Tonight’s game between the Road Warrior Black Sox and the Washington WildThings was the reason Indy Ball Island was created.
The two teams played the first game in a best of 3 semi-final playoff series to determine which team will move on to the championship series next weekend. The league, created by the WildThings with help from Joe Torre and the Black Sox, was thrown together as a 4 team/1 stadium deal to bring baseball to Western Pennsylvania during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two teams (the WildThings and the Slammin’ Sammies) are ran and operated by the WildThings. The other two teams (Road Warrior Black Sox and Baseball Brilliance Sox) were put together through Joe Torre, PJ Phillips and the Black Sox Road Warriors touring league.
The Black Sox players do not get paid. In fact, the players usually pay a fee to be in the Black Sox camps. They are also tasked with finding and paying for housing. The guys often struggle to find affordable living arrangements for the entire season, so they bounce around from place to place while trying to scrape up enough money to pay for food. Some even take on jobs as Uber or Door Dash drivers just to make ends meet in between practice and games.
They are often seen as the underdogs. The guys who didn’t have a chance to make it. The guys who weren’t good enough.
Winning a game against THE team that created the whole league would be an upset. They aren’t supposed to win. They aren’t the guys the (socially distanced) fans are there to see. No. They’re the nobodies.
But not to me… Not on this island.
We don’t believe in upsets and underdogs here. Why? Because I know their stories. Everyone has one. And to still be playing baseball for no pay in the middle of a pandemic, you have to have something else too…
A true love for the game.
Now don’t get me wrong, every baseball player in indy ball must possess these things. But these guys might just have a little more.
They have a chip on their shoulders. A desire to prove everyone wrong. I’ve been in the dugout with the Black Sox players over the years. I know the passion that they have for the game of baseball.
I’ve followed these players for years. I’ve seen all their highs and lows play out in leagues like the Pecos and Pacific through their social media and nightly box scores. These are “my boys.”
I’ve helped some of them link up with Joe and the Black Sox. I’ve fed some of them when they came to town as visitors in the Frontier League. I’ve watched them get called up and been there to let them vent when they got released.
They are the ones I root for. The players who I cheer for. The ones I want to see succeed.
They don’t want to be considered “the Cinderella story.” No, they just want to be seen as winners.
And tonight… the Black Sox were winners. The team defeated the WildThings 16-5. If they win tomorrow, they will “upset” the home team and move on to the championship series.
During the 9th inning, I turned to one of the Black Sox players who played in the earlier game as part of the Baseball Brilliance team and said… “This is why I created Indy Ball Island. For nights like this.”
I’m proud of you boys.
If you know… you know.
Change the culture.