The end to any baseball season is sad but in some ways a relief.  Playing this game we love, week after week, becomes something we look forward to each and every week.  And when it’s over, we start immediately thinking about the start of “next season”, so we can do it again.  For quite a few players who were getting beat-up from baseballs banging against their body parts, they are ready for some non-contact activities.  But before we divert to articles about post season activities associated with next year’s HDL season, I need to put a “wrap” on the conclusion to the 2012 Post-season Playoff Championship.

For as long as I can remember, I can’t remember a team going through as many game-after-game disappointments and still able to keep their “eye on the prize” like this year’s Peterbilt Red team.  In their very first game they lost to Nationwide Blue team 10-11.  They shrugged it off as, “we had our chances – we just didn’t have enough hits” as they were out-hit 18-9.  A couple of games later, they lost to Xtreme Green team by a score of 11-12. This was a game they should have won as the Green team had 6 errors.

Peterbilt’s first win came May 6th when they beat the Metlife-Homer Skelton White team by a score of 4-3. This happened to be the first Wood Bat designated game.  So many of the Red team players started lobbying for more Wood Bat games.  Their next game, on May 20th, they barely lost to the Green team 3-4. This was a low scoring game with very few hits.  The main highlight of this game was Nick Harris throwing a “2-hitter” – AND Lost! In early June, the Peterbilt Reds struggled as they lost 2 games by a wide margin (6-14 to White) (4-15 to Blue). Back-to-back loses to White and Green by a total of 3 runs really hurt because in each game they had early leads where their pitching and defense collapsed.  At end of June and through first part of July they were up & down but hung in there and upset the Homer Skelton White team by a score of 16-1.

In August and September they were 0 – 5 with several 1 run games in the Loss column.  The HDL Play-off schedule kicked off on September 23rd and that was when the Peterbilt Red team started playing their best baseball.  Even losing their Opening Play-off game against the Xtreme Green team, didn’t cause them any great alarm.  As long as they had another game to play, they believed they had a chance to win.  And that’s what they did.  They Beat the White team in the “Loser-Go-Home” game, then turned around and beat the Nationwide Blue team by a score of 12-3 to set up their show-down with Xtreme Green team in the finals of the Winner’s bracket.  (Read, “FIT TO BE TIED” Blog about the game on the 21st.)

The Final Game festivities were a labor of love.  With a Cool Front descending through Memphis over the weekend, baseball conditions did not start out “ideal.”  The game start-time was pushed back 30 minutes to allow additional sunshine to cover Tobey Field. The temperature at game time was in the low 40’s.  A slight breeze made temperatures even worse.  But all players were focused on playing this game.  Conditions were equal for both teams.

As the teams finished their pre-game talk, everyone was asked to remove caps and honor America with a rock ‘n roll version of the National Anthem that Larry Rutledge crudely recorded off the internet.  ( The music was “mic’d” through the portable Amplifier that has been a mainstay at HDL games this season.  While amplification was rough, the message was clear – “America is still the land of the free and the home of the brave”! Immediately after the Peterbilt team took the field, a special guest was escorted in front of the plate to throw out the “first pitch”.  This honor was offered to six year old, Jack High, son of Green Team member, Kevin High.  I thought Jack High throwing out the ceremonial pitch made the game even more special.  The little man accepted his “first pitch” duty with pride and confidence and most of all, got the game started with a smile.

In a somewhat surprise move, the Peterbilt Red team elected to give the baseball to their late inning reliever, and starting shortstop, Cesar Roman.  After closing the win over Green team the week before, Cesar took the mound with a 2-0 record and an ERA under 2.00.

The lead-off hitter for Xtreme Green, Cory Pratt, was looking for a good fastball and when he saw the pitch he liked, he ripped it.  Only one problem, his rising line drive down the 3rd base line was speared by a leaping Patrick Belote, Red Team 3rd baseman. Next up, Kevin High reached base on an error by Red Team shortstop. But the next two Green Team batters were retired easily.  (Otis – K; Benjamin FC) 

In the bottom of the 1st inning, the Peterbilt Red Team had to face last season’s “Best Pitcher”, Brady Benjamin.  But Red Team lead-off hitter Patrick Belote got things going  with a solid single to left field.  After the 2nd batter, Tim Harris, popped up to Shortstop, the Green Team defense had one of their worst “First” innings of the year.  The Red Team 3rd hitter, Nick Harris, hit a high flyball toward right center that the sun and the wind made more difficult than it should have been. As Green Team centerfielder, Otis Edwards reached to catch the flyball, he mis-timed the catch and the ball glanced off his glove and then off the side of his head.  This mis-que put runners at 2nd & 3rd. Next hitter, Cesar Roman hit the ball hard at Green Team 3rd baseman, Kevin High who could not get the handle and allowed Pat Belote to score.  After DJ Clark singled to load the bases, Chris Ollar hit a hard ground ball at 3rd base that eluded the sure handed Kevin High. Amazingly, with all the base runners for the Red Team in the inning, only 2 runs were scored.

In the 2nd inning, Cesar held the Green team, 3-Up/ 3-Down. In the bottom of the 2nd, the Peterbilt team went into “attack mode” again as they sent 8 batters to the plate.  Their first 5 batters each had a hit (5 in a row). The one opportunity the Green team had to limit the damage, they let it slip away by not taking an out and giving up a run.  Giving the Red team an extra out cost them 1 or 2 runs that ended up being the difference in the final score. A total of 4 runs were scored to make the score 6-0 in favor of Red Team and it was obvious the Green team was starting to press.

Neither team scored in the 3rd inning, but in the top of the 4th, Brady Benjamin lead off the 4th inning with a solo Home Run down the left field line that was a “No-Doubter”. Jodie Wolfe followed Brady with a double down the left field corner.  Jodie would eventually score on a Sac Fly by Larry Hunsucker. Now the score was 6-2 and appeared the Green Team was getting back in the game.  With this being a 9 inning game, there was plenty of time.

No scoring inthe 5th inning and it appeared Brady Benjamin’s pitching was being effective.  After the Green team failed to score in the 6th inning, the Red team threatened in the bottom of the 6th as Jose Ortiz lead off with a solid base hit. Jose was 3 for 4 on the day.  Jose told his teammates, “The ball looks as big as a Pumpkin!”  After Tim Harris reached base on a hit, Nick Harris stroked an RBI base hit to score Jose. With 2 out after Cesar popped up, DJ Clark came through with his clutch hit to drive in Tim Harris.  Now the score was back to a 6 run lead, 8-2 in Reds favor.  But the Green team answered with a run in the top of the 7th as they manufactured a run with a clutch RBI hit from Kevin High. So now score was 8-3 – down 5 runs. So it was time to bring in P.W. Burnett to try to change the Red Team momentum. P.W. shut out the Red team in bottom of 7th.

In top of 8th, Brady Benjamin doubled to start the inning and everyone thought, “Here comes the Green Team!”  Brady would score on PW’s RBI single down the right field line.  With bases loaded it looked like a big inning was possible but Cesar Roman who was still on the mound found the right pitch to make the Green batters swing and let his defense make outs.  With the score 8-4. the Peterbilt Team came to bat in bottom of 8th determined to extend their lead.  With one out, Nick Harris got his 3rd single of the day, stole 2B then scored on Cesar Roman’s RBI single. After DJ Clark struckout, Red Team Catcher, Chris Ollar got a pitch he liked and sailed it over the left field fence for a 3 Run Home Runto make the score 11-4.

Chris Ollar, DJ Clark, Charles Mister, Nick Harris

In the Top of the 9th it was “Do-it-or-Die”.  Cesar Roman started the inning but after 2 base hits, an error, ground out and a walk, the Peterbilt team elected to bring in David Sexton to change the trend. Sexton lasted just 2 batters as consecutive base hits to PW and Larry Hunsucker made the score 11-9.  So it was time for Nick Harris to come in and get the last 2 outs and seal the victory. And that’s what he did with back-to-back K’s to Johnny Birkenstock and Aaron Sinzheimer.

Commentary:  In many ways this game exemplified the entire season.  Almost every game was competitive. You had no way to know who was going to win or lose until the final out. Teams that won had to focus on playing the fundamentals of baseball in a self-imposed pressure situation. Your opponent was always trying their best to beat you.  And in the end, the players on your team and the players you were competing against were still your friends and deserved your respect.  WHAT A GREAT GAME!

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