Welcome back, it’s now time for everyone’s favorite portion of the blog, story time. You have heard me talk about a ball go through my legs and an upset that never was, but this story takes everything to a whole new level. This story is not only sad, but may very well be, the most heartbreaking thing you have heard all year. This is a story about a boy desperate for a championship, who got his dreams ripped away from him due to a blown call. A story of anguish and despair. Let me take you back to the spring of ’09.
Nottingham Little League, 2009. The birds were chirping, the sun was shining and ya boy had just gotten called up to the major leagues. If you are not aware of how my little league worked, there were three divisions: C league, B league and A league. The higher the letter was, the bigger the field was and the fiercer the competition was. If you wanted to make a name for yourself as a young ballplayer, this was the place to do it. After spending my respected time in the minors, it was finally my time to shine. I had been called up to the A league and was ready to show the world what Pete Snyder was all about. As the first day of practice finally rolled around, I could not have been more ready. It was as if the entire offseason was Christmas Eve and it was finally time to open presents. I knew the group of guys we had going into that year were special just by looking at them. They all looked like ballplayers and had that swagger to them that you could just drool over. After battling all spring training for a starting role, I had finally earned my spot on the team. I would be the starting third basemen on opening day and would be a part of one of the greatest LL infields to ever grace a diamond. Playing short was a boy they called Shane who to this day, has the fastest hands I have ever seen. At second, a second basemen called Dom who could not only flash the leather, but hurt you with his bat as well. At the 3, a guy they called Big Frans. His dad was the head coach, but that’s not why he got the starting job, he got it because he was a freaking stud. We were the dream team, the greatest show on dirt and were the clear favorites to win the league coming into the season. The only thing that was going to slow us down was ourselves and we were in no mood to let that happen.
As the season began, it was clear that all eyes were on us. We were scheduled for all the games under the lights, there were traffic jams on the highway of fans trying to get to our games, and oh yea, the chicks loved us. It is safe to say, we lived up to the hype. We won games with ease and at one point we had to question ourselves and say, “Is this even fun anymore?” Midway through the year and we had yet to lose a game. Our infield’s combined BA was around .880 and we hit more home runs than a rock star on a world tour. Winning was no longer an expectation, it was a given. Our one loss of the regular season came about 3/4 of the year in, when a man-child named Matt, tossed a 1 hit gem to secure his team a victory. Little did we know, Matt would come back to HAUNT us in a few weeks time. Our team finished the regular season with a record of 25-1 and were deemed regular season champions. Each player on the team was presented a trophy for the accomplishment. Although the recognition was nice, I knew there was plenty of work that still had to be done.
All I am going to say about the first two playoff games we played that year is that I am very sorry for the two teams who played us. We beat them so bad that I’m pretty sure 95 percent of the kids playing on those teams quit baseball immediately after the last out was recorded. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I remember vividly going like 9-12 in that 2 game span and was the hottest little leaguer east of the Mississippi. My team had advanced to the championship game and the only thing standing between us and history was the lone team that had beaten us that season. It was time to get revenge.
There is something special about championship Saturday. Everything seems to be heightened. The sun is always shining just a bit brighter, the crowd is always just a bit louder, and the adrenaline that fills your body is ALWAYS elevated. I remember warming up that day thinking to myself, “this is it, this is the moment we have worked for all season. Play our style of baseball for 6 innings and we are going to be crowned champions.” Before the game began, rumors started to speculate that Matt the man-child, would not be able to start due to a travel tournament he had that weekend. This would be HUGE if true as Matt was the only person who could slow us down all year and without him on the bump, we would have this thing in the bag. With about 10 minutes to go until first pitch, I began to see Matt make his way towards the bullpen. “SHIT.” I thought to myself. We had just been played and were now shitting our pants as 86 down the dick was soon to come our way. We couldn’t be scared however, we had been through too much throughout the season to come up short. After our best player, Shane had given us a pump up speech, we were ready to take the field and kick some ass. Luckily for us, we had our ace going on the hill who had been more reliable than State Farm all season long. If anyone was going to match Matt’s intensity, it was this kid and there was nobody I trusted more in that moment to deliver in the clutch. The first few innings were quiet. No base runners, just solid pitching. It was quite apparent that the first team to score was going to win this game. In the bottom of the fourth with 2 outs, the opposing team finally had things cooking. They had runners on first and second and were threatening to break this game wide open. Up to bat you ask? Matt, the best hitter in the league. I pinched back to the front of the outfield because I was afraid of my head being taken off on a line drive. First pitch, swing and a miss. I could literally feel the breeze on my face. Second pitch, ball outside. Both pitches were junk so I knew he was going to sit fastball. Sure enough, the heat came and he was ready for it. The ball was absolutely scorched down the third base line and I had about .2 seconds to react. I quickly went into a dive, stretched my glove out and caught the ball on a short hop. I quickly got up, fired a piss missile down to first, and got Matt by a foot. The crowd went absolutely nuts. As I jogged back to the dugout, I knew the momentum was now completely swung in our favor and had all the belief in the world that we were going to win this thing. We headed to the fifth, still scoreless.
In the top of the fifth, Matt began to struggle with location. He walked the first two batters and we were in business. After the third batter in the inning struck out, I was up to bat, with my chance to be a hero. Now, I think it is important to preface that Matt was on his last batter due to the alloted pitch count restriction that was assigned in little league. It was assured that whatever he had left in the tank, was going to be used on me, the man who just robbed him of a go ahead hit. I stepped into the batter’s box with a certain type of swagger to me. I spat on my gloves, pointed to god and dug into the box until a hole was made. I was in this dude’s head whether he liked it or not. The first pitch Matt delivered was 89 up and in. I shit myself a little, I’m not gonna lie. But I wouldn’t dare show anyone that. I swung at the next three pitches, but looked good doing it. As I went back to the dugout to sit on the bench, I bumped into the man who was about to face the new pitcher checking into the game. I told him, “This is your time, this is our time, now go out there and take it.” This was followed by a slap of the helmet, a rattle of the cage of the dugout and a burst of enthusiasm from my teammates. I may have struck out in a huge spot, but I sure as hell fired everyone up. The kid I talked to delivered a base hit to RF on the first pitch to give our team a 1-0 lead. We were 6 outs away from a ship.
After an eventless bottom of the 5th and top of the 6th, we were headed to the bottom half of the final inning, just three outs away from immortality. We called upon our closer to seal the deal and the plastic began to be hung in the locker room by the team mom’s. The opposing team had their top of the order up, so this was going to be no easy task, but we truly believed we had this one in the bag. After retiring the first two batters in easy fashion, we found ourselves just one out away from greatness. Then things began to get tricky. Their three hitter kept things alive with a bloop single to center. Then Matt was up and there was no way in hell we were gonna let him bat so we walked him and the 5 batter drew a hard-earned walk. The ducks were now full on the pond and the pressure had seemingly become suffocating. Due up for the opposing team was a scrawny little 4″2 11-year-old who could not of weighed more than 92 pounds. I sat there at third base, praying for the ball to come to me. The first 5 pitches of the at bat were deadly. Slider in the dirt, fastball away and two balls fouled off into the stands. The count had run full and the payoff pitch was looming. Although you can not steal on a pitch in LL, you may begin to run as soon as the ball hits the catcher’s mitt, so it is safe to say that if a ball was hit in OF and dropped, this game would be history. The payoff pitch came and I felt as if it was 10 MPH eephus. As the ball finally reached the plate, a soft ding was heard as a result of contact being made off the end of the bat. It was a soft pop up to RF. I knew the right fielder was going to have to come in a tad, but thought he would be able to make the play. As he came in, the ball began to dip faster and faster. Our right fielder dove for the ball and made the catch. I jumped in celebration and began to run for the dog pile. But wait…….the ump began to signal for no catch. He had called that the right fielder had trapped the ball, which resulted in both runners scoring and a loss for my team. I was stunned, crushed and frankly pissed off. To this day, I truly believe that he caught the ball. I had a clear shot at it and it was CLEAR that he had made a catch and had not trapped it. That will forever be the lost season and we will go down as the best team in LL history to have never won a championship. This is one loss, I will never get over.