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Totally Self-Indulgent Little League Walk-Off Ramblings

WARNING: This is a long entry, has only a little to do with the Mets and is extremely self-indulgent (it is slightly humorous). Regular programming on this blog will resume on Monday...Anyway, if you read further, don't forget that you've been warned...

I've taken a lot of crap at work recently because I shared a significant number of details of my Little League career with my colleagues. They laugh when I tell them that my career high batting average was .250 (4-for-16 in my career year, including a "disputed" hit), and how my biggest thrills were going 2-for-2 in a 19-0 win over the Wildcats and Carl Schurz Playground legend Tim Murphy, and turning an unassisted double play at first base on the mud field that is located under the 59th Street Bridge.

I happen to have a really good memory, and I get a little carried away sometimes. It occured to me that it might be worthwhile to share my tales on paper rather than verbally, as a writing exercise, and that's what I'm going to do here. But in keeping with the spirit of the blog, I'll do so from the perspective of sharing my Little League walk-off experiences and try to find some sort of tie-in to the Mets.

I played for four seasons in the St. Stephen's Little League- two for the Cougars in the "minor" league and two for the Pirates in the "major" league." We played our games primarily in Central Park and occasionally under the 59th Street Bridge. St. Stephen's was not affiliated with Little League Baseball out of Williamsport so some things, as you'll read, were a little bit screwy.

In 1984, my first Little League season, we finished at 5-3 and in second place. I got one hit the whole season and primarily played right field. Let's be honest. I sucked. I had no bat speed, no speed period, and I was slow. There's not much worth talking about this season, other than that it laid the foundation for the year that followed because we had a young team that returned virtually all of its talented players.

The 1985 Cougars were the best team I've played for in any sport. We were kind of like the 1986 Mets in that we were the best team, we knew that we were the best team, and we knew we were going to win every game.

Opening Day was a fresh start. I got moved to shortstop and was told I could play some first base (I played a couple of innings in 1984 and my dad noted that on one throw, our pitcher must have thought Willie McCovey was covering first base). The days of playing pitcher-catcher with my friend, David Cooper paid off, because he opened the season as our No. 2 pitcher. Our infield was stacked with David Grosz at first base, southpaw slugger Chris Kral at second base, me at shortstop, and Cooper, who was Keith Hernandez-clutch at third base. Luke Linder, who went on to play Division I tennis, was our megastar and ace pitcher. We also had a really strong defensive catcher in Wesley Doskocil (it's been 20 years...hopefully I got the names right).

We played the defending champion Lions in our opener and it was a tight game. Cooper pitched really well, but yielded the tying run in the top of the fifth or sixth ining (don't remember which). We ended up winning in the bottom of the sixth when the Lions first basemen pulled a Jose Uribe and botched Grosz's popup, allowing the winning run to score (at age 9 I was astute enough to realize there was no game-winning RBI). We were on our way.

The Cougars were only challenged once after that. Midway through the season, we played the Panthers, a team we had pummeled in our first meeting. We were overconfident and were in for a shock when we fell behind 4-0 in the top of the first. We matched that output with four runs in the bottom of the frame, but then the game turned into a big-time pitchers duel. Think Dwight Gooden and Nolan Ryan in Game 5 of the 1986 NLCS, only this one was between Linder and Justin Sirini, and then relievers Kral and Michael Day. This was one tense game. We had two really good chances to score, but had runners thrown out at the plate both times. The score was 4-4 into the 6th.

In the bottom of the sixth, we got Danny Flores to second base (don't remember how) and Kral
knocked him in with a single to center field. The celebration after the game was like we had won the World Series. There was a lot of jumping and arm slapping and screaming. I remember thinking that walk-offs were pretty cool. We finished the season 7-0 as league champs.

Lets skip ahead to my fourth and final season. Our roster got split up and while Kral and I were Pirates, Linder and Cooper got tabbed to play for the Giants, who won the league title by one game over the Pirates in my third season (I was relegated back to right field). The 1987 Pirates had a terrible season. We won only one game. It was not a fun experience. It was kind of like playing for the 1993 Mets.

On the final day of my Little League career, I got to experience two walk-offs and was on the wrong side of both of them. We played a doubleheader- one game with the Braves, then one with the Giants. The Giants beat the Mets earlier in the day, giving them a 1/2 game lead over the Mets for first place going into their final game. We blew a sixth inning lead and lost to the Braves in our first game, but regrouped for the afternoon contest, which as fate would have it, would determine the league championship.

Maybe the Giants were tired, but for whatever reason, we overachieved big time in the early part of that game. We were crushing the Giants and it looked like the season would end on a positive note, and Cooper and Linder would be forced into a 1-game playoff with the Mets. Then, we were the victims of some pretty bizarre circumstances.

St. Stephen's Little League had a rule. If a team was ahead by more than 10 runs, an inning ended after you batted around (In the "minors" they allowed a team to only walk two batters per inning). The idea was to prevent games from going on forever due to the inability of a 12-year-old to throw the ball over the plate. In this particular game, the Pirates had a big lead. We increased the lead to double digits, which meant that our half inning was over once we batted around.

I should have known something weird was going to happen. With the Pirates ahead by something like 11 runs, the Giants coach popped off the bench and signalled for a reliever. David Cooper was coming in to pitch. This was odd, since he hadn't pitched in his two seasons in the "majors." But Cooper has a reputation (at least by me) of being a lucky charm. He didn't retire anyone. I believe he walked two batters and may have walked in a run. But the inning ended since we batted around.

If I was going to rate my personal sports experiences, the bottom of the sixth inning of this game would take the top 5 spots on the list. I still feel as though it were a "Twilight Zone" type experience, having watched it all unfold from left field. The Pirates managed to blow a 12-run lead despite the fact that the Giants put only one ball in play. The inning started with two walks, nothing really to be alarmed about, but then came another one, and another, and another. Our coach changed pitchers. Another walk. Then another. Then another. Then another. Our second baseman dropped a pop up at some point, but the rest of the damage was done because our pitchers went Kenny Rogers on us. Our coach eventually went the David Cooper method, and brought in a kid who hadn't pitched all year. He couldn't find the strike zone either. I believe we walked in 13 runs. The Giants won the game and were league champs.

The memories of that walk-off experience still haunt me to this day. It is why I will never do a site called It's just not worth it.

I do still have a few unanswered questions from that game:

1- Who is the winning pitcher? Cooper didn't retire a batter, but of course, he credits himself with a win on his record. How do you handle the scoring on that?

2- There has to be some backstory to this game that I'm missing. Did our pitchers (most of whom I only saw again once, at our league banquet) need Tommy John surgery after the game? Did they succumb to the pressure of the moment? Someone suggested to me that maybe some of our players didn't want the Mets to win the championship, so we let the Giants win. That seems farfetched, but again, who knows?

I guess the moral of the story is that Little League is important in shaping how kids may one day relate to the sports world. And hopefully St. Stephen's Little League has changed some of its screwy rules.

True Metsopolitans know...Mets pitcher Tim Leary, who spoke at the 1984 St. Stephen's Little League Banquet, got his first career win, when the Mets beat the Expos 5-4, in walk-off fashion, on October 2, 1983. Former Mets outfielder Art Shamsky, another speaker at one of our banquets, never had a walk-off RBI for the Mets.


Pat Coleman said…
Seems similar to the end of my worst Little League season. We were a decent team but I was a fourth-grader who was a year younger than most of the other kids in my class and playing kid pitch for the first time. There was no coach pitch in the '80s, folks, not in Ypsilanti, Mich. And I was a terrible hitter, literally. If there weren't a rule about playing everyone I wouldn't have played.

So we're battling for the last playoff spot and down by a run in the bottom of the sixth. I was 1-for-24 (seriously) for the season, although my one hit was a line drive through the box midway through the year. Anyway, there are two outs and sure enough, it's my turn to hit. Err, bat. I'm about as nervous as I can get, thinking the best I can do is try to force a walk, so I decide I'm not going to take the bat off my shoulders until I have to. So I work the count full and step out to collect myself. I've never been good at full counts, then or later in my hardball days, always expanding the strike zone too much.

Thankfully, the pitcher must have been just as nervous as I was. He hit me in the stomach. The pitch wasn't close. I was saved.

The kid after me grounded to second and I was forced out. Season over. But I wasn't the one who made the last out. Thank goodness.

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