Starting two months ago, I had been working with my high school’s Varsity Baseball team as a student manager and scout. The opportunity came about when one of my best friend’s Dad, who happens to be the head coach, asked me to work for him last Summer knowing my love of sports and especially baseball statistics. Here is the story of our season…
Equipped with an ancient iPad and a Stillwater Ponies baseball hat, I stand with my arms over the fence in our home dugout. Stillwater, or we, as I will refer to in this column, is tied 2-2 with athletic powerhouse Cretin Durham Hall in the bottom of the 7th inning (Bottom 9th, really. We play 7.). It’s an extremely cloudy day, so much so thats it’s more dark out than light. We have two men on with first baseman Austin Murr at the plate. It’s Youth Day; the most packed we’ve ever seen our home field. Kids are running around everywhere; the stands are full. It makes up for the crappy weather (Which I am 85% sure affected the way certain games turned out for us. Baseball’s just not the same when it’s cloudy.). The pitch comes and Murr swings. The ball is a million feet high and looks like a pop up to right field. But something carried that ball over the right field and out of the park. I, in disbelief, scream as everyone comes pouring out of the dugout to surround home plate. We just beat Cretin on a three run walkoff home run. Good Lord.
Coming into this season, I knew we had a good team. We had a team deserving enough to be ranked in the top ten in State. We had no weak spots. We had all the arms you could possibly want. We had power. We had on-base guys. But how good were we really?
By the final three weeks of the season, mnbaseballhub.com, the Star Tribune’s home for prep baseball, had us ranked No.1 in the state. Thats when I really started to believe.
Murr’s walkoff against Cretin Durham Hall was the first oh-my-God moment of the season. Though it came more than a week after the walk-off win against Woodbury, a game which I never knew the importance of until later in the year, it was still completely ridiculous. That ball had no business going over the fence. What happened? Baseball. Baseball happened.
Turns out, sometimes you need a little bit of luck. You need some flukey stuff to happen. You need some magic to occur.
Flash forward to June 6th, the day of the Section 4A Championship Game between us and Woodbury, a team who we have history with. The one we beat on a walkoff in April. The one that beat us in a game I missed in May. The one that defeated Stillwater a year ago in the same Section 4A Championship Game on a walkoff.
Sometimes in baseball, stuff happens. Guys swing at pitches they shouldn’t. Guys drop balls in the outfield. Guys miss scoops or make errors. It’s baseball.
“It’s baseball.” was the message we received from head coach Mike Parker on the bus ride home from CHS Field in downtown St. Paul Tuesday night. The bus was silent. Seven senior position players and other subs sat there devastated after Woodbury beat us 4-1 in what was Game 1 of a supposed to be doubleheader. To go to State, you must win your section. We were two wins away; Woodbury only one since they beat us by the same score Saturday, clinching an outright berth in the game and remaining undefeated in the section tournament. We had one loss, which meant we had to go through the last remaining team, ironically Cretin again, before playing Woodbury in the Final. Simply, we had to win three in a row to go to State. One against Cretin, two against Woodbury.
I stared blankly as Parker talked, trying to comprehend what happened. As I listened, I heard my answer. Baseball happened.
We didn’t do anything wrong against Woodbury on the 6th. Thomas Bruchu (pronounced Brushy), our senior 3rd baseman who broke his leg in the season opener, started the game and gave us four solid innings. It was clear in the 4th inning that, as good as he had pitched and played since returning, that he wasn’t ready to go a full game. We certainly didn’t expect that either from him. We treated the Section Final games as a Game 7 of the World Series. We were ready to use anyone we needed out of the bullpen, because had we won both games, the State Tournament wouldn’t have started for a week, and the State’s pitch count/rest rule would have been irrelevant by then. Obviously, we were limited two pitchers: our ineligible guys who had pitched Saturday and Monday. Bruchu giving us those innings was massive, and him only giving up a single run was even bigger. There wasn’t too much harm as we already had a 1-0 lead. Bruchu did exactly as we needed him to.
As the game moved on, things got more tense. We started working them more… getting guys on base. And they started to work us more, getting base runners almost every inning. This was agonizing because you could feel it. You knew the stakes were high and it was tough to shake. I can’t imagine how our guys felt.
Came the 5th inning and stuff started happening. Baseball started happening. Murr missed a scoop at first and a bloop foul ball; two plays I’m sure he will kill himself for the rest of his life . The ball was in his glove and then it wasn’t. Baseball. It happens. Woodbury scored three runs in the 5th inning to make the score 4-1. No one put anything on the board the rest of the game, thanks to what became a pitching duel between Woodbury stud Max Meyer and our own sophomore stud Drew Gilbert.
Meyer is gonna haunt me, and I’m sure our batters too. The kid, a Senior who’s got 1-4 games left in his high school career, is committed to the University of Minnesota to play baseball. He’s got fastball in the range of 89-91 MPH, but thats not his best weapon. Yeah, now you see why he’s terrifying.
Meyer has a slider thats comparable to Andrew Miller’s. It’s not a knee-buckler; it’s not one thats gonna end up in the dirt. It looks like a fastball from the dugout, but from the batter’s perspective, you’ll notice it tail off to the inside or outside as you’re swinging.
In the bottom of the 7th inning, with our leadoff man, Senior 2nd baseman Ben Peterson up, Meyer struck him out with it. A flabbergasted rather than upset Peterson came into the dugout, telling teammates the pitch was a slider, and not a fastball. Scoffs were heard. My thoughts weren’t, because they were too negative to say at the time. Even with our next batter getting on base, there wasn’t a lot of hope in me. Meyer was too good, and 120 seconds later he proved as Woodbury ended up in a dog pile in front of the pitcher’s mound as we watched stunned from our dugout.
Baseball’s a flukey game. Look at the past 10 or so World Series winners. Most of these teams just got hot. Think back to the beginning of every October when we make our World Series picks from the playoff pool of teams. They’re literally never right. Sometimes, the best team doesn’t win. It’s baseball.