Thursday, September 3, 2009

Another Night, Another Caught Foul Ball, and the Final Reds Loss at Home

Just like in the immortal poem about the Mudville Nine in which Mighty Casey struck out, so too did the Sarasota Reds this evening in their final home game ever. The final score was Palm Beach Cardinals 3 and the Sarasota Reds 2.

It was a hard fought game but almost as expected the Reds snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and just could not turn it around. Actually the Reds didn't really snatch defeat from the jaws of anything. They were down 2-0 going into the bottom of the sixth inning when they scored 2 runs. It went like this:

•Justin Reed grounds out, second baseman Oliver Marmol to first baseman Osvaldo Morales.
•Alex Buchholz singles on a line drive to right fielder Charles Cutler.
•Dave Sappelt singles on a line drive to center fielder Thomas Pham. Alex Buchholz to 3rd.
•With Neftali Soto batting, Dave Sappelt steals (20) 2nd base.
•Neftali Soto singles on a line drive to center fielder Thomas Pham. Alex Buchholz scores. Dave Sappelt scores.
•Denis Phipps grounds out, third baseman Matt Carpenter to first baseman Osvaldo Morales. Neftali Soto to 2nd.
•Kyle Day flies out to left fielder Curt Smith.
As to be expected Right Fielder Dennis Phipps could be counted on for an out, as he has been all season long! If he is ever to make it to the show he needs to learn to 1) CHARGE the freaking ball when its hit to him, 2)watch pitches and not swing at any slop that is sent his way, and 3) not be a prima donna on the base paths. But enough about Dennis.

What can be said? It was a good game and it was a fast game and there were 2,448 chanting fans in the audience. Where have they been all season? Many times I was at a Reds game with 150 other people in the stands. And of course I was the only one heckling. However tonight I was joined in that endeavor by someone who was not only louder than me but also more obnoxious!! I talked to him between innings. He was a kid from Bradenton who used to be a left fielder. He knew exactly what to say, how to say it and when. He was massively effective. Several times I heard the couple between me and him say "They are doing a duet on the batter."

Unfortunately we didn't duet enough.

There were some other highlights to tonight's game that occurred off the field.

First, I staked out the concessions stand early for my last beer and bratwurst of the year. The woman behind the counter said "You've been so consistent all season long. Its always a large beer and a bratwurst. Since its our last night this Bud's on me" (honest she said it). She also bought my bratwurst.

I then migrated over to the clothing area and found that all t shirts were gone. However they had one replica of the Sarasota mascot - the Rally Gator - and I bought it as a gift for a baseball friend of mine. This picture is of the real "live" Rally Gator - the doll is much smaller (duh!)

I also purchased one more baseball with the Sarasota Reds emblem emblazoned on it. This one is for my long time friend and buddy Jon Andrew who was sitting in his mom's house in suburban Boston tonight watching the Red Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays 6 - 3 while I endured this final at-home Reds loss. What was it with my two favorite teams tonight?

In the fourth inning, Reds infielder Nefthali Soto hit a foul ball that cleared the backstop and hit the press box area. Just like two weeks ago I watched its trajectory and it looked good for coming close to me. I leaped up, with my beer glass in my hand and caught the damned foul ball in a plastic beer glass! I may be nearly 58 years old but I still know how to catch a foul ball! And I didn't spill much of the beer either. Priorities, priorities.

Throughout the season I have signed up for the Click-It or Ticket promotion sponsored by the Florida Highway Patrol. Each game in the 8th inning they pull one name from the hopper and award that person a Click It or Ticket t shirt. Tonight they did the promotion but gave the winner a Sarasota Reds t shirt instead of a FHP shirt. This was the 46th home game of the Sarasota Reds that I watched this year. For each game I signed up for the promotion. For 45 games I didn't win the promotion. Tonight for the last home game of their existence I won the freaking t shirt! I'll give it to my friend Anne Hinga. She'll look a lot hotter in it than I would. Its a large so she'll swim in it....but still.

After my name was called and I went up to claim her t shirt the guy at the Sarasota Herald Tribune information desk asked me for my identification...then stopped...laughed...and said "anyone who can catch a foul ball in a beer glass deserves this t shirt"! He also gave me the last copy in existence of the official 2009 Sarasota Reds yearbook. A fitting final gift I would say.

With the score Palm Beach 3 and Sarasota 2 we went into the bottom of the ninth inning. Just like in the immortal poem "Casey At the Bat".... The Reds had 2 outs when Kyle Day walked giving a hint of some life. The tying run was now on first and the winning run at the plate. Jason Louwsma, a 26 year old kid from Winter Park Florida came to the plate. Jason was the Reds last great hope to be Mighty Casey. All eyes were on Jason who, with the count 3 balls and 2 strikes clobbers the ball. It left the bat with that loud juicy "thwack" you hear when the ball is headed for the stratosphere.

It looked like that to us. The center fielder was running back, back, back. Kyle Day has rounded third and was almost to cross home plate when the gravity took over. The ball sunk in altitude. The center fielders mitt opened up and back on the warning track in deep center field - almost out of the damned park for a 2 run game winning home run, the miserable center fielder ruined this story book ending and caught the ball for the third and final out.

Mighty Casey didn't strike out tonight. He sent a hell of a wallop to deep center field, but just like in that 120 year old immortal poem, it was the last out. The lights went off and every one went home. And just like for Mighty Casey there is no joy in my Mudville tonight.

I have wondered recently about why I was consumed by the Sarasota Reds. Someone will likely say, "what, Craig consumed by something he believes in - that can't be" and everyone will laugh. But I spent a lot of time thinking about this while doing my 16 mile bicycle ride every day. What I finally concluded is that the Reds represented me when I was a kid playing baseball in high school. I sat behind home plate for every game and was able to feel like I was a catcher again. I heckled opposing players just like I did when I was a mouthy high school senior who once caused an opposing player to hit me in the face with a baseball bat to get me to stop heckling him. He had simply had his fill of me and took matters into his own hands or baseball bat as it were. It didn't work and I immediately began heckling the next batter from his team.

All summer long sitting behind home plate I felt like I was that 17 year old kid again. I wasn't approaching my "golden years" that are just 2 years off. I was a kid on a mission to help make his team the best it could possibly be. Its funny how my career with the US Fish and Wildlife Service ultimately soured me and made me bitter about many things. But baseball was always the antithesis of that. Baseball was where I was fairly good. Baseball was where I could always make a difference. Baseball was where I was encouraged to take charge and direct the play on the field and I didn't have to ask any supervisor's permission to do it.

I could do that again this summer and it really felt good.

So long Sarasota Reds - may you rest in peace. You were worth every ounce and every penny of my effort this year to cheer you on. After all it was the Sarasota Reds who were the inspiration for me to write my current book "Minor League Heckler." After tonight's game I decided that the book, when finished, would be dedicated to the 2009 Reds team. A fitting end to the team. At least in my book you will have a winning season.

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