Monday, September 7, 2009

Sarasota Reds Win Their Final Game - Ever!!

This evening, in what might go down in history as the greatest game ever played by the Sarasota Reds, my team kicked the ass of the Port Charlotte Stone Crabs by the convincing score of 4-0.

It was a great game from the moment the Reds took the field for their last game ever. Before the game started, my friend Anne, the inspiration for the character "Anne Hinga" in my forthcoming novel "Minor League Heckler" and I strode down to the Reds dugout and hawked a couple of autographs from these future major leaguers. First to be asked was Nefthali Soto a great kid from Areciebo Puerto Rico. "Tali" was the kid the other night who hit the foul ball that I caught in my beer glass. I had to have him sign that ball.

Anne and I then got autographs from Jason Louwsma the tall, lanky, first baseman for the Reds and a native of Winter Park, Florida. Last Thursday night it was Jason who almost pulled off the Mighty-Casey-Like final hit in the final at bat of the Reds in their home game. Had Jason connected we would have been tied and maybe won the final game the Reds played in Ed Smith stadium. It didn't happen that way and by not happening its actually a better story to tell.

We also snagged autographs on the baseball emblazoned with the Sarasota Reds emblem from Justin Reed, a really nice kid from Jackson, Mississippi. Justin was one of the best players we had this year and could almost always be counted on to come through with a hit - even a base hit - whenever we needed one.

Dennis Phipps, a center fielder from San Pedro de Marcoris, Dominican Republic, and the inspiration for one of the other characters in Minor League Heckler stopped by and signed the baseball for us. We were each holding a large glass of Cerveza Presidente the national beer of his home country, when we talked to Dennis. I told him what we were drinking and he smiled a huge smile. I also told him that I have watched games in San Pedro and wondered if I had ever seen him play before this summer.

Next we got the attention of my Reds hero Dave Sappelt, our center fielder and the best hitter we had this summer. Dave became my hero back in early July when he nailed a first ball, fast ball off the Clearwater Thresher Sharks pitcher and planted the ball through the roof of the tiki bar in left field at Clearwater's Brighthouse stadium.

Those were the only players I wanted to hit up but as we waited for the others to make themselves available, I saw Reds manager Joe Ayrault standing in the dugout and I started a conversation with him. It was one of those conversations that, as a writer, you know is dripping with potential to use in your next tome. And this conversation with Joe will wind up in one. Trust me.

First I thanked Joe for going head to toe with the obviously-blind umpire last Sunday who called a Stone Crab safe at home when he was doubt about it....this kid was out. But the ump called him safe and when he did Joe came out of the dugout like he was caught on fire. God DAMN was he upset!! Joe's first mistake was calling the umpire "a blind motherfucker". That's usually not the wisest way to get an umpire's attention. Joe was promptly ejected from the game for that truthful statement. However he wasn't done with the umpire. The slinging of invective reached a fevered pitch and Joe finally kicked dirt in the face of the umpire. It doesn't get much more intense than that! Of course we all stood up and gave Joe a standing ovation for this noble gesture.

When I introduced myself to Joe he immediately asked me, "so who are you, anyway?"

I asked what he meant and Joe said, "It didn't matter where we were playing or who we were playing you always sat in the same seat behind home plate. You started attacking whomever we played from before the first pitch was thrown and you didn't let up until the last out. You are relentless. I asked my team if you were a father of one of the kids on the team and nobody knew you. Who are you?"

So I told him. I said I was a retired wildlife biologist who moved to Sarasota and discovered the Reds. I said "when I watched you guys play you took me back to the days in high school when I was a baseball player. Watching you made me feel like a kid again, and I knew that I had to do something to help you win, even if you couldn't."

Joe asked, "so did you make it to the minors or just play in college?"

I told him I never made it beyond high school but that doesn't mean baseball wasn't important to me.

Joe then said, "So what position did you play?"

I said, "I was a catcher from ninth grade on."

Joe chuckled and said "That explains everything!"

When the kids came up and gave me their autographs, I said to each one of them that I needed them to make it to the show for me. I was never good enough but they are and it was through them that I will some day play at least one game in the show. Maybe it will be Dennis Phipps, or Nefthali Soto, or Jason Louwsma, or Dave Sappelt or Justin Reed. But it will be one of them and when they enter the hallowed grounds of a professional baseball stadium I will hope that some how some day back in 2009 I did something with my heckling to help them get where they are.

Our seats were in section 106 at an angle from home plate. Anne decided early that we needed to move down directly behind home plate and by the end of the second inning - after our second successful assault on the tiki bar in left field (and its Cerveza Presidente on tap) we settled in to new seasts that were, of course, directly behind home plate.

I had promised Anne that I would not embarrass her with any of my heckling and for the most part I was able to keep that promise. The only Stone Crabs player whom I heckled consistently was Henry Wrigley, their first baseman. Henry is the Crabs player who yelled "fuck you, asshole" at me last weekend in Sarasota when I relentlessly heckled him every time I saw him. Henry is a damned good player and one I hope makes it to show some day. However through tonight he was the enemy and it was my job to distract him. He went 0-4 and I want to think I helped him attain that lousy at bat record. The funny thing is that Anne and I will be at the Stone Crabs -v- Fort Myers Miracle game on Tuesday night. It will be the first game in the south division playoffs and I will be wearing my Charlotte Stone Crabs baseball cap and I will be screaming for Henry Wrigley and his friends to win. I hope Henry understands the change in outlook when I'm cheering on his side.

After nine great freaking innings my Sarasota Reds pulled off the near impossible - they won!!! They kicked ass, took names, and didn't stop smiling. It was ultimately a story book finish.

Tonight's game was the 50th game of theirs I saw this summer. Yes, that's right, fifty. And I long ago decided that I wanted them to end the season with 40 losses with me in the audience. I really didn't want them to be that bad, I just thought if I hoped they would lose they would win - some sort of an anti-karma thing I guess. Because of their win tonight, the Reds' record with me watching was 11 wins and 39 losses.

I had tears streaming down my cheeks tonight when the Reds got the last out against the Crabs. It was over and they won. And that is what I really wanted them to do all summer long. And tonight they did.

Good luck all you Sarasota Reds. I want you to keep kicking ass and taking names and one day I want to see each and every one of you in the show. Throughout this summer of all your losses you earned the right to make it to the show. And I want you to do that....for you and for me. Deal?