My Favorite Baseball Moment was Perfect.

Watching this amazing MLB post season full of games that have been anything but ordinary has made me wonder… What is your favorite baseball moment? Were you on the field, in the stands or just simply watching it on TV?

If I had been asked this question last year, I would have said without a doubt that my favorite baseball moment was being a part of the 2013 NL Wild Card crowd at PNC Park when the Pirates faced the Reds. 20 years of losing was finally over.  I was able to witness my first playoff game in person.  Since I was 2 years old the previous time the Pirates were in the playoffs, I had no idea what it was like to have a team play an important game in October. This 2013 Pirates team was the special group to change all of that. I know that I will never forget them or that feeling as long as I live. The CUETO chant will forever be etched in my memory.

However, that Wild Card game was my favorite baseball moment for all of 10 months. On a Sunday afternoon, August 24th to be exact, in a much smaller stadium, Consol Energy Park, and in front of a totally different crowd, there were less than 2,000 fans in attendance, I witnessed perfection for the first time.

First, rewind back to the night before. The Wild Things were auctioning jerseys off for Ovarian Cancer night, and I decided to bid on one of my favorite pitchers and Sunday’s starter, Matt Sergey (or “Other Matt” as we affectionately called him.) Little did I know what special part that jersey would have in my collection and what special part that pitcher would have in my baseball memories.

Sunday’s “Kids Day” game started like every other one that season… 5:05 start, attendance in the low thousands, and I was sitting in Row B seat 8 of section 101 as I had done every game I had been to that season. Matt Sergey, who had been used in relief for the majority of the season, was given another shot at being a full-time starter. As he left the bullpen for the start of the game, I yelled “Good Luck Other Matt” like I had done every time he went into the game. Everything was the same routine as it had been all season long, except that the game turned into something that was anything but routine.

Since I now claimed Matt as “my jersey guy”, I took plenty of pictures of him that day, and I am sure glad that I did. If you’ve never experienced a perfect game in person, I’m not sure if my words will be able to convey the true emotions of the game, especially if you have a personal connection with the person on the mound attempting to make history. The game was cruising along nicely, and Matt was dealing on the mound.

I remember looking up at the scoreboard in the 5th and seeing all zeros. Our scoreboard in Washington doesn’t count walks, so I hurried up and checked the PointStreak stats on my phone to see if anyone had been on base at all. I realized that he had more than just a no-no going on… he was chasing perfection. As my anxiety was growing, I started asking everyone else in 101 if they saw exactly what was happening. Following baseball superstitions, none of us said the words “perfect game” as we all (un)patiently sat in our seats watching the game unfold.

I took notice in the 5th and had been anxious ever since, but I would say that the 7th inning is when I started living and dying by every pitch. Each at bat made me nervous, and I would sit watching our defense intently. In section 101, we were passing around the heart monitor app and checking our pulse as our hearts were beating faster and faster with each out. Glancing around the ballpark, you could see that everyone else was slowly starting to catch on to what was happening on the field. The crowd hushed on balls and long fly balls and cheered loudly for every out. By the top of the 9th, half the crowd was already standing, and with one out to go, not one person in the ballpark was sitting.

When the Gateway Grizzlies’ batter hit a ground ball to short stop, Ryan Kresky, who promptly threw the ball to 1st baseman , Garrett Rau, for the last out of the game, I was going absolutely insane. Seeing Matt drop to the ground and pound his glove into the ground caused me to have tears in my eyes. The emotion he showed, the emotion our whole team showed rushing the mound, was just something that I will never be able to forget. These were guys who I truly cared about on and off the baseball field. This team (this #SQUAD) was special. And not only was it the first perfect game in Wild Things history, but the first in Frontier League history! 22 years and no one had thrown a perfect game before. “Other Matt” only needed 100 pitches and 2 hours and 51 minutes to become “Perfect Matt” that day.

Talking to Matt after the game and getting that soaking wet Gatorade hug was hands down THE baseball moment that I will never forget. Being a part of something so special was amazing, and no matter what I type, words cannot do it justice.

Here’s the WildThings’ YouTube video of the final out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgOGPKnf_E4&list=PLFyTVgsCuEO0VDr8gtvjeO3eeXX6405TJ

perfect matt1

perfect matt3

perfect matt7

perfect matt8

perfect matt9

perfect matt

perfect game drawing

perfection shirt

So… what is YOUR favorite baseball moment?

Advertisements

Why I Love Independent League baseball

I am asked fairly often why I enjoy watching independent league baseball as much as I do. The simple answer is that I just love baseball, but the answer is actually a lot more complex than that.  The indy ball ranks is where you find guys who truly love the sport. These guys play for the love of the game and the off-chance that they may be found by a big league organization to further their careers and dreams away from “Indy Ball Island.”

They sure don’t do it for the money or fame.  Most players live with host families and can make a minimum of $600 a month. Games are rarely televised anywhere and are often played in front of crowds in the low thousands or even hundreds.  A lot of the players are guys who never got drafted out of college or, for one reason or another, didn’t make it in affiliated ball after being signed.  For most, “Indy Ball Island” is their last stop in the baseball world, and they never manage to get off the island.  For others, it catapults them into affiliated ball with a new chance to prove themselves on the diamond.

THIS is why I love independent baseball. These guys show true heart and dedication to the game.  I love the fact that the crowds are so small.  The ballpark is intimate, and you can have a real connection with the players. Connections that, for me, have lasted well after the players leave the diamond for the last time.

As a season ticket holder for the Washington WildThings, an independent club in the Frontier League, I have seen many players come through Consol Energy Park. Some have stayed for a few weeks, and others have stayed for a few years, but all have had some impact on my life. I’ve seen losing seasons and winning seasons, playoff games and games where we fought for last place. I’ve witnessed my first perfect game and Frontier League record-breaking nights. I’ve watched careers come to an end and careers take off, first professional hits and last professional hits. Independent baseball is truly unique.

I’ve helped cook them breakfast before road trips and dinner after games, brought candy for bus rides and good luck gum before each home start. In need of high socks? We’ve got those for the boys too. Want a stuffed animal to bring with you on road trips? Just show up at “the jungle”, and we’ll hook you up with one of those. Section 101 in Washington, PA is not just a group of ordinary fans… we truly care about these boys and their careers. We support them as much as possible because we know it’s not easy being away from your family while trying to live out your dream. We are there for every win and every loss. We ride this roller coaster of a season with them every step of the way.

While the Frontier League isn’t the lowest of the low in independent baseball, it is pretty darn close. For an eye-opening look of something a little bit lower, I suggest a look at “The Pecos League” which is also a reality show that was shown on Fox Sports (and a possibility for another post.) It gives a pretty good insight into what these guys go through just to live out their dream.

Even through all the ups and downs, one of the coolest things about indy ball is seeing your boys succeed and see that dream become a reality. This year, Washington had a few guys who we had to say “happy goodbye” to. Getting picked up by an affiliated team is always the goal, and as fans we are always prepared for it to happen. You want it to happen, but it’s still hard.

During the season, we said goodbye to two of my closest friends in the WildThings Organization. Outfielder Stewart Ijames (undrafted after his senior year in college) was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks (and went on to play for the Missoula Osprey and Hillsboro Hops where he won a Championship Ring.) Another outfielder, CJ Beatty (former St. Louis Cardinals prospect), was signed by the Chicago White Sox organization (where he played for his hometown Winston-Salem Dash.)

During the off-season, pitchers Al Yevoli (who spent time in Spring Training with the Braves and played in the Cubs organization) and Troy Marks (who spent spring training with the Phillies) were also signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks… Looks like there will be a WildThings reunion in AZ during Spring Training!!

Al and Troy are the 41st and 42nd players to be signed out of the Frontier League this year, setting a new record for the league. Stories like this are all over independent baseball leagues around the country.

If you were to write-up a script to explain what the independent leagues are all about, you would tell the story of current Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher John Holdzkom. Here is a guy who was drafted in the 4th round by the New York Mets, had a rough 4 seasons in their organization (mixed with a Tommy John surgery that took 2 years to recover from), returned to college for a semester, had a brief stint with the Cincinnati Reds organization, played baseball internationally with the New Zealand team and in Australia, before landing back in the US to play independent ball for two years.

One night, a scout who was actually about to leave the game watched him pitch and was impressed with what he saw. He called the Pirates who signed him and added him to their AA roster in June. After just 4 games, he was moved up to AAA. The Pirates selected his contract, put him on the 40 man roster, and called him up with September call-ups. He pitched in 9 regular season games and in the NL Wild Card game. Going from a top prospect, to a struggling minor leaguer, to an independent ball player is a story that is often told. But Holdzkom’s story is special. With just a few small adjustments in indy ball, he propelled himself to the major leagues in just a couple of months. He was rescued from indy ball island and never looked back.

It’s all about first, second or even third chances. It’s about teaching everyone to never give up, and it’s all about heart and dedicating your life to live out a dream. Stories like these are exactly why I love independent ball as much as I do.

Advertisements

Writing and sharing stories about Independent Baseball.

Advertisements