Thursday, July 13, 2006

Live from Glass Shard Stadium....

POSTED by David Mandel

It all started as a normal day in the history of CSTV Slammer softball. A whole day of overanalyzing starting positions, batting order, substitution patterns and the potential impact that a 2-game sweep over the Buccaneers could have on our playoff seeding. Then the usual 4:00 pre-game meal, 4:15 Locker Room, 4:30 “Where’s Brent?,” and the ensuing 10-minute late departure. The well-wishers telling us they expected a sweep as we made one of the best strolls in sports from the back to the front of the 85 10th office. The quiet, cocky stroll from the office to the Subway. The praise of God and awkward celebratory handshakes for putting the inevitable 3-train on “the board.” And of course, the stop at 145 G&T and the uncomfortable walk through the gates of Glass-Shard Stadium. After pre-game stretches and soft-toss the only out-of-the-ordinary thing that had happened to the Slammers was to learn that G&T’s head cashier’s name was Mohammed.

Game 1 versus the Buccaneers started inauspiciously to say the least. The Slammers’ offense was stifled by the 73-year-old Buccaneer hurler’s deceptive knuckle-curve. The defense was shotty at best, turning ground balls into doubles and fly balls into dingers. After two-and-a-half innings, The Slammers came back into the dugout sweaty and lifeless, and trailing 8-0.

But that’s when a run of the mill blowout turned into an instant classic. Skipper Scotty Brandwein called the team together and delivered one of the all-time great impassioned speeches. Perhaps the motivation came from Antoine Walker’s famous speech for the Celtics between quarters 3 and 4 of Game 3 of the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals, sparking the C’s to the greatest comeback in NBA playoff history. Or perhaps more likely, his words came from within.

“Do you guys even want to be here today?!” Coach begged of his team. “This is *&%$# ridiculous! The team we played last week was 2 times better than this! We’re playing like @#$%! What the @#$$! Wake up!” On his way to his customary third-base coaching box, Brandwein took several viscous cuts at the bat rack and fired the Gatorade Cooler onto the field, leaving the team to think about what it had done.

And just like that, it clicked. Okay, well maybe not just like that. The Slammers went quickly and quietly in the bottom of the third, an inning of pondering Brandwein’s words still necessary before taking action. 4 more runs crossed the plate for the Bucs in the top of the 4th making it 12-0 leading to a slew of Buccaneer “everyone has to play” substitutions and threat of the Slammers getting mercy-ruled if they couldn’t pull it together.

Brent Miller led off the bottom of the 4th with a seemingly meaningless single and Dan Komyati followed with a double, leaving runners at second and third, no one out. Coach Brandwein asked the home plate umpire, “How many are we behind?” just in case things got interesting. And interesting they got! With a barrage of trademark Slammer at-bats, combining brute power with Litke-inspired rattiness, the Slammers scratched to within 12-9, two on, two out. Dan Komyati, who earlier in the inning predicted he would “go yard” next time up sent a towering drive over Willie McGinest’s head in left, a ball so far gone he could’ve rounded the bases twice before McGinest returned it to the infield. Just like that, tie game. Two batters later, a William Massi XLVI single plated David Mandel and the Slammers led 13-12. The Buccaneers, stunned by the turn of events, responded with their typical class, several players firing their gloves in the dugout, another positing “I’m not playing this $#%^ anymore,” and still another asking for an unprecedented mid-game trade to the Slammers.

The Buccaneers attitude foreshadowed their performance after that. Big Cat Dowlat, as is typical of his career, got stronger as the game went on. With his defense suddenly transformed from parking cones into rangy cheetahs, Dowlat was able to use all his pitches to set up easy grounders and can ’o’ corn flyballs.

The Slammers scraped across 1 in the 5th, 2 in the 6th to help Dowlat going to the top of the 7th. As a harbinger of things to come, several Bucs came out to discuss the score with the umpires prior to their final at bat. One gentleman suggested it was 15-12. McGinest suggested it was 13-12, prompting Mandel to snidely remark from the safety of the dugout, “Sir, if you think that’s the score, you haven’t been paying attention,” wisely making sure to speak his comments at a level audible only to his teammates, not McGinest himself. Finally, abacus utilized and base-ten number system mastered, the score was agreed upon as 16-12 Slammers.

The Bucs started the inning well, plating two runs before recording an out. John Wenk’s advance scouting report provided the first out for the Slammers with his pinpoint defensive alignment, but the Bucs brought the tying run to the plate with one out, down two with a man on. The batter sent a brilliant strike sharply on the ground back at Dowlat, who, doing his best Cam Ward impression, got a piece of it with a kick save, sending the ball careening towards the middle of the infield. On came a charging Miller, who barehanded on one hop and fired to Alexis Arguello at first, just in time for the out. Surprisingly, the Bucs argued. Miller’s play proved to be a game-saver, as the Bucs plated the 15th run before Dowlat recorded the final out, disappointing those that had fired on Slammers’ run-line but much to the delight of the Slammers, who play solely for the love of the game.

Game 2 featured the Slammers as the road team, and they jumped out with a bang. With one out in the top of the first, Arguello sent a fly ball down the left field line towards a coasting Curtis “50-cent” Jackson. Jackson, too cool to be bothered with a second hand on the glove, tried pimping the easy play and dropped it. Arguello, heeding the old baseball cliché “make them pay for extra outs”, sent a line bullet to the left-center gap, good for an easy home run and a 1-0 Slammers lead. The Slammers’ scored two more in the top of the first thanks to William Massi XLVI’s RBI single and great base-running, as he challenged Jackson’s notoriously weak arm, leading to ye olde “dugout ball” and another run.

The Bucs actually showed a little life in the bottom of the first, plating three runs to knot the score. How they scored doesn’t matter. The Slammers were held scoreless in the top of the 2nd inning, and that’s when the carnage began. As the Slammers took the field in the Bottom of the 2nd, several Bucs came to argue that the Slammers had batted out of order, which, of course, they had not. This prompted a rare 7-minute, 26-second argument delay. After the game, Massi XLVI would remark, “I was lying down in the outfield during the delay, and three feet away was a switchblade.” After a painstaking scorebook re-creation, it was determined that the Slammers indeed had 3 runs and had batted in order.

That was the first in a multitude of arguments that, much like Zidane’s World Cup head butt will overshadow Italy’s thrilling victory, will no doubt mar CSTV’s amazing performance on the field yesterday. Tensions mounted between the two teams causing even one of the nicest Slammers, Alexa Salomon to get into the mix. “Guess I’m not gonna get a hit,” she taunted back after lacing a single to left, proving the cat-calling Buccaneer prognosticators incorrect. The argument train quickly gathered momentum towards Catastrophe Station. And one-inning later, in the bottom of the third, after Brandwein was allowed to advance 2.5 bases on an overthrow, after two out/safe arguments, and after a base-running interference call gone wrong, Arguello, from his first-base post, correctly instructed the complainants to “Stop your [bad word].” Words were exchanged as Arguello readied himself to throw down. Jeff Foxworthy and Miguel Tejada attempted to intervene for the Bucs. The umpires tried to settle things until one of the pint-sized Bucs “snuck up” one the larger of the two umpires, causing him to fittingly instruct the minute individual “Don’t sneak up on me!” Chaos reigned as the Bucs struggled determining whether they were pissed at the umpires or the Slammers. One rather large Buccaneer came storming into the Slammers’ dugout undeterred by Mandel’s feeble efforts at staving him off, shouting threats at all the Slammers who came within shouting range (which was everyone). Finally the umpires did what they should’ve done long ago, calling the game in favor of the Slammers. The Slammers, fearing for their safety, gathered the equipment and hurriedly left the field, but not before getting the prized signature of a head official, who called himself only “Louie” and vowed to report the ugly incident to C.J. the commissioner.

In the end, the day will go down as two victories for the Slammers, an epic comeback and a major meltdown resulting in a Buccaneer forfeit. Several Bucs may never again get to roam the hallowed grounds of Glass-Shard Stadium. After suspensions were handed down and fines were levied, the Bucs will be significantly shorthanded for the season’s stretch drive. And, if one reporter may editorialize for a minute, it’s for the good of the game. Certainly, one of the most bizarre days you will ever see.

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