Manny's TV and Appliance Centers versus Peoples Bank --- the final play-offs for the championship of western Massachusetts. Duck! It's a beanball coming straight at the noggin of those who thought they had escaped the scourge of baseball reportage in the ^zhurnal. No such luck ...
Sunday, 10 Aug 2003: the last day of our visit to Amherst. We're ready to bring daughter Gray home from summer music camp. Our bags are packed, and we plan to set out early Monday morning on the ~500 mile drive. Heavy rains earlier have been replaced by cool breezes. It's 6 p.m.
I've been reading the local newspapers where Garry Brown (The Republican http://www.masslive.com/) and George Miller (The Recorder http://www.recorder.com/) have written about the Tri-County League --- more than half a century old, strictly amateur, a mix of players ranging from youngsters of high school age up to veterans with over 20 years in the TCL under their belts. Now the season is almost over. In the best-of-three match Manny's of Greenfield has taken the first contest, 6-4, over Peoples of Holyoke. Game Two has been twice delayed by rains. It's scheduled to start at 7 o'clock tonight.
A few days earlier I made some phone calls and did some 'Net research, looking for local baseball games to attend. The athletic department at the University of Massachusetts has nothing going during this part of the summer break. No other games seem to exist within reasonable driving distance. I consider going on Thursday, Friday, Saturday ... but afternoon and evening showers tip the odds against seeing any action.
Tonight the weather seems more propitious. I find online directions to Mackenzie Stadium where the game is to take place, get permission from Paulette, and drive south. Twenty miles later I park in front of Holyoke High School and follow a few stragglers to the field. I'm just in time to see the teams line up for group cheers, then take their places for the first pitch.
This is baseball at its purest: no admission fee, no concession stand, no programs, no announcer. (OK, I confess --- I miss my peanuts in their shells.) Both teams wear black uniforms, so telling who's who is tricky at times. Aluminum bats produce unæsthetic clangs as they make contact. And there are errors.
But there are also fine plays. The scoreboard works, and the crowd of ~150 is enthusiastic. Little kids of all colors scamper to retrieve foul balls. Teenage girls eye teenage boys, and vice versa. Young couples carry babies and chase toddlers. Old men lecture on the finer points of the sport to anyone nearby who will lend an ear.
I make an impromptu scorecard using sticky-notes and record the progress of the game. All's quiet on the batting front for the first inning as both sides go down 1-2-3. Then in the bottom of the second Peoples Bank catches fire: a double, a walk, a successful bunt (thanks to a defensive error), another walk, a magnificent bases-loaded double arching to deep right center that brings in three, a hit batsman, a third double, and a single. Seven score as eleven men visit the plate.
Subsequent innings ice the Peoples' cake more thickly with two more singles and three more doubles for a total of a dozen runs. Manny's TV retaliates, starting with a memorable round-the-bases circuit in the top of the fifth: a hard-hit grounder to third base is thrown past first; the batter advances to second and pushes his luck; the retrieved ball is hastily cast back past third and, alas, ricochets out of the park. Oopsie! But it's not nearly enough.
The final tally:
Seven innings, two hours later, and I'm on the road back to the motel --- my baseball hunger assuaged. The Tri-County League championship is tied now at one all.
Two days later (after another rain cancellation on Monday evening) it's ultimate decision time. As reported by Bill Wells in The Republican the game is deadlocked 3-3 coming into the last inning. Peoples Bank scores; Manny's in turn loads the bases but can't quite bring home the run it needs to stay alive. Peoples claims the TCL title.
A big thank-you! and bravo! to both teams ...