the nightly call, "Let's go!  Your brother has a game!"

The Los Gatos Little League tournament is a 19 game double elimination tournament in which ten teams vie for the honor of playing in the Minors Tournament of Champions.  Two losses and your season is done.  My son's team, the Reds, with their 13-4-1 season record, scored the #3 seed for this tournament, not a bad place to start.

I am nervous during all of Nicky's games.  It doesn't matter if the score is 17-5, I'm still nervous.  This is baseball, and worse-it's Little League--where a bad string of walks, stolen bases, passed balls and overthrows can turn the score on a dime.  During the tournament, I am even more nervous.  The jitters start about three hours before the game and by first pitch I am a complete wreck.  During the entire game my heart pounds with a depth and intensity of an exhausting workout.  I rarely sit, and have been known to pace the creek trail and pray while Nicholas closes a game.  I tend to be on the louder and more vocal side, and there seems to be pressure to contain oneself, further stressing me out.  When I'm finally allowed to jump up and scream, like when that double is smashed to left field to drive in two, it often results in a few dizzy moments of having to put my head between my knees.  I wonder if other parents go through this, somehow I don't think so.  I am always pleasantly pleased when some parent (sometimes that parent is me) has the wherewithal to bring some discreetly disguised adult beverage to the game.  It far from stops the adrenaline rush, but it does take the edge off.

My husband, Craig, gets to every game as soon as he can.  I know he is also fully vested in what happens, but he can sit, he doesn't pace, and he doesn't need to drink.  Unfair.

Nicky's 14 year old sister, Natalya, is another big fan who frequently puts her homework aside to come cheer on her brother.  Natalya made it her goal to get to the games early and set herself up as the scoreboard keeper, much to the disappointment of a collection of little siblings who frequently have a hard time keeping the count accurate.  We always knew the correct count when Natalya was on scoreboard duty.

Ally sits in the tree.  She has no interest in the game or the score.  The day after day grind of the tourney irritated her, but even Ally wrote "Reds" on her cheek in red face paint the last day of the tourney.

My son Nicholas is who we all go to see.  He is a talented, focused, and serious athlete who plays with heart and ferocity.  Watching him do what he does is a beautiful thing.  As a whole family we are very proud and excited for him to be doing so well.

Journey Through the Tourney

Wednesday March 28 was out first tournament game against the #6 Cubs.  Though we had already beaten this time twice, and though this game was not an elimination game, the game was absolutely a must win.  If we won, we wouldn't play until Saturday night.  If we lost, we'd be playing Friday AND Saturday, leaving a path of fried pitchers in our wake.
Well, the Reds played well.  Good pitching, good fielding, solid batting.  Reds 7, Cubs 0.  No baseball until Saturday the 31st at 6pm.

Thank goodness someone remembered to bring wine to our Saturday night game against the #1 A's.  We split with this team during the season and were one of only two teams to hand them a loss.  Though we had handled them once, we knew they were deep with hitters and pitchers and fielders, hence their 16-2 record.  Well, they handled us soundly.  The score was 11-2. Wow.

All right Reds.  Another loss and we pack our bat bags for good. Tomorrow night we face the #8 Yankees.  Later on that night we got an email that Nicholas would be the starting pitcher.

The morning of Sunday, June 1, which happened to be my anniversary, Nicholas woke up
My little slugger
with a fever and throwing up.  As he stood there in his dress shirt and pajama bottoms, head over the porcelain wishing well, he declared, "I want to play today.  I can't miss my game!" It was true, he couldn't miss his game.

Well this wasn't no Blossom Hill Elementary school.  No rule against him playing sick.  We got him back to bed, let him rest all day, pumped him full of orange cold medicine and took him to the field at 4:30.Nicholas was brilliant.  He caught 2 innings and played shortstop the rest.  He made run saving catches, hurled spot on throws, and hit his second homerun.  Reds fans were starting to make jokes about Nicholas playing better sick.
But the Yankees were brilliant too.  They held us neck and neck the entire game.  It was Nicky's job to finish the game from the pitcher's mound.  It wasn't to be.  By the end of the 6th we were tied 9-9 and we were going into extra innings.  The little feverish arm that was supposed to be saved to pitch the next day needed to continue to throw.

Did I mention that our assistant coach got thrown out during this game for arguing a strikeout call?

The next 40 minutes were pure torture.  The worst.  With every pitch and call the adrenaline rose, not made any easier by the Yankees going ahead in the top of the 8th.  When our team tied it in the bottom of the inning, I jumped up and down and screamed so hard I peed in my pants--you got that, I said it--I peed in my pants.
When the last run came across the plate a few minutes later we jumped and hugged and screamed.  The Reds had avoided elimination behind 2 sick pitchers.  It might as well have been the championship.  Whatever happened now was fluff and gravy.  We headed off to our team party in good spirits.  The adults drank beer and ribbed Wayne about being ejected while Nicky nearly fell asleep on his Costco cake.
Seriously the best anniversary present ever.

Now it was Monday and only the top four teams remained.  Nicholas stayed home from school to rest up for that night's game against the #4 Indians, who had spanked us silly at our last meeting.  Oh, and by the way, our top two pitchers can't throw a single pitch until Wednesday.  Good luck boys.
It took me a while to get to the field--something regarding my commitment to the activities of my other two children.  The scoreboard revealed a disappointing score of 4-1 in the 4th..then I found out that we were the home team and the disappointment turned to utter surprise.  Our youngest team member was shutting down the Indian offense with his off-speed charm.  The lead extended to 6-1 before the little guy reached his pitch limit and it was time to call upon a new pitcher to finish the game.
Ian had only pitched in two other games, but he pitched like a star.  I mean, he totally held them--the tribe who kicked our keisters over the Balzer field fence the last time we met.  However, they had a good inning or two and after the top of the 5th we were tied at 7, but we answered back quickly in the top of the 6th to make it 9-7.
Ian had only to face the bottom of their order to end the game.  We did not want him to face that lead off batter again.  The first two went down pretty painlessly, and up to the plate comes the coach's daughter.  We all know she's not a great batter but the count was nail biting 3-2 before she hit a line shot right to Nicholas who robbed her of a hit by snatching it on the fly off his laces to abruptly end the game.
The reaction was definitely less than the night before. I stood there in a stunned stupor.  We had sent another team packing.  We were coming back to play again tomorrow night.

There is a definite element of sadness to the act of eliminating another team, an element which subdues your own elation and celebration.  While your team hi fives and dogpiles, another salutes their fans for the final time sometimes through tear tracked muddy faces.  It is a reality check and a reminder of how your actions affect others.

We stuck around a while to watch a few innings of the next game as we would play the loser the next night.  We stuck around long enough to discover that the Red Sox were burning their ace pitcher, and for me to text everyone to inform them of said lucky break for the Reds.

On Tuesday June 3 (after another day off school for Nicky), we returned again to Balzer field to face the #2 Red Sox.  The Red Sox were a darn good team, the only team to beat us twice in the regular season.  The game conflicted with my eighth grade daughter's award ceremony, so we missed the first part of the game.  I must confess that we lingered somewhat at the ceremony, uneager to witness the crushing simultaneously taking place.  I mean, really, who seriously was going to pitch this game? The dugout manager?  He may be the only one we haven't fried.
Well, we did have a pitcher left and this little 9 year old turned in the performance of his life.  As we approached the field about 6pm in our awards ceremony attire, we were greeted with the shock and surprise of a seven run lead in the fourth.  I knew, however, that this game was far from over, because at some point soon, Derek was going to reach his pitch limit.  In the 5th inning the words, "last batter" were heard from the scorekeeper and everyone's heart sunk.  We were really out of pitchers now.
Welcome to the mound Jacob Casper, who had a grand total of about one inning of pitching experience under his belt this season.
6-4-3 Double Play?
One ray of light through this grim scenario is that when your players can't pitch, they can play infield.  Our coach stopped up the middle with his best and moved Derek to first when he couldn't pitch anymore.  This trio had turned at least two double plays during the tournament.  Jake just had to throw strikes and let the defense do the rest.
We all held our breath.  Whatever was going to happen, it wasn't going to be pretty.
Jake got through the 5th and we scored some more runs in the top of the 6th.  3 more outs.  Can we really do this?
Jake walked the first batter.  The next batter struck out and the runner on first was caught stealing by shortstop Nicholas...or something like that..but all of a sudden there were two outs.  The opposing coach came out and argued the call for about five minutes, something about interference, but to no avail...2 outs stood.
Jake walked another batter and that was it.  It was going to be up to James Hunter to close the game.. the same James Hunter with no more experience than Jacob.
James through 3 pitches, 2 strikes and a ball.  The first pitch was a hit, the second a ball and the third a grounder to short.  Temple flip to Moore at second--game over.  The score was 11-4.  We killed them, seriously.
The Reds were in the championship, to be played the next night against the #1 A's.

Our happy boys after defeating the #2 Red Sox holding their
"special achievement" certificates
All the pitchers were fresh and ready to go for this game, but somehow we just couldn't make this happen tonight.  Nicholas as the starting pitcher got banged around good in the second inning, and we never really recovered.  The A's outplayed us and we knew it.  When the coach told me in the top of the sixth to get the Reds parents together for a standing ovation, as the game was about to end, I started to lose it.  We made a valiant effort to come back but when our catcher was thrown out at the plate for the final out, the score was 8-6.  We were not the AAA champions.

But then a beautiful thing happened.  All the players on both teams stood and faced their fans.  Not only did our family stand side by side and cheer, families upon families stood side by side and cheered--parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends on both sides united in recognizing the great season these boys had just completed and this, my friends, is how baseball brings families together.

Thanks for a wonderful season, Reds--you sure made it fun!

And now for some pictures!!

Our proud team with their runner-up trophies
No sad faces here!

Loss forgotten!!


Here's our whole family---So proud of our runner up Reds!

Yes, kind of an off beat post!  Thank you for reading.  I'm planning our trip to Hawaii so hopefully I'll be able to pass on some info about that super soon!

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