Well it was another roller coaster ride for this year's softball season for Rachel and I. Rachel started the year making the JV team at FDR. She plays so well in our trip to Myrtle Beach in April, that the coach makes her the starting catcher and lead-off batter in the first game. In that first game, she goes 4 for 4 with a walk in 5 at bats. She scores 3 runs and one of her hits is an RBI triple. She also gets 2 stolen bases. She is the leadoff batter and starting catcher for the rest of the 18 games they played. Quite an accomplishment for a freshman, considering they converted the Sophomore catcher to an outfielder so Rachel could become the everyday catcher. I left work early and watched her play about a half dozen games. At the end of the season dinner, it is announced Rachel hit over 500 for the season and is on course to break the school record for stolen bases for a four year player.
I decide to manage one of the two Hyde Park's Junior League girl's softball team. We have one true pitcher, and a fairly decent team. Through the regular season we play 14 games and go 8-6 for the season. We were much better then our record shows. Most of our losses were by 2 runs or less. Our pitcher had a no hitter through 6 innings (we play 7 in a game), she walked 2 girls in the bottom of the 7th, and gave up her only hit of the game, a game winning single. We went on to lose the next 6 games to end the season. Worse, we do not score a run in our final 23 innings of play.
I am asked to manage our team's tournament team, which is a team of 15 of the best players in the 13-15 age bracket. This is the start of the little league world series. We decide to convert a back-up catcher to short stop, since we did not have a bonafide shortstop. We get blown out of the first game and take a 5 run lead in the last inning of the second game. In the worse case of nerves I have ever witnessed, our newly converted shortstop makes 6 consecutive errors, allowing 6 runs to score including the game winning run in the last inning. I was speechless but thankfully one of my assistant coaches, a recent college graduate and fantastic softball player, gathered the girls together in the outfield and said very bluntly, "Sh*t happens", let's go get ice cream. The girls cried a few tears and ate ice cream.....
In late August I agree to coach the town's Fallball team, a girl's softball team of 15 players that plays 11 games on weekends in the fall. My assistant coach has 2 daughters who are very good pitchers, and we get a girl who actually has played shortstop. We have a fantastic season, winning 8 and losing only 3. The losses were games that some of our older players could not attend, but I played with the younger girls anyway. In one of our losses to Red Hook, they only have 8 players to start the game. Rachel leads off and I ask her to bunt because I feel sorry for the other team with only two outfielders. We lose that game 2-1 and I regret not allowing Rachel to swing away and maybe hit one to the empty field. Another memorable game was a doubleheader in Philipstown. We lose the first game when in the 5th inning, we give up the lead, and suddenly the other team says there field has a 2 hour game time limit. In the second game we pitched a 12 year old, and they had mostly very talented travel team players. They take a 9-2 lead in the last inning and we score 6 in the last inning, never giving up, and losing by just one run. At another game, we had started at 4:00 on the day of the homecoming dance which was at 7:00. The girls wanted to get home early to shower and get ready for the dance, so they devise a plan to get a 12 run lead so the game will be stopped after 5 innings due to the mercy rule. In the 3rd inning, the other pitcher starts walking my girls. They decide the walks are taking too long, and tell everyone to swing at the best pitch they get to get the 12 runs. Of course the dance was so important to them, they hit singles on pitches that are at their feet and over their head. They were out of there in an hour and 15 minutes because of the mercy rule.
The Fallball season always ends with a tournament held at Wappinger Falls. This year six teams competed in our age division. The tournament is a double loss elimination, over two weekends. Our first game is against a weak Wappinger team. Rachel leads the game off by hitting the 3-2 pitch deep into left field, and well beyond the fielder's outstretched arm and it rolls to the fence. The left fielder gets the ball to the shortstop as I am waving Rachel around third to score. The throw is offline and Rachel is safe with a leadoff homerun! This big hit relaxes the team and we go on to win 14-2. After a 30 minute lunch, we return to the field for our second game with Red Hook. They are a very solid team and one of the two teams we have lost to during the regular season. The game is tied 2-2 through the 4th, when Red Hook gets a runner to third with two out. The next batter walks, and we have a dilemma. If the runner tries to steal second, what should we do defensively as the runner at third is SURE to try to score? I ask my assistant coach his opinion, he says "let her have second base without a throw". I don't hesitate a moment and shout to Rachel loud enough for the Red Hook coach to hear, "If she goes Ray, THROW HER OUT", Rachel nods calmly and on cue the runner takes off for second on the first pitch. Rachel throws a bullet to second as the third base coach yells for the runner at third to score. The runner at second is out by two feet, and the inning is over. My assistant says, "Don't ever listen to me", as he shakes his head in disbelief. We take a two run lead into the bottom of the 7th and final inning, when our pitcher walks the first two and gives up a single, which allows the tying run to score, before ending the inning with a strikeout. Rachel hits sacrifice fly to center field in the top of the eighth scoring the go ahead run, and we tack on an insurance run. A 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth, secures our second win.
The next day we play our third game against Pleasant Valley. We have defeated them handedly in our previous 4 games against them, however, now they have some larger players we have not seen before. We grabbed a 5-2 lead in the fourth inning, and Pleasant Valley switched pitchers to a girl who pitches for a travel team. She is very fast, but not so accurate. She pitched the last three innings for them, getting 6 strikeouts, hitting 2 players with the pitch, the other 3 batters grounded out weakly back to the pitcher. Fortunately, our pitcher was just as good, giving up no more runs through the last five innings and we win 5-2. This keeps us undefeated and secures our spot in the final the following weekend against the winner of the Red Hook vs. Pleasant Valley game which will be played 2 hours prior on the same day. Our game will start 15 minutes after a winner is declared in the first game.
The week layoff gives my batters time to contemplate having to face the travel pitcher in a full game against Pleasant Valley (although this is unlikely since they will probably have to use her to beat Red Hook in the early game), never the less, it puts some doubts in my otherwise very confident batters. I ask the girls to get to the field an hour early to see some of the first game and discuss these fears. As it turns out, Pleasant Valley uses the travel pitcher in their game, the after acquiring a lead, they take her out to save some innings for her for us. This move proves fatal as Red Hook beats Pleasant Valley, in a come from behind win. This result ironically allows my team to breath a huge sigh of relief, since they will not have to contend with the fast travel pitcher with control problems. (Of course my assistant coach and I are thinking Red Hook has quite a bit of momentum playing our game right on the heels of a come from behind win, but we keep this thought to ourselves.) Batting practice before the game shows the girls very relaxed and all swinging a strong bat. We win the coin toss and we choose to be the home team. Red Hook chooses for us to use the dugout with the standing water in it, however some parents quickly get some speedy dry to rid us of the mud and water, rendering their decision futile.
Our pitcher allows no runs in the first, and in our half of the inning, Rachel leads off with a walk, quickly steals second and third base and is singled in by our cleanup hitter. Red Hook scores a run in the top of the second to tie the game. We score two more in the bottom of the second on a hit batsman, a walk, and a two run surprise single from one of our less experienced players. Red Hook responds with a run in the top of the third, and it seems like we are going to have a see-saw battle for all 7 innings. My team had a very different plan in mind however.
After the first batter strikes out, Rachel again reaches first on a walk after running the count to 3-2 and fouling off a very good change-up to stay alive. The next batter singles sharply to right and we have two on and 1 out. Steph our number 3 hitter hits the first pitch she sees deep to left field for a bases clearing triple, batting in two runs. The clean up hitter then hits the first pitch she sees deep to right for an RBI double. Claire, our number five hitter, hits her first pitch over the centerfielder's head for a double and another run. This is a hitting display that I have not witnessed in my 10 years of coaching. A single, followed by a triple and two doubles all on the first pitch of the at bat! None of these hits were cheap or misplayed. Each one was hit VERY hard and very far. With still only 1 out in the inning and four runs plated, the manager for Red Hook takes out his pitcher and brings in his reliever. During her warmups I instruct our batter to be patient. The new pitcher is going to try to pitch selectively to prevent anymore solid hits. I was sure the opposing coach would tell her to stay away from the plate for the first few pitches to break our rhythm. My batter followed my instructions to the letter and walked on 4 pitches. I instruct the next batter the new pitcher is wild, and she is the number 7 batter, so they will not give her much to hit so be very selective. The new pitcher quickly falls in a hole throwing 3 balls. I tell my batter, Becky, that the pitcher is going to groove one, to prevent another walk and give her the sign to swing away. She hits the pitch deep to right for our second triple of the inning scoring two more runs, and gives me a huge high five at third beaming from her accomplishment. Apparently the exuberance of my batter had irritated the Red Hook coach because his pitcher threw a wild pitch and my player scored, prompting some negative comments from him reminding me we had a 9-3 lead. We managed two more singles and walk before my last two batters struck out looking. The inning ended with my team achieving 3 walks and 7 hits, including 2 triples and 2 doubles, and scoring 7 runs, sending all 12 batters to the plate in the inning. Each hits was harder then the last and no errors were committed, just a hitting display unrivaled in my tenure as manager.
We scored 4 more runs in the last 3 innings on 4 more singles and three more walks. Our pitcher allowed only one more run to score and we win the Fallball tournament for a third year in a row! The final score was 14-3 and we had 14 hits and 7 walks. Our pitcher allowed 3 runs on 6 hits walking only 4.