A column that was published in the June 3 edition of the Hillsdale Daily News.
There have been times throughout my career as a fan and even sportswriter, that the enchanting sport of curling was by far the preferred choice over watching a baseball game.
With expensive “golden brooms”, the strategy equivalents of chess on ice and heart-pounding collisions of polished granite stones with victory on the line, there is something simple, yet exhilarating about the Olympic sport.
Contrastingly, I have felt bogged down and worn out from so much baseball the past few years.
Part of it is the number of high school games I’ve gone to that have been 18-3 and another factor are the contests that have a combined total of 26 walks — where it seems like getting on base is just like passing go in Monopoly.
So many of the current generations’ kids seem to play with a “homer or strikeout” mentality and what made baseball such a compelling sport of gamesmanship, thinking and skill when it was our country’s irrefutable pastime, seems to have become diluted by fans complaining about strike zones, whispers of performance-enhancing drugs and a lack of respect for some of the core essentials of what has made the game so great.
Thankfully, the Reading Rangers and Hillsdale Hornets renewed my passion for the ole’ ball game this past week with inspiring efforts of determination and though-provoking tactic.
I remembered what it was like to feel like a kid again, and although I still much prefer curling on a Nintendo Wii to trying to strike out Alex Rodriguez, I am genuinely excited about this weekend’s regional baseball action.
To the Rangers’ credit, Rick Bailey’s troops reminded me of how part of baseball’s mystique is how there is always a belief that a game isn’t over until the final out, in essence making each inning like a mini-game within a greater competition.
Every pitcher and hitter bring individual tendencies and talents to the plate and mound, and some guys can’t hit good curves from lefties, but can crush solid fastballs from righties; and even a dominant ace has a pitch-count ceiling where they go from invincible to hittable.
The Rangers’ role in restoring my confidence came from winning a pair of one-run games to win the district championship at Camden-Frontier.
In the semifinals, C-F charged back from a 2-0 deficit in the top of the seventh inning and the Rangers were forced to outlast the Redskins in a memorable 3-2 win in 11 innings.
The difference between the two teams in the hour-long session of extra innings seemed to simply be the confidence they embodied.
Camden-Frontier is a team still learning how to win, fresh off its first SCAA East title in a long time, and they seemed to be playing not to lose, instead of to win. They were hesitant with their swings at the plate and personified a freshman guy going to the junior-senior prom with one of the school’s most popular girls.
And that’s OK, I was the guy sweating on the bench in JV basketball, it’s just an observation I made.
Conversely, Reading, with a few holdovers from the 2007 state championship team, and plenty of kids used to winning on the diamond and football field alike, exemplified faith and self-assurance. They never got too high or too low, and that especially paid dividends in the finals.
They trailed Pittsford 6-1 but Bailey preached the same things and had the same demeanor as if his team were ahead by five runs.
Senior captain Ryan Dillon continued to urge his teammates on, reminding them every inning that this could be the inning they came up big.
And eventually they did just that. And despite allowing a game-tying home run in the top of the seventh, they scored the winning run not 15 minutes later.
They did it because they believed they were going to and that resilience was a true joy to witness.
What Hillsdale reminded me of, was how baseball can be an art form at its finest.
Chris Adams is a firm believer in playing “small ball” where every base runner is a potential run, and walks, steals and wild pitches are just as useful as hits.
His boys executed the gameplan to a tee in their 14-1 semifinals win over Jonesville.
They seemed to break the spirit of the Comets by manufacturing runs every way imaginable.
In the first inning the Hornets two-hitter Brad Jenkins was hit by a pitch, and without a single base-hit Hillsdale was able to put one on the scoreboard.
Jenkins stole a base, advanced on an error and then came around on an infield sacrifice by Scott Lantis.
In the first four innings, Hillsdale scored four runs on four hits and from that point forward I was truly excited every time they put a runner on.
No Hillsdale player was too big to lie down a sacrifice bunt and their speed on the base-paths gave the opposing pitchers fits all day long.
It reminded me a little bit of trying to navigate an entire level of the old Super Mario Bros. games without getting a single red mushroom to make Mario big. Without the protection, quick reaction times, clever moves and a bit of luck is needed — kind of like a team who tries to manufacture runs even in innings where guys aren’t driving the ball 350 feet.
All told, baseball had become just another sport to me lately, albeit it one where I often got bad sunburns for trying to believe the local weather reports.
But thanks to some unyielding hope and fervency from Reading and a clever methodical brand of baseball from Hillsdale I once again am anxious to count balls and strikes, while imagining the possibilities each inning could hold.
If you ever want to stop by and watch a good curling match though — don’t worry, CBS will be on.