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SOCAL BASEBRAWL-DAY 6
SUNDAY, AUGUST 2
NEVER GIVE UP: PIXIE DUST
It seemed to the Goats that they had just settled into their seats when Coach Hallion told them to go into the outfield and warm their arms up. Aiden and Mac had already gone to the Field 1 first base bullpen to get Aiden ready to pitch.
During the break between the Championship game and the IF game, a program of baseball songs, including “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” and “Centerfield”, was played on the Field 1 PA system and many fans sang along with the music.
Always one to notice details, Eric took a look at the flags flying over the center field scoreboard.
“Wind’s blowing out to left center,” he remarked to Hallion. “Anything hit that way is gonna get some help. And it’s a high sky today, too.”
“Agreed,” Hallion said. “I think center is the sun field here on Field 1 - it could get tricky out there in the later innings.”
Larry, Phil, Paul, and Arnie had taken seats behind the third base dugout - Rita Emerson, carrying her flag made from a Yard Goats T-shirt, was sitting with them. Larry saw coach Dallas Baker and two of the Huntington Beach Wave players coming up the steps and beckoned them to join them.
“Greetings, Dallas,” Larry said. “Feel free to join us.”
“Thanks, coach,” Dallas replied. He introduced the two players with him as team captain Bryce Rushton and pitcher Russell Livingston and handshakes were exchanged. Bryce, a tall handsome fourteen-year-old, was Huntington Beach’s first baseman and had brought his glove with him.
There were no pregame ceremonies before the IF game - those had all been taken care of before the Playoff game. The PA announcer greeted the fans and announced the lineups.
“The visiting team, coached by Robert Parker, the Torrance Bulldogs!
Leading off, in center field, #10, Howie Duran!
Batting second, at third base, #15, Edwin Spears! Batting third, at shortstop, #18, LeBron Redding! Batting cleanup, in right field, #20, Maurice Wagner!
Batting fifth, at first base, #2, Carl Isabelli! Batting sixth, the DH, #25, Rhett Gunderson!
Batting seventh, in left field, #17, Mike Kenyon! Batting eighth, the catcher, #14, Royce Dixon!
Batting ninth, at second base, #9, Clay Corrigan!
And the pitcher, #22, Alan Peterson!”
“The visiting team on the scoreboard, coached by Robert Parker, is the Torrance Bulldogs! Leading off, in center field, #10, Howie Duran. Batting second, at third base, #15, Edwin Spears. Batting third, at shortstop, #18, LeBron Redding. Batting cleanup, in right field, #20 Maurice Wagner!”
The announcer paused a moment for effect and then went on. “Batting fifth, at first base, #2 Cal Isabell. Hitting sixth, the designated hitter, Rhett Gunderson. Batting seventh, in left field, #17, Mike Kenyon. Batting eighth, the catcher, #14. Royce Dixon. Batting ninth, at second base, #9, Clay Corrigan! And pitching is #22, Alan Perterson!”
The Yard Goats wouldn’t be running out on the field when their names were announced but they got a thrill out of hearing them. For them, this was the big time.
“The home team on the scorebaord, coached by James Hallion, is the Mayfield Yard Goats!
Leading off, at shortstop, #2, Gordon Lansing! Batting second, in right field, #7, Scott Keller! Batting third, at third base, #20, Trent Hallion! Batting cleanup, the DH, #13, Mudrak Babik!”
The announcer was reading the names as they appeared in the official tournament program. A couple of the Goats had to wonder for a moment who Mudrak was, but Muddy quickly popped into their heads. The announcer continued his animated introduction of the Mayfield lineup.
“Batting fifth, at first base, #22, Nolan Moyer! Batting sixth, the pitcher, #3, Aiden Miller! Batting seventh, in center field, #6, Riley Newton! Batting eighth, the catcher, #28, Mackenzie Dixon! Batting ninth, the left fielder, #9, Grant Foster! And at second base, #11, Mason Johnson!
“The umpires are Mike Lewis at the plate, John Wells at first, and Ken Cassen at third.”
Following Aiden’s eighth warmup toss, Mac fired the ball down to Mason at second base. The Goats pegged the ball around the infield from third to short to second to first. Nolan lobbed the ball to his boyfriend on the mound with a look in his eyes that said, “Go get ’em, Sweet Cakes.”
The plate umpire hollered “batter up” and Howie stepped into the batter’s box. Aiden drew a cheer from the Mayfield crowd with a fast ball for a called strike one and the IF game was under way. Howie then blistered Aiden’s second pitch to right center for a solid single.
Everyone wondered how Aiden would react to the quick setback. Would this be the Aiden who was the unflappable number two starter during the season or the Aiden who had melted down in his tournament start against Torrance?
For his part, Aiden knew Howie had hit a mistake pitch and vowed to bear down and throw better pitches to Edwin. Throwing his usual mix of fastballs and changeups (with an occasional curve in the mix) he struck out Edwin on a 2-2 change that Mike Lewis called strike three. Edwin thought the pitch was outside and gave Mike a quick glare before returning to the dugout. Mike made a mental note of Edwin’s number to aid his memory should the batter decide to make a more emphatic protest in a subsequent at bat.
With one out, Aiden now had to face LeBron, the Bulldogs’ best hitter. To make it worse, he would have to face him with a runner in scoring position as Howie stole second on the first pitch to LeBron. The second pitch was a sinking fast ball at the knees on the inside corner that LeBron somehow turned into a double off the left field fence to score Howie with the first run of the game. Aiden then walked Maurice on a very close 3-2 pitch. The Bulldogs had visions of a No Mercy victory. Coach Hallion was considering who to send to the bullpen to warm up.
Eric asked for time and trotted out with Mac to chat with Aiden. Normally, he would have let Mac handle a first inning threat, but Coach Hallion was worried about Aiden’s frame of mind and asked Eric to make a mound visit.
“Settle down,” Eric said calmly. “Let’s control the damage.” Eric looked directly at Aiden and was pleased to see the fire was in his eyes, which hadn’t been the case in Friday’s slaughter.
“No worries, coach. I made a mistake to Howie, that walk came on some close pitches—I thought I was right there on two of them—and LeBron is a great hitter and hit a good pitch. I’ll hold them,” he said confidently.
“His pitches have good movement, which wasn’t the case the last time he pitched,” Mac noted.
“I saw that, too,” Eric said. “Keep up the good work.”
When play resumed, Carl came to the plate ready to keep the line moving and knock in a run or two to start the inevitable slaughter. As he settled into the batter’s box, he sneered at Aiden and mouthed, “I own you.” But Aiden ignored him and backed up his promise with a vicious 0-2 sinker that Carl grounded to Mason, who fielded it and tossed it to Gordy at second to start a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. The damage had been limited to one run.
As they entered the dugout Aiden high fived Mason. “It’s always good to know you have a great second baseman backing you up,” Aiden, the Goats’ regular second baseman, grinned. Mason felt a glow of warmth for the recognition he received from his best friend.
As Alan took his warmups for the Bulldogs, he tried to shake off the bad feelings he had about his experience as one of the Torrance pickup pitchers. The feelings had been chasing him since his first workout with the team and he couldn’t shake them off. Outside of a couple of players, he didn’t like his teammates, who he thought were too full of themselves, or the coaches, especially Coach Parker, who he thought had treated him unfairly. But despite all the negatives, here he was the starting pitcher of the championship game. That, by itself, was a big help in fighting off his negative feelings.
Alan might not have liked the situation he was in, but in the end he was a competitor who loved pitching and he was determined to give his best effort to the Bulldogs because that was what a competitor was supposed to do.
The Goats went down in order. Gordy fouled out to left, Scott grounded out to short, and Trent struck out. The half inning went so quickly, Aiden had no time to review his work in the top of the first except to be grateful he pitched the way he was capable of pitching and was able to limit the damage to one run.
Aiden pitched a perfect second inning. In his Friday game against Torrance, he was so off kilter mentally he didn’t perform his main job, which was to focus on throwing his pitches. His pitches, especially his fastball, had no movement, and he was throwing everything up in the strike zone. The first inning had been an improvement and in the second inning he was throwing what he and Mac considered to be his pitches—pitches with movement that were usually low in the strike zone.
Rhett, who was the Bulldog DH, grounded to Gordy at short for the first out. Mike, the left fielder, grounded to Mason at second for the second out. That was followed by Royce, the catcher, grounding to Trent at third for the third out.
“You had them pounding the ball into the ground,” Mac complimented Aiden as they headed to the dugout. “Good work.”
“Plus, I spread the wealth. The whole infield was in on the fun,” Aiden said. The fact that Aiden said something that wasn’t dead serious wasn’t lost on Mac. Grunts and growls were pretty much all he had to say on Friday; Aiden was in a much different space in this game.
The Goat bats woke up in the bottom of the second. Muddy started the inning by flying out to deep center. Coach Parker had Howie, the center fielder, playing deep making the catch of the hard-hit ball relatively easy. Nolan then doubled into the left/center gap for the Goats’ first hit. Aiden hit the ball to his off field, grounding out to first. It was what many considered to be a “productive” out, however, since it moved Nolan to third.
Riley then drew a four-pitch walk, which frustrated Alan. He could live with the double—good hitters hit the ball, even on good pitches, which is what Nolan had done. But in his mind, there was no excuse for walking a little pissant like Riley on four pitches. That brought up Mac. Alan was determined to start the at bat with a strike and ended up grooving the pitch which Mac lined to dead center for an RBI single. Mac’s single had Arnie leaping out of his seat whooping and hollering, happy to see his son contribute a big hit and tie the game at 1-1. Grant ended the inning by striking out swinging.
Aiden threw another scoreless inning in the top of the third. Clay hit a lazy fly to Grant in left. Howie followed that with a single for his second hit of the game. With Edwin at the plate, Howie took off for second on the third pitch. Aiden’s fastball on the outside corner was a perfect pitch for Mac to catch and throw on. His throw was right on the money to Gordy, who was covering second, and Howie was nailed for the second out. Edwin then bounced a grounder to Aiden’s right. Aiden’s first reaction was to try to field it, then he remembered who his shortstop was. Aiden let the grounder go, allowing Gordy to race up to the ball, snatch it up on a tough in-between hop, and nail Edwin by a step at first for the third out.
“Those Goats have one tough infield,” Dallas told Russell, one of the Huntington players who had come to the game with him.
“Good job by Aiden of letting the ball go. I don’t think he would have had a play if he’d fielded it himself,” Russell, who was a pitcher, observed.
Dallas nodded in agreement since Russell was technically right. But Dallas knew that Aiden was an outstanding fielder and couldn’t help but wonder if he might have been good enough to get the out. The fact that Aiden did the right thing said it all, however.
Gordy snapped out of an 0-for-9 slump with a solid single to lead off the inning. He clapped with pleasure after reaching first. “Nothing to be happy about,” Carl, the first baseman, said. “You know you guys are doomed and your single isn’t gonna mean bleep.” Gordy ignored him. The Goats knew that the only way to battle the mouths of the Bulldogs was to keep their own mouths shut and score more runs than them.
Like the Bulldogs in the top of the inning, the Goats put the game in motion. Unlike the Bulldogs they were successful. Gordy just beat the tag at second for a stolen base. Scott then surprised Torrance by dropping down a bunt up the third base line, which Alan fielded. Seeing he didn’t have a play at third, Alan threw Scott out at first. Scott’s sacrifice bunt moved Gordy to third.
On Alan’s first pitch to him, Trent fouled the ball up into the third base stands behind the Goats’ dugout.
“Heads up!!” Larry shouted.
Bryce Rushton held up his gloved hand and snared the ball cleanly to cheers from the Mayfield fans. He looked around and spotted a eight year old red-headed boy wearing a Mayfield cap, who was sitting in the row behind him. He handed the ball to the youngster even though he knew he was expected to throw it back to somebody in the field.
“Here ya go, buddy.”
The glow in the boy’s green eyes was unforgettable. “Oh, thank you!!” he said appreciatively. The boy had told him that he lived in Oceanside and that his father was a Mayfield High School graduate who had played baseball there.
“You’re welcome!” Bryce said. Bryce learned later that he had played for Coach Larry Sanders and that his old coach had mailed the Mayfield cap for his son to wear.
Trent singled Gordy home to give the Goats a 2-1 lead. Muddy then struck out, Nolan walked, and Aiden grounded sharply to short. LeBron fielded the ball and went the short way to Clay at second to force Nolan and end the inning.
LeBron led off the fourth inning. Once again Aiden was reminded what a great hitter he was. Aiden threw him a sinker on a 2-1 pitch. It was a good pitch but didn’t quite sink enough. LeBron was able to get enough of it to send it over the left field fence to tie the game. Aiden thought that while his pitch had been a good one, it hadn’t been a great one, and LeBron, who was a big, strong kid, was able to get all of it.
Friday’s Aiden might have folded right then, but today’s Aiden was able to battle back to strike out Maurice on a changeup. Carl came to the plate with a smirk. “I totally own you,” he mouthed as if his first at bat hadn’t happened. He then drilled a single on a poor pitch by Aiden. That mistake pitch irked him way more than LeBron’s home run had. Aiden ignored Carl’s fakes to second, figuring correctly that the first baseman wasn’t a base stealer. Instead, he concentrated on Rhett, who hit a 1-2 pitch at the knees for a hot shot to Trent, who fired the ball to Mason at second. Mason, who often joined Gordy and Aiden in the practices in Aiden’s back yard, turned a perfect pivot to get Rhett by two steps at first to complete the tailor made around the horn double play. It was the Goats’ second double play of the game.
“That kid’s probably played five innings at second all year and the little shit turns a perfect double play pivot,” Coach Parker moaned to Coach Rohrs. “I can’t stand it.”
“We know it’s all about pixie dust,” Coach Rohrs said.
“Whatever. I’m just trying to figure out what I’ve done to earn the punishment of watching what they’re doing to us.”
Parker’s mood improved considerably in the bottom of the fourth. He had told Alan that this would be his last inning and Alan decided to go out with his fastball blazing. The result was his striking out the side. Riley took a called third strike. Mac and Grant both went down swinging. Alan’s four inning performance earned him some respect from his teammates, but it was after the fourth inning that he felt like a part of the team for the first time.
The Bulldogs went into the top of the fifth stoked by Alan’s performance and ready to run up a string of runs. Even though the bottom of the lineup would be coming up, they were ready to break the 2-2 tie and put together a string of runs.
As the inning started, Paul noted that nobody was warming up for the Goats. “What does Aiden’s pitch count look like?” he asked Larry.
“My count says he has 18 pitches left. If he pitches like he has been, he should be able to complete the inning. It looks to me like James has Riley in line to pitch next seeing as Calvin just ran out to center field. Oh, and I just noticed that Emmett has replaced Scott in right, which means Scott could be the next in line and not Riley. Calvin is out of the mix since he’s maxed out his pitches. I guess more shall be revealed.”
The attention went back to the field where Aiden was ready to face Mike, the left fielder, who had grounded out to second his first time up. Aiden enticed him to hit another grounder. This bounced to Nolan’s right. Nolan deftly fielded it and flicked the ball to Aiden, who had hustled over to cover first, for a nice 3-1 putout.
Royce, the catcher, hit the ball hard to right field. Emmett ran back on it. He ran a poor route and almost lost track of the ball, but he picked it up in time to run to his left and reach for the ball. He caught it after turning a relatively easy play into a difficult one. That didn’t stop his teammates and the Mayfield fans from cheering his catch.
Aiden then struck out Erik, who was pinch hitting for Clay to end the inning and his stint on the mound. He had more than made up for his performance on Friday by pitching five solid innings when James and Eric were hoping to get four innings from him. He gave up five hits and two runs while walking one and striking out three.
Marshall was the new pitcher for the Bulldogs and Clay re-entered the game and continued at second base. The Mayfield fans noted that Riley was now in the bullpen warming up with Lenny.
Marshall hadn’t pitched much in the tournament. He had been a workhorse during the regular season, a role which put a lot of wear and tear on his arm. Marshall had complained that his arm felt tired. Because of the one-sided wins the Bulldogs enjoyed, Coach Parker kept his use of the pitcher minimal. But now the team was in a close game fighting for the championship. When asked, Marshall said that his arm felt fine and he was ready to pitch. The bottom of the fifth started out with a cluster fuck of a play that wasn’t Marshall’s fault but made him wish he had begged off pitching.
Gordy led off the inning. Marshall looked sharp as he quickly went ahead 0-2. He threw a shoulder high waste pitch that Gordy let go by. It was the next pitch that had Coach Parker ready to tear his hair out and brought the frustrations of the Bulldog fans almost to the breaking point.
Marshall’s 1-2 pitch was a curve ball that broke down into the dirt. It was a pitch that Gordy would normally lay off of, but Marshall executed the pitch so well that it fooled Gordy and he swung and missed as it hit the dirt. Unfortunately, it also fooled Royce, the catcher, and skipped by him to the backstop. Hearing his teammates yell for him to run, Gordy saw Royce chasing after the ball and took off for first.
Royce grabbed the ball and felt he had a good chance of throwing Gordy out at first. He took a couple steps to his left to get a good angle for his throw and fired the ball to first. However, he overthrew the ball, and it sailed over Carl’s head into short right field. Gordy took off for second as Carl ran down the ball. Carl decided to end the play right then by throwing Gordy out at second. The first baseman didn’t take into account Gordy’s speed, however, and ended up overthrowing LeBron, who was covering second. Since the play happened in front of him, Gordy hit the base and kept on running to third. Howie, the center fielder, backed up the play but saw he didn’t have a throw to third and threw the ball to Clay, who was set up near second base. Clay asked for time, which Mike Lewis granted. But the Bulldog mess still had one more trick left.
The play was scored a strike out, a wild pitch, an error on the catcher, and an error on the first baseman. The result was Gordy standing on third with nobody out and Calvin coming to the plate. Marshall’s first pitch to Calvin was over the plate at eye level. Royce rose up from his crouch and raised his mitt to catch the ball.
That led to the finale of the mess; Royce didn’t catch the ball. The ball glanced off his mitt and flew to the backstop. Gordy broke for home as Royce chased it down. Marshall came down to cover home plate, which was the pitcher’s job when the ball got past the catcher with a runner on third. Royce picked up the ball and threw it to Marshall at home. Marshall had to reach for the throw as Gordy slid safely across the plate. Gordy had gone all the way around the bases and scored a run without a bat ever touching a ball. The Bulldogs had just handed the Goats a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth. The play was scored as a passed ball on Royce.
“I totally don’t believe what I just saw,” Parker ranted to Coach Rohrs. “I know I’ve been saying that, but what just happened is just totally beyond belief. I’ve never seen even the worst team let a guy come to the plate and make it all the way around the bases without anybody hitting the ball—and that bunch just did it. It’s pixie dust, I tell you…fucking pixie dust.”
“No offense coach, but those guys didn’t do anything. We did it for them. That was all on us and that had nothing to do with pixie dust.”
After the real dust settled, the scoreboard indicated that the count on Cal was 1-0. Cal swung at the second pitch to him and followed up the “pixie dust” play with a single up the middle. He stole second on the first pitch to Trent who then hit the next pitch into the gap in left center for a run-scoring double. The Goats now had a 4-2 lead and there was still nobody out.
Coach Parker asked for time out and headed to the mound to settle down not only his pitcher and catcher, but his entire infield. “Hey, look at it this way,” Parker told his players. “What happened at the start of the inning has never happened to the Torrance Bulldogs in their history and it will never happen again. So, let’s get our minds off it, get out of the inning, and spend the next two innings being the Torrance Bulldogs who are the big favorites to win this game and this tournament.”
Next up was Muddy and he ripped a 2-1 pitch from Marshall right up the third base line, but Edwin made a diving catch for the first out. Nolan then hit a sharp grounder to the left of second that looked like it was going to head into the outfield for a hit. But long-legged LeBron snagged the ball and threw it to first to nip Nolan by half a step on a spectacular play. The Bulldogs, who’d had few opportunities to do so, roared their approval.
“I hate to say it, but it looks like the Bulldogs have recovered from their big lapse and have broken out the leather,” Phil observed.
“They’re a good team that just finished embarrassing itself and are recovering the way good teams recover from adversity,” Larry said. “They’re not going to roll over and die because the situation got out of hand. In the end, as bad as it looked, it only cost them a run.”
Aiden ended the inning by grounding out to Edwin as the third baseman made another good play. Trent was stranded at second and the fifth inning ended with the Goats holding a 4-2 lead.
James made numerous changes at the top of the sixth. He re-entered Riley for Emmett. Riley replaced Aiden on the mound. Lenny replaced Mac at catcher, Mason moved from second base to right field, taking Emmett’s place on the field, and Aiden moved to second base in place of Mason. Miles substituted for Grant and went to center field bumping Cal to left.
During Riley’s warmup, Lenny could tell that Riley wasn’t sharp. Riley admitted that his arm felt tired as they left the bullpen for the dugout. He had pitched more in the tournament than he had since the Titan JV season ended in the spring. Lenny told Riley he was going to tell Eric about him being tired. Riley nodded in reply as he took a seat on the bench.
Lenny told Eric what he had observed and what Riley had told him. “Thanks for telling me, Lenny. You did what a good catcher does.”
Eric shared the issue with James. James called Mac and Lance and told them that Lance might be warming up before the inning was over. With Riley not being sharp during his warmup, the Goat coaches and Lenny weren’t surprised when he walked Howie on four pitches.
Riley threw strikes to Edwin, but his pitches had no zip. Edwin lined a 2-2 pitch to right center that Miles ran down for out number one. He got the ball into the infield quickly preventing Howie from advancing.
That brought LeBron to the plate. Coach Parker decided that with the Goat pitcher obviously struggling, he would send Howie to second. He took off on the first pitch and made it easily to second for a stolen base. He stole first on the pitcher because of his inattention instead of on the catcher for a poor catch or a poor throw. Coach Hallion told Eric to have Lance warm up. Riley’s strength as a pitcher was the extra zip and movement he usually got on his pitches, and he was showing no zip at all.
LeBron was ready for the fat pitch Riley threw and ripped it to left-center for an RBI double. He had knocked in all three of the Bulldogs’ runs with two doubles and a home run.
“That wasn’t much of a pitch,” Phil observed, “but damn that LeBron kid can play. He’s as good as anybody in the tournament.”
“The people I’ve talked to told me that college scouts are already giving him a look and he just turned 14,” Larry said. “I wouldn’t be surprised that some pro scouts may have him in their sights soon.”
Riley then walked Maurice which brought James out to the mound. He signaled for Lance to replace Riley.
“Sorry, coach. I just couldn’t get anything going,” Riley said as he waited for Lance to arrive on the mound.
“It’s okay, Riley. We worked you pretty hard and you gave it your best. Lance is good at keeping inherited runners from scoring. We’ll get out of this,” Coach Hallion said. What he didn’t say is that they had worked Lance pretty hard as well. Lance replaced Mason in the lineup. Riley was sent to center field and Miles moved over to right field.
“Lance has to be as worn out as Riley,” Phil said to Larry. “I’m surprised he isn’t using Scott, who is one of the top three pitchers on the team.”
“Think extra innings,” Larry responded.
“If you don’t have Scott, who do you put in if we go extras?”
“Point made, but still, somebody has to get them through the seventh. And I guess that would be Max. And if Max doesn’t come through you have Scott and the hope there are no more than two extra innings since I think that’s about all Scott can handle with the number of pitches he has remaining.” Dallas knew Larry was a student of the game and he and his two players listened intently as the two men discussed the alternatives.
With two runners on base and one out, Carl was eager to knock them both in and put the Dogs into the lead. Instead, in his eagerness, he rolled his wrists reaching for an outside fast ball and he slapped a grounder to Gordy who flipped the ball to Aiden. Aiden made another ballet move at second with a beautiful turn and threw Carl out by four steps to complete the double play. It was the third double play turned by the Goats and the second time Carl had hit into one, something that made all the Goats feel good since Carl was their least favorite player on the Dogs. The game moved to the bottom of the sixth with the Goats holding a 4-3 lead.
“Gordy, Aiden, and Nolan are a double play machine,” Bryce commented admiringly. “Man, they’re good.”
“They practice that play over and over in our back yard,” Larry replied. “It’s a pitcher’s best friend.”
“I’m a pitcher and knowing they’re behind me would make me feel pretty good,” Russell added.
“And it’s not like the Bulldogs have hit one lazy pop fly after another,” Dallas said. “They’ve kept the defense on its toes in both infield and outfield.”
Mike, who had been playing left field for the Bulldogs, came in to pitch the sixth. Rhett, the DH, took Mike’s place in left field, which meant Torrance no longer had a designated hitter. The Goat fans noted that Max was warming up in the bullpen.
Riley was the Goats’ first batter. While his arm was tired, his bat was not and he led off with a single up the middle. Lenny then dropped a beautiful bunt just out of the pitcher’s reach and moved Riley to second with the sacrifice. The Goats now had a runner at second with one out.
But the Goats couldn’t take advantage. Miles struck out and Gordy fouled out to third to end the inning.
Max came into the game to preserve the lead and get the save. Aiden was the pitcher of record and would get credit for the win if the Goats hung on to win the game.
But Max wasn’t going to get his save and as a result Aiden wouldn’t get a win. Rhett was the first batter for the Bulldogs and showed that LeBron wasn’t the only one who could muscle the ball out of the park. Max fell behind 2-0 and Rhett got hold of a belt high fastball down the middle, sending it over the fence in left center field. Cal and Riley started for the fence, but it was quickly apparent that the ball would clear the fence with a lot of room to spare. The score was now tied in the top of the seventh.
“That’s what we’ve been waiting for. That’s a Bulldog clutch hit,” Parker shouted from the third base coach’s box. “Now let’s add on and take the lead and end this thing.”
Max recovered from his disappointment and retired the next three batters. Mike struck out, Royce hit a routine fly ball to right that Miles pulled down, and Clay grounded out to Aiden.
Parker entered Tino Suarez into the game for Mike. Tino, who was one of the mainstays of the Bulldog pitching staff, hadn’t pitched a great deal in the tournament. He was well rested, and his pitch count wouldn’t be a factor as long as the extra innings didn’t pile up.
Scott’s situation was much the same as Tino’s. Calvin and Nolan, the Goat’s pickup pitchers, each had started two games. Trent and Aiden also started two games apiece and Scott started one game. As a result, he was well rested as a pitcher and, as with Tino, his pitch count wouldn’t be a factor unless the extra innings started piling up.
Scott had felt put out because he wasn’t being used much as a pitcher. The thought occurred to him as he warmed up during the seventh inning for a potential eighth inning pitching appearance that he was right where he was meant to be—pitching extra innings in what was the championship game of the SoCal BaseBrawl.
The Goats went out routinely in the bottom of the seventh. Scott and Trent each flied out to left. Muddy belted a solid single to left. With his bench emptied, James had no one to pinch run for him even though the slow-footed DH was the winning run. It made no difference because Nolan struck out on a 3-2 pitch.
As soon as Nolan made the last out of the seventh, Scott and Mac left the bullpen area and made their way to the field. Scott took the mound and threw his first warmup toss to Mac as the Goats threw a ball around the infield. Coach Hallion announced his lineup changes to Mike Lewis. After his eighth warmup toss, Scott surveyed the field. Nolan, Aiden, Gordy, and Trent made up the infield from first to third. Scott was certain he couldn’t ask for a better set of players to play behind him. He also saw Clay at second base. Clay was the ”ghost” runner. In extra innings, each team started their offensive half inning with a runner on second base. That runner was the player who made the last out in the previous inning. In this case that player was Clay, who had grounded out to second.
Coach Parker disliked using the sacrifice bunt. He had always been confident that his teams had the hitting prowess to not need to bunt a runner over a base. But this game against the Goats and their pixie dust made him nervous. As a result, he decided to have Howie, who was leading off the inning, bunt Clay to third even though he was already in scoring position. There were more ways to bring in a run from third than from second. Parker was afraid even single runs would be hard to come by and was going to try to get what he could get when he could get it. In other words, he was going to try some of his own pixie dust.
While Howie was adept with the bat, as his .326 average for the season indicated, he hadn’t bunted much during the season. Parker didn’t like wasting batting practice time on bunting since he had no plans to bunt runners over. The Yard Goats, like most teams, did spend time bunting. Coach Hallion required each player to lay down six bunts at the end of his batting practice turn. Parker decided that since Howie was a skilled batter and had probably practiced bunting in school ball or the previous summer, he would be able to lay down a bunt to move Clay over to third.
But Howie fouled off two pitches trying to bunt and would now have to hit away. Bunting foul on a two-strike pitch was an automatic out. Parker called on Howie to hit the ball to right, where a ground out would still move Clay to third. But Howie didn’t get the pitch he wanted and ended up grounding out to Trent at third. Because the ball was hit in front of him, Clay couldn’t move up. ‘Well, at least we didn’t make a baserunning mistake in this situation,’ Parker thought as Howie went to the dugout and Edwin came to the plate.
Mike Lewis noted Edwin’s number. Since Edwin had been fine in his two at-bats since his striking out, Mike wasn’t too concerned about him. Still, he wanted to stay aware of players who gave him any concern. The first pitch was a ball. The second pitch was a belt high strike on the outside corner, almost in the same spot as the called strike three had been. Edwin gave Mike a quick glance then dug in for the next pitch, which was on the outside corner at the knees for a called strike two.
Edwin gave Mike a longer look. Mike clapped his hands and said sternly, “Let’s go, batter.”
The next pitch was farther outside, and Mac had to reach for it. Mike called “Ball”, but Edwin either didn’t hear him or didn’t want to hear him. He turned and said loudly, “I suppose you’re gonna call that a strike, too.”
“BATTER, YOU’RE GONE!” Mike turned to face Coach Parker, who was in the third base coach’s box, and said, “Coach, fifteen is out of the game.”
Parker ran down to home plate and faced up to Mike. “What did he say, Mike?” he barked. Mike told him.
“Well, the catcher did have to reach for it,” Parker pointed out.
“Yeah, so? That happens when the pitch is a ball,” Mike responded.
“Indeed, it was and I called it a ball. And that said, get a pinch hitter up so we can get the game restarted.”
Parker shook his head and faced the first base dugout. He knew Mike Lewis was a good umpire and a fair umpire. He also knew that too much arguing about ball and strike calls would shorten Lewis’s fuse quickly, so he didn’t pursue the discussion. “Julio, grab a bat and finish the at bat,” he called out.
Julio grabbed his bat and Parker started back to the coach’s box. “I thought he struck out,” Julio said to his coach.
“The count is 2-2,” Parker responded. “We need a hit.”
In the dugout, Edwin turned to Carl, his best buddy. “Why is Julio hitting for LeBron?” he asked.
“He’s not. He’s hitting for you because you got ejected for whatever it was you said.”
“But that was strike three!”
“The ump called it a ball. And let me tell you, it’s a good thing you’re one of my best buds or I’d have to tell you what a dumb shit you are.”
“You mean that kid actually got ejected for arguing a ball call?” Paul asked Larry.
“Yes, he did, believe it or not.”
“I have to believe it, but that team is getting weirder and weirder. I’m just glad Nolan doesn’t play on a team like that. I don’t think either he or I could have handled it.”
“I got a chuckle out of the way Parker didn’t push it,” Phil laughed. “He knew damn well he’d get the heave-ho from Lewis if he kept talking.”
Down on the field, Julio, who had to come up to bat cold, swung and missed a high fastball out of the strike zone. Mac had decided to have Scott tempt the unprepared batter with the high pitch and it worked perfectly.
LeBron was the next hitter. He took care of business on the first pitch as he hit his third double of the game to drive in Clay from second. Maurice then lofted a long fly ball to center that had ‘routine’ written all over it and Riley ran it down for the third out.
The Bulldogs now led 5-4 as the game went into the bottom of the eighth. Coach Parker kept Julio in the game. Julio would be playing second base and Clay was moved to third base, which was where Edwin had been playing. Suarez remained on the mound. And for the Goats, this time it was do or die time.
Since Nolan had struck out to end the seventh inning, he was the “ghost” runner in the eighth. Aiden quickly turned his boyfriend into a run scorer when he doubled to left, sending Nolan home standing up to tie the game 5-5. Aiden would have loved trying to stretch his double into a triple, but the Dogs did a good job of getting the ball back into the infield. The double put him into scoring position, and he would have been an easy out if he’d kept going. The Goats had the winning run on second with nobody out. Stopping at second was what was best for the team.
Suarez buckled down and enticed Riley into popping up behind first base. Carl and Julio both went for it, but Julio had the better angle and called Carl off, catching the ball a couple of steps into foul territory. Mac hit a routine fly to left for the second out. Miles then rapped a ball that looked like it would go through the infield for what would be the game winning single. But LeBron surprised nobody by moving left and scooping up the ball just before it passed him. He fired the ball on the run to Carl at first to get Miles by a step to end the inning. But the game would be moving to the ninth as once again it was tied.
Scott went to the mound for his second inning. He got two quick strikes on Carl, but he couldn’t close the deal on the much despised first baseman and Carl hit a weak grounder on the 0-2 pitch. While the ball hadn’t been hit hard, it was hit out of the reach of the pitcher and the charging third baseman and Carl ended up on first with an infield single. Maurice, who was the “ghost” runner, advanced to third on the play.
Rhett, who had hit the game tying home run in the seventh inning, did himself one better in this at bat. While he didn’t homer, he did hit a solid double off the right field fence to knock in Maurice and Carl. The Bulldogs now had what looked like an insurmountable 7-5 lead that had them celebrating hard in their dugout. They still had no outs and had Rhett in scoring position.
Eric came out of the dugout for a mound conference. “How’s his stuff?” Eric asked Mac.
Mac wasn’t expecting the first question. His experience with Eric told him he would talk to Scott first because he almost always started his mound conference talking to the pitcher. “His stuff is good. That bleeder by Carl was a killer, though.”
Eric looked at Scott. “It was kind of evil. But the double was solid, so shake them both off and let’s let that runner die on second. You’re the man Scott—so take it the rest of the way. You’re good and I know you can do it.”
“No doubt about that,” Mac said. Mike Lewis broke up the conference. Eric headed back to the dugout and Mac returned home and squatted behind the plate.
Scott got a big first out by striking out Mike Kenyon on a 1-2 curve. But he wasn’t close to out of trouble yet as he walked Royce, the catcher, on a 3-1 pitch. That brought up Clay, who was the number nine hitter in the lineup. Scott knew that getting this out was huge and he had to shake off walking Royce. Scott threw two fastballs that he wanted to cross the plate low in the strike zone. He was too low both times and was behind 2-0. His next pitch was exactly what he wanted to throw—a fastball at the knees. Considering the count, it was a pitch that Clay should have let go. Instead, he took an aggressive swing and hit a hard ground ball directly to Aiden who scooped it up and flicked it to Gordy at second. Gordy threw to Nolan at first to complete a “room service” 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. It was the fourth double play turned by the Goats.
Mac squeezed Scott’s shoulder as they walked off the field. “Great pitch. Great job. Now we’ll get those runs back.”
“Even better, we’ll get those runs back and add another one to end this game so we can party,” Scott grinned. Mac was glad to see Scott return to his loose self. He wasn’t used to seeing Scott getting rattled on the mound. “We need two runs back plus one,” Scott announced as he entered the dugout.
Cal had been talking things up in the dugout. He grinned as Scott had his say. “Okay guys, you all know that Goats never give up—they just lower their heads and butt through everything.”
“Then let’s butt our way through these turkeys,” Aiden said. “This is the last team we want to see win the game, let alone the championship, so we gotta get two plus one. Get us started, Gordy.”
Gordy came to the plate and nodded to Miles, who was the “ghost” runner at second, as if to say he was going to knock him in. He didn’t knock Miles in, but he did get on base when he hustled to first on a routine grounder to second that Julio fielded cleanly but juggled the ball removing it from his glove. He regained control and fired the ball to first, but it was too late. Gordy beat it by less than a step. Gordy had shown everybody why a player should always hustle to first no matter how routine the play looked. His hustle meant that Scott was coming to the plate as the winning run. Miles advanced to third on the play, which he would have done even if Gordy had been thrown out.
Scott hit the second pitch from Suarez high and deep to Howie in left center. The crowd came to its feet with a roar.
“That one’s up in the sun!” Eric shouted. “Could be a tough catch!” Several of the Goats jumped to the dugout rail to watch the play.
The wind grabbed the ball and sent it deeper than Howie figured. For a moment, he lost the ball in the sun but by holding his left hand above his face to shield his eyes, he managed to get the ball back in sight and made the catch. He saw Miles tag up and head for home - his eyes were still smarting from staring into the blazing sun. He fired the ball into the infield but instead of playing good fundamental baseball and trying to hit Clay, the cutoff man, Howie tried to throw Miles out on his own. There was no way he was going to get Miles, but the missed cutoff man meant Gordy was able to motor to second, which put the tying run in scoring position. Once again poor fundamentals had cost the Bulldogs. Advantage: Goats.
“How did this team win so many games playing such poor fundamental baseball?” Paul asked Larry.
“Superior talent,” Larry said matter-of-factly. “And they are the more talented group of players on the field in this game, but we have a better TEAM. Now we’ll see which comes to the play here in crunch time.”
The Goats now trailed 7-6 and had the tying run in scoring position with one out. Trent was the batter. Cal’s words went through his head. “The Goats never give up,” he had said. ‘And this was the time where the Goats show what they are made of’ Trent thought.
And while he didn’t think it, it was also the time where Trent would show what he was made of. Suarez took a deep breath and started Trent with an inside pitch that moved him back. Ball one. Trent glanced up into the stands and saw Rita Emerson cheering and waving her Yard Goats flag - he smiled and felt his confidence level surge.
Suarez’s second offering was a fastball that was just a whisker high. Trent started after it but checked his swing. Royce, the catcher, asked the plate umpire to appeal. Mike Lewis pointed to the first base umpire who immediately signaled “no swing”. Ball two.
“Good eye, Trent!” Hallion hollered.
The Mayfield fans started the chant: “Hal-yun! Hal-yun! Hal-yun!” The sound of the fans and of his coach’s compliment seemed to feed additional confidence into Trent.
Suarez’s 2-0 pitch was a strike that was in the perfect spot for Trent to show what he was made of. The muscular fourteen-year-old saw the pitch clearly, got all of it, and everyone, including Tino Suarez, knew from the moment the ball left the bat that the game was over. The ball sailing over the left field fence confirmed it. Bedlam broke out as Trent circled the bases.
The Goats patiently waited in the dugout. They had been warned many times to not celebrate a home run on the field until the home run hitter touched home plate. Nobody wanted a rule technicality to screw things up. The players were ready to charge the field as soon as Trent, who was racing around the bases, touched home plate. He was running fast because he knew his impatient teammates were totally poised to run onto the field to celebrate.
Fans and players alike cheered loudly when Gordy scored the tying run. As Trent rounded third the Goats edged onto the field and when he finally touched home, they raced onto the field and tackled the hero of the game. There was a big dog pile as the players rolled around and on each other and the fans cheered the celebrating Goats.
Not all the fans were happy of course. Most of the Bulldog fans were naturally very disappointed but still sportsmanlike. However, one loudmouthed fan spoke for many of them when he screamed at the umpires as they dashed off the field. “You idiots know you won the game for them. You know you took the championship away from the best team in the tournament and the one who deserved to win. I hope you guys can sleep at night.”
“The umpires didn’t create the fifth inning chaos that led to a pretty big run scoring,” Larry pointed out to Phil, Paul, and Arnie. They nodded in agreement and like all of the Mayfield fans and almost all of the other fans, they knew that on that day the better team won the tournament.
Mike Lewis and his partners couldn’t help but laugh at the lunatic in the stands, but they also knew that some of those lunatics could get involved in violent lunacy. As a result, they continued their dash with the assistance of security guards until they reached the admin building.
Back on the field, the Yard Goats finally got back on their feet. They gathered together as Calvin put his trumpet to his lips and blew the “Charge” fanfare with the Goats yelling, “We are the Goats…Gooooooooo Goats,” in near perfect unison. Cal blew a two-note coda and the players came down a little from their high long enough to see if there were any hands to shake.
They didn’t expect to see any and were surprised to see four Bulldog players standing patiently in front of the first base dugout: LeBron, Julio, Erik, and Marshall. LeBron, who was the leader of the group, stepped forward and said, “Sorry my teammates are gone, but they headed over to Field 2.” Chairs had been set up on the Field 2 infield for the two teams to sit in. A podium, a large table, and a PA system had been set up between the two sets of seats. More chairs were also set up in the middle for tournament dignitaries.
“I suppose we’d all better head over there,” Nolan said.
“I think there’s still time,” Aiden said. “They have to wait until everybody in the stands moves over to Field 2 for the ceremony.”
“It is kind of weird that they didn’t just set everything up here,” Julio commented.
“That way they were able to set everything up before the game ended,” Trent pointed out. “They probably thought it was easier and quicker to set up Field 2—I bet it was ready long before the seventh inning ended.”
On that note the four Bulldog players started trading high fives, fist bumps, and handshakes with the Goat players, who were pleased that the Bulldogs had some players with class. “You’re a wicked good player,” Aiden told LeBron as they shook hands. “I know you were on the other team, but playing you was, like, pretty special.” LeBron had gone 4-1-4-4 in the game with three doubles and a home run.
“Thanks,” LeBron said. “With all those triples you’ve been hitting, I was almost rooting for you to stretch your double into a triple. Almost.”
“I didn’t even try, as you know. If I’d kept going for third I would have been out by ten feet.”
Nolan surprised LeBron by giving him a big hug. Feeling Nolan’s big body press against him and his strong arms wrapped around him sent a strong tingle shooting through his body. LeBron was a very straight boy, but to him a special feeling was a special feeling no matter who created it. Nolan, on the other hand, also felt a strong tingle, only it was between his legs.
“Good luck in your baseball future,” Nolan said. “I hear scouts are already chasing you.”
“Yeah. It’s both a special honor and a pain in the ass to be looked at like they look at me, but I plan on working hard to get better so one of the big schools will recruit me,” LeBron responded.
“I think you’ll do great,” Aiden said.
Aiden, Nolan, Trent, LeBron, and Julio looked around and noticed the last of the Goats and LeBron’s two teammates leaving Field 1. They quickly joined them.
It didn’t take long for the two teams and the parents and fans to get seated. All of the seats on the field were taken and the bleachers were filled quickly.
Robert Perez, the tournament chairman, approached the microphone and welcomed the teams that had stayed to watch the finals as well as the fans and parents. “Congratulations to the Torrance Bulldogs and Mayfield Yard Goats for providing us with an exciting championship game.” The crowd cheered, with a few scattered boos thrown in. “And a big congratulations to the Mayfield Yard Goats for being the first SoCal BaseBrawl champions.” This brought another round of cheers along with noisier and more annoying boos from Bulldog parents and fans. “And for the boobirds, a reminder that one of the big things the BaseBrawl stands for is sportsmanship.” That generated a couple of loud boos. All Robert could do was shake his head and continue.
Robert got back on track by giving the awards ceremony agenda. First would come the awarding of the place trophies. Next would be the naming of the tournament All-Star team. That would be followed by the naming of the two major individual awards: Mr. Hustle and Most Valuable Player. And finally, the awarding of the trophy that the committee considered to be the most important of them all—the team Sportsmanship Trophy. Jean Perkins, one of the committee members, was Robert’s assistant. She would take care of handing out the hardware while Robert did the handshakes.
The top four teams would receive trophies. The San Diego Force took fourth place. Coach Harley Wood and team captain Tim Whalen accepted the trophy for the team. The individual trophies would be given to the players from a table set up outside the main entrance to Field 2. Most of the team had come to watch the final games and pick up their trophies. Since they wanted to see all of the ceremony, they would pick up their trophies after the function ended.
Third place went to the Surrey Mounties. The crowd gave the well-liked Canadian team a loud round of applause. Coach Shelby Malone and captain Edmund Stone accepted the team trophy. The players left their seats to pick up their individual trophies.
The Torrance Bulldogs were second, of course. Coach Parker and Carl accepted the team trophy. As with the fourth and third place trophies, the players would pick up their individual trophies outside the ballfield. But, much to their chagrin, they would have to wait until after Mayfield received their trophies before they could pick up theirs.
“And now it is my pleasure to present the Championship trophy,” Robert Perez said. “It goes to a team many wrote off before they even played a game and many more wrote off after their second game loss. But after seven straight hard-fought wins they find themselves being the first SoCal BaseBrawl champion. Could Coach James Hallion and his team captains please come forward to claim the trophy.”
James, Trent, and Scott were quickly standing next to Robert. Robert shook all three hands and James stepped forward to accept the trophy from Jean. The crowd broke into loud cheering with the East Harbor boys standing and chanting, “Goats! Goats! Goats!”
Then half of them yelled out, “What is a Yard Goat?”
“A Yard Goat is a CHAMPION!” the other half answered.
“Coach, do you have any words to share?” Perez asked.
“I just want to say how proud I am of those boys. I couldn’t ask for a better group to work with. They were always together and always supporting each other. They were a team of friends, a fact that powered them to the championship,” James Hallion responded. He walked away from the podium amidst a chorus of cheers.
Trent quickly grabbed the mike and said, “Coach said it all. We were a TEAM! And for us that meant ‘Together Everyone Achieves More” and we followed that saying all season long. Go Goats!”
Trent turned away as the East Harbor contingent yelled out, “GO GOATS! GO GOATS! GO GOATS GO!”
Robert signaled for quiet and was pleased to get it almost instantly. The kids cheering for the Goats were obviously good kids. He called up each Mayfield player to collect his individual trophy with Jean Perkins handing each player his trophy. The Mayfield fans were pleased to see that Rusty received a trophy even though he couldn’t play because of his broken arm and hoped he would receive a t-shirt as well.
As was prearranged Trent and Scott, the team captains, were the last to be called. Each received a navy-blue championship t-shirt. “SoCal BaseBrawl Champions” in gold lettering resting on baseball bat stenciled on the front of the shirt. The two captains pulled the t-shirts on over their uniform shirts and modeled them for the people in the bleachers.
“The coaches have two boxes of t-shirts to distribute sometime after the ceremony,” Robert announced. “Thank you, boys, for your fine modeling job—the shirts look good on you.” Scott and Trent returned to their seats and removed their t-shirts, which were a tight fit over their uniform shirts. They then took their jerseys and undershirts off and pulled on their new championship t-shirts, grinning broadly as their heads popped out of their shirt.
“And now it is my pleasure to announce the tournament All-Star Team as voted on by the tournament committee. The team will have one player at each position except for pitcher. Because of the greater number of players starting at that position for each team, three pitchers will be named to the team. Also, the outfielders were chosen as outfielders in general rather than by specific positions.
“I would like each player and his coach to come forward when his name is called to accept his certificate. If the player has already left, then the coach can accept it for him. All of the All-Stars will have a plaque with their name and position etched on it. A sample is on the table for the players to check out. I will name the team in the order of positions from one through nine.”
“Any predictions?” Paul asked Larry.
“Like everybody else, I haven’t seen everyone play, although I’ve heard a lot about who the best players may be. This is why it takes a committee to make the choices—they have their combined experience working for them. I will say this much, however. I think three Goats have an excellent chance of being picked and one other has an outside chance.”
“And I’m willing to bet we’re thinking of the same three,” Paul commented.
“I’m in on that, including the outside chance since I know who Larry is thinking of,” Phil grinned.
“Ditto to the three,” Arnie added.
Robert started his countdown by naming Miguel from the Huntington Beach Wave as one of the pitchers, which brought a nice round of cheers since many of the Wave players were in attendance, Miguel being one of them. Ashley from the Surrey Mounties was the next pitcher named, but the Mounties had already left for home, so his certificate would be mailed to him along with his plaque. Not surprisingly, the third pitcher brought the loudest and longest cheers. “And our third All-Star pitcher was dominant in both of his two starts. From the Mayfield Yard Goats, number 22, Nolan Moyer.” Bedlam ensued as soon as his name was read.
Nolan left his seat and approached the table with Coach Hallion, where he received a handshake and his certificate. He then joined the other two pitchers who were standing together behind the chairs.
“Congratulations, Paul. I know you have to be proud of your son’s performance,” Larry said.
“I am proud of him in an infinite number of ways. I wish his mother could be here to share the moment with him.”
“I’ve got a video to share.” Phil had been using his camera to make a video of the ceremony.
“Our next All-Star is the catcher,” Robert announced. “I’m pleased to be able to present this trophy to a player from our Canadian visitors; Vic Perry of the Surrey British Columbia Mounties. Vic played outstanding defense and was a consistent offense player for the third-place Mounties. Since the Mounties have left to catch their flight home, Vic’s certificate and plaque will be mailed with Ashley’s.”
“Our first base selection hit a resounding .444 with two home runs and seven doubles, which tied for the tournament lead. He was also tied for the tournament in runs batted in with a resounding 16. His clutch hitting was put on display in the championship game where he had four runs batted in, including the game winning two-run homer. You all know by now I’m referring to number 20 on the Mayfield Yard Goats, Trent Hallion.” More cheers, especially from the East Harbor boys who were going nuts with joy. Trent joined the three pitchers.
Before the sound died away, Robert started on the next position to keep the line moving. “Our second baseman gave us all a lot of exciting moments with his bat and his glove, including a tournament leading six triples. From the Mayfield Yard Goats, number three, Aiden Miller.” The noise level of the cheers went up even higher when Aiden’s name was announced.
“Those were my three,” Larry said. The other three men in the group had the same three picks. Now they wanted to know who the fourth player was that Larry thought had an outside chance.
Nobody was surprised by the choices so far. Although Nolan was a no brainer, there were other pitchers as deserving as the two others. Everyone agreed those picks were tough ones.
The third baseman was Tim Whalen of the San Diego Force. He was wearing his Force jersey and almost looked out of place lined up with three Yard Goats.
“It’s about time somebody other than one of those fucking Goats was picked,” Carl said to Edwin. “You’d think they were the only team in the tournament.” With a couple of exceptions, none of the Bulldog players applauded the Goat players who had been picked.
“Our shortstop,” Robert read, “was the leading hitter in the tournament with a .550 batting average. He also tied for the lead in doubles and runs batted in. From the Torrance All-Star Bulldogs, LeBron Redding.” That brought raucous cheering from the Bulldog players, but also cheering and applause from the Goats who not only had a ton of respect for LeBron as a player but also as a person. They genuinely liked him.
Robert then announced the three outfielders. One of them, Howie Duran, played for the Bulldogs, which placated their bruised egos some. Robert and Jean congratulated the All-Stars as they posed for an official picture before returning to their seats. He finished the All-Star picks by naming Gregg Phillips of the Force the designated hitter. His .520 batting average and 12 runs batted in were among the tournament leaders.
“It looks like your long shot didn’t make it,” Paul said to Larry.
“He still has a chance to be awarded something,” Larry said.
“And now for the final awards: the Mr. Hustle Award, the Tournament Most Valuable Player, and the Team Sportsmanship Award,” Robert continued. “First, the Mr. Hustle Award. The committee decided we should present an award to a player who may not have had the big numbers but seemed to be in the middle of a number of big moments, and maybe the instigator of a few of those moments. We feel we picked the perfect player for our first annual award.
“Our choice isn’t a big kid, but he was quite the dynamo. He contributed with his bat, coming up with several big hits. He had seven RBI and a .471 batting average. He contributed with his arm with some stellar relief appearances. And he contributed with his glove, not letting the ground or a fence keep him from making a highlight catch.”
“I think he’s talking about my fourth pick,” Larry told Paul.
The eighteen boys in the Goat seating section were getting restless since they had a pretty good idea of who was being described.
“Please put your hands together for the winner of the BaseBrawl’s first Mr. Hustle Award, from the Mayfield Yard Goats, number six, Riley Newton!”
Riley sat stock still and then turned to Lenny and asked in a shaky voice that Lenny could barely make out over the rising cheers, “Was that me?”
“Yes, it is you, you silly dork,” Lenny yelled into Riley’s ear as the crowd started to rise to its feet. “Now get your ass up to the table to accept your award before I drag you up there.” He gave Riley, who was sitting in the last seat in their row, a shove. The Goats were on their feet chanting Riley’s name. “Rye-Lee, Rye-Lee, Rye-Lee.” Every Goat from Cal, who had just met him, to Lenny who was his boyfriend, loved Riley Newton as a teammate and as a friend,
Riley got the hint and shook off his surprise at hearing his name. He rose to his feet and headed slowly to the table. Behind him, Lenny hoped Riley hadn’t seen him wipe his eyes. Riley was fighting tears of his own as he stopped at the table, standing tall and proud as he shook the hand of Robert Perez. Robert was certain there was a backstory to the short boy who stood tall and proud as he accepted his trophy.
In the stands Paul turned to Larry and yelled, “That was a great choice.”
All Larry could do was wipe his eyes as he thought of what an amazing story of grit and resilience Riley had displayed from the moment he moved to Mayfield as a lost, lonely, broken boy who turned out for the Titan baseball team figuring he would get cut. Instead, his dogged determination on the baseball field and innate kindliness won the respect, and more importantly, the friendship of his teammates.
Another adult fighting tears was James Hallion, who saw Riley as one of the hardest working players on the Goats and a great example of what hard work could accomplish. The place the tears flowed was in the upper row of the third base bleachers where Riley’s mother, Glenda, wept without shame. She remembered how Riley had been bullied and abused by many of his Burien teammates and had come to Mayfield as a broken boy. And now her son was on the field squeezing a trophy given to one of the top players in the tournament.
Riley’s dad put his arm around her, gave her a kiss, and squeezed her close to him. “I love you,” he said through the cheering and yelling. “Things couldn’t have worked out better for us.”
In the Torrance section, Carl sat with his arms folded. “That group of fuckers is winning everything,” he groused to Edwin and Howie. “That little pissant didn’t do shit against us and he gets a trophy for it. I swear the Goats sucked the dicks of that whole committee. I feel like showing those faggots how I’m feeling right now. All I gotta say is, as much as I don’t like that asshole LeBron, he is my teammate, and he’d better get the MVP because there’s no doubt that trophy belongs to him and the Bulldogs.”
Down on the field, Riley sat in his seat clutching his trophy. He knew he would have to give it up before he left the park so his name could be etched on it under the words that were already there: “SoCal Basebrawl MR. HUSTLE,” along with the date. It would be shipped to him. He was assured he would receive it before the end of the month.
Robert called for the crowd to quiet down. “Our last individual trophy goes to the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. The winner tied for the tournament lead in Runs Batted In (“That’s LeBron,” Carl said.), including four in the championship game, including the game-winning two run home run.” That started a roar from the Mayfield supporters. “Yes, our MVP is Trent Hallion of the championship Mayfield Yard Goats.”
Trent wasn’t surprised by the announcement, but he also knew his winning wasn’t a lock. He wouldn’t have had a problem with LeBron winning; Trent felt LeBron was, without a doubt, the best player in the tournament. The Goats stood and cheered for their teammate. Many, including Trent, noted that many of the Bulldogs sat silently, but that LeBron, Erik, Marshall, Howie, Julio, and Salvador were standing and applauding.
Once again James Hallion had to get hold of his emotions. The battle to the championship had been a long, hard one, and his son Trent had been a big part of the team’s comeback from their humiliation in game two. His leadership as team captain as well as his outstanding play on the field had been a huge factor in the team’s turnaround.
“Three All-Star berths, Mr. Hustle, and the MVP…Mayfield has certainly been recognized for its outstanding talent as well as its outstanding play,” Paul noted.
“A great deal of the credit goes to James Hallion along with Eric and Kevin for their coaching work. They could have panicked after their big loss, but instead they had their team come back a couple of hours later playing within themselves and winning a game they could have just as easily lost,” Larry pointed out.
“You know you stole that trophy from LeBron,” Carl said to Trent as he returned to his seat.
“Shut the fuck up, Carl,” LeBron snarled.
“You shut up. You were never one of us from the start. And I’ll tell you this, if they win that fucking sportsmanship trophy I’m going over to their seats and am gonna beat the face of one of those little shitheads to a bloody pulp. This whole Mayfield worship shit is totally fucked.”
“You know we aren’t going to be winning any sportsmanship award.”
“Yeah, I know and thanks for that, Edwin. But they did steal our championship, and nobody can deny that, not even you, LeBron.”
Before Carl finished his outburst Robert started in on the last award. “The tournament committee decided that the Brawl should be emphasizing sportsmanship in all forms. The winner of the first Sportsmanship Award did that and more. This award was voted on by the tournament committee and the umpires were also given a say in the choosing. You’ve all seen how the fans and kids from the local area have latched onto them as well as many of the other teams in the tournament. They played and conducted themselves with class through the good and the bad. If I could have the coaches and captains of the champion Mayfield Yard Goats please come forward to accept the Team Sportsmanship Award. And if all of the Yard Goat players would please stand as well to make it a complete team acceptance.”
The cheering and clapping and roaring of the crowd was the loudest yet. The Mayfield Yard Goats had made many friends during the course of the tournament. James accepted the trophy and shook Robert’s hand. He might have been even prouder of his team than when they received the Championship Tournament awards.
“Those boys did their coaches proud, their parents proud, and, face it, the town of Mayfield proud,” Larry said.
“I’d say the baseball future is looking pretty good for those boys,” Arnie said.
That was met by murmurs of agreement from Larry, Phil, and Paul.
“By the way, I found out exactly what it was that Edwin said to Mike Lewis that got him tossed,” Larry said.
“Ok,” Phil grinned. “And the answer is...”
“The second and third pitches were borderline called strikes - but they WERE strikes even though Edwin didn’t agree - he thought they were outside. Then on the fourth pitch, which WAS a ball outside and Lewis called it that way, Edwin got sarcastic and said rather loudly ‘So now I suppose you’re gonna call that a strike, too.’.”
“I don’t blame Lewis a bit,” Paul said. “You don’t show up the umpire.”
Larry nodded. “Lewis had Edwin’s number from a previous at bat and his snarky remark pushed Lewis a little too far.”
“And you probably noticed Parker didn’t make an issue of the ejection, either,” Phil said. “He knew better.”
Coach Parker and Coach Rohrs didn’t notice any of the drama surrounding their team. They left for the team bus ahead of the team. Parker had seen and heard enough crap about the Mayfield Yard Goats to last him a lifetime. They headed quickly for the gate from the field to the first base bleachers but came across Robert Perez before reaching the gate.
“Congratulations on a good season,” Robert said politely.
“Bullshit on a good season,” Parker growled. “Like I told you earlier, until your tournament quits inviting the out of state small town teams nobody ever heard of, your tournament won’t be worth crap.”
“You did tell me that. And I also recall your predicting a 20-run victory over Mayfield if you met them in the championship playoff game. Instead, they’re the ones walking out with the first-place trophy.”
“The only reason we don’t have that trophy is because we played that piece of crap team. Playing them had my boys so overconfident they played their worst baseball of the year. That wasn’t their fault, it was the fault of the tournament committee for allowing terrible teams like that to enter the tournament. And then, on top of that, you add more insult by piling the hardware on them. Three All-Star selections, the Mr. Hustle, the MVP, and then the Sportsmanship Trophy. Their coaches must have done quite a job of ass kissing. So, I’ll make it official. This is the one and only time the Torrance Bulldogs will play in this tournament.”
Robert, who had been listening to Parker’s tirade with quiet patience, smiled and said, “Trust me, coach, you won’t be missed.” He turned and walked back to the podium to soak in the joy that he was seeing there. Parker stomped angrily off the field, his assistant following meekly behind.
There were others who didn’t like the Goats, and one of those stood up with his fists clenched. Edwin stood right after him. The fact that their coaches were leaving the ballpark gave them the confidence to take out their festering anger on a tempting target.
“I think that Riley asshole would look way better with a bent nose and some missing teeth,” Carl snarled. He took three steps towards the Mayfield seats when he bumped into a big, hard body.
“I’d stay where you are if I were you,” LeBron said.
“Or you’ll be the one with the rearranged mouth.”
“Oh, yeah? It’s gonna be done by you and whose army?” Carl spun to his right and tried to make his way around LeBron and bumped into Julio, who Carl had thought of as a supporter. Standing to Carl’s left was Marshall and behind him was Erik. Then Carl saw Howie come forward and felt his homies were ready to back him up.
But Howie stopped next to Julio and said, “Give it up, Carl. It was those Goats who showed no mercy and we folded because they wouldn’t. Don’t go spoiling the great season we had by being a total piece of shit. Let’s get out of here and follow Coach Parker to the bus.”
“Edwin, you’re with me, right?” Carl asked.
“Not anymore,” was all Edwin had to say. The crisis was over. It took hitting rock bottom, but the good guys on the Bulldogs now spoke for the team.
The Mayfield players didn’t notice any of the drama taking place in the Torrance seats. As soon as Robert ended the ceremony, they were getting their t-shirts from Coach Hallion and Coach Simmons. They quickly pulled off their uniform shirts and pulled on their championship t-shirts. Rusty was as proud of his t-shirt as anybody. They then started to exit Field 2. Trent gave his trophy to his mother, Jesse. Riley was behind him and was about to reluctantly give up his trophy when his parents came rushing at him.
“Riley, wait, I want a picture of you holding the trophy here in the ballpark,” his mother said.
“Mom, I’ll get it back soon.”
“I know but I want it taken here. You, in your beautiful new t-shirt, holding your new trophy with the home plate, the backstop, and the bleachers in the background.”
She embarrassed him with a hug and then stepped back and snapped a picture with her phone. Jesse offered to take a picture of Riley holding the trophy with his parents. Glenda gratefully accepted. As Riley moved to pose between his parents, he noticed that his mother had some tear streaks. He held his trophy high over his head and Jesse snapped the picture.
Before anybody could move, Riley told them he wanted one more picture. He handed the trophy to his mother, who smiled at her son as she fought off a second wave of tears as Jesse snapped another photo. Riley took the trophy and traded it for his mom’s phone. He gave his mom a surprise hug, then gave one to his father. “Thanks for moving to Mayfield,” he said. “I love you and now I gotta go meet my teammates. Good night.” He was gone in an instant.
His teammates were on their way to the team bus. Eric, Rusty, and Scott’s cousin, Ronnie, had taken the team’s equipment bags as well as the players’ bags to the bus, so all that the players had to do was get to the bus.
But it turned out not to be a direct route. They were stopped by the East Harbor boys and the two groups high-fived, fist-bumped, and hugged each other. One of the topics the Goats had talked about was inviting the East Harbor boys to the Inn for treats and maybe even dinner. Their plans were a bit nebulous, but they didn’t want to leave their new friends with the entire evening still ahead of them.
Trent, as team captain, decided to step up and make the invitation. He told them what they had planned and was about to apologize when Lars, Zach, Larry, and Phil, who were lurking just off the walkway, stepped in.
“Scratch those plans,” Larry said.
“Huh?” came the chorus of disbelief emanating from both groups.
“We have made other plans,” Lars told them.
“You mean we won’t be able to get together?” Michael asked. “That’s kind of lame.”
“Not at all. You see, the other plans we made involve all of you.”
“Like maybe a party at our house?”
“Your son can think fast on his feet,” Larry grinned. “And, yes, that was exactly what the plan was.”
The grunts of disbelief now became a chorus of cheers!
“Then we better get our rear ends moving, as my dad would say,” Trent said. “Okay, my fellow Goats, let’s get on that bus, dump our bags, get changed and PARTY!”
“Yeah, LET’S PARTY!” Michael, Lukas, Alex, and Jaden shouted out.
Michael stepped over next to Aiden and the two exchanged high fives. Nolan was standing behind Aiden grinning. “We’ll see you guys at the party,” Aiden said.
“I assume there’s gonna be plenty of food,” Nolan said.
“If it's a party at our house, there's going to be tons of food!” Michael responded.
“Good, cuz I’m starving. And I know I’m not alone.”
“Hey, Michael,” Aiden called out as the two groups started to split up.
“The anthem you and Lukas did was epic—and I mean TOTALLY EPIC. Best one I ever heard.”
“Thanks, Aiden. We played it for everybody, but especially for the Goats.” ‘And even more especially for you,’ Michael thought. “Now let’s quit yakking and get moving.”
The two groups split and moved full speed ahead to their respective rides.
The twins hesitated, however, and Craig almost ran off without them. He turned, ready to tell his little brothers to move. “Hey, if they let us, do you think we can go with Lenny and Lance to their hotel and ride to the party with them?” Cooper asked Craig, his big brother.
“Don’t even think about asking anybody,” Craig replied. “I was given the job of making sure you two made it to where you belonged, and that was straight to the party,” he told his twin brothers. “So, that’s where you’re going. Whatever it is you two rug rats plan on doing with those two you can do there.”
“But…,” Connor cut in.
“No buts. And besides, you two will have a lot more time to do it there.” Craig was certain that what the two sets of twins had planned would call for them removing their clothes, but that would be none of his concern. Right now his only concern was getting his mom’s little “rug rats” to the party in one piece. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that the team was on the bus and the door was closing.
As Mrs. Emerson eased the bus out of the parking lot, the Yard Goat players knew that the tournament was over, but their journey was not. It was now time to shift from focusing on at bats and fielding plays to focusing on having a fantastic time with their new friends from East Harbor.
Next: Chapter 31. The Party of Champions
Torrance All-stars Bulldogs (39-4)
- Howie (CF)
- Edwin (3B)
- LeBron (SS)
- Maurice (RF)
- Carl (1B)
- Rhett (DH) batting for Alan (P)
- Mike (LF)
- Royce (C)
- Clay (2B)
Mayfield Yard Goats (29-8)
1.) Gordy (SS)
2.) Scott (RF)
3.) Trent (3B)
4.) Muddy (DH) batting for Mason (2B)
5.) Nolan (1B)
6.) Aiden (P)
7.) Riley (CF)
8.) Mac (C)
9.) Grant (LF)