Thursday, April 05, 2012

Crown Wins Hot-Tempered Game

Will’s Crown Knights won an exciting, nearly bench-clearing game this past Saturday morning, besting the Nashville Monarchs be a 9-6 score. Nashville was one of the top three teams in the tournament, and came into the game with a perfect 3-0 tourney record. One thing that impressed me about the Monarchs was the way all nine fielders always hustled on and off the field.

With the Knights playing the part of the visiting team, Will was the first batter of the game. As he stepped in the box, Tanner’s dad Jay’s deep, professional voice boomed out over the loudspeakers: “Batting first for the Crown Knights, the third-baseman, number eleven, Will “Cuddly Bear” Murphy!” Fans and players from both sides erupted in laughter.

Crown got off to a great start, scoring six runs in the first, and another run in the second. Nashville was not playing well, committing two errors in two innings. The Knights could’ve scored more had they not had two runners picked off base in the first. After walking in the first, Will was hit in the back while leading off the second. After stealing second, Will watched as Nathan flew out and Braeden struck out.

This is when the complexion of the game began to change. As the pitcher peered in for a sign from the catcher, Will broke for third and stole the base while the pitcher held the ball on the mound. The play was close, and perhaps Will was out, but the umpire signaled safe. The Nashville fans voiced their displeasure.

On the next pitch Perry dribbled a grounder toward the shortstop. The third-baseman cut to his left and made a sweet play spearing the ball. He then had to turn his body to fire to first, with his momentum still headed toward second base. As Will trotted home to score, the throw rolled about 15 feet away from the first baseman as Perry crossed the bag. Though this wasn’t far enough away for Perry to advance, he took off for second anyway. The throw beat Perry by ten feet, and as the second-baseman applied the tag the eight other Nashville fielders characteristically began their sprint off the field. Perry had tried to slide around to the right of the tag, on the centerfield side. Then he stood up, brushed himself off, and took several steps toward the Crown dugout. The second-baseman joined his teammates as they dashed of the field. Then it happened.

The field umpire, positioned on the pitcher’s mound side of second base, dramatically signaled safe. The Nashville crowd roared. The rotund Monarchs coach ambled out to the umpire and LOUDLY voiced his displeasure. Crown led 7-0 as the teams changed sides, but the cheerful mood that filled the stands at the beginning of the game had disappeared.

Andrew had been pitching well for Crown, allowing just one manufactured run as he pitched through the Monarchs batting order for the first time.

Then things grew worse in the top of the third. Crown’s hard-playing catcher led off the inning. Patrick hadn’t been playing well since his father passed away last year, from an extended illness. On Twitter he often boasted of getting thrown out of games and starting brawls. But two straight doubles had Patrick’s mind on playing hard again. Now working the concession stand, I noticed stickers on the back of Patrick’s batting helmet. I moved in for a closer look: they were several sets of four tick marks, with the fifth tick mark across the other four. I asked what they stood for, and several joked that they were the times he’s been tossed, or fights he’d started.

Patrick worked the count full, walked, and stole second. The next two batters had both singled in the first, and the speedy Patrick would have no trouble scoring on a hit. Though Franklin struck out, with one out Eric stepped in with three straight hits to his name. With no need to steal third, Patrick took off anyway. He was a dead duck. The third-baseman took the throw and applied a normal low tag, in front of the bag. Because he slid in headfirst, Patrick was first tagged on his hand, then on his chin. Though the third-baseman had done nothing out of the ordinary, Patrick took offense. I’m not sure if he pushed his opponent or just had harsh words, but soon Crown third base coach Rosemond was physically pushing Patrick off the field. The Nashville fans jeered their displeasure. Moments later Eric struck out, and the Nashville crowd had more to cheer about.

With momentum on their side, the Monarchs rallied in the bottom of the third. After the leadoff batter doubled, the Nashville third-baseman was hit in the back with the first pitch. I’m not sure if Patrick was behind it, but as he went to get the ball, the third-baseman appeared to stalk after him. The tiny umpire immediately got between them and restored order, talking to both coaches and the pitcher.

The Nashville fans were loud, then got even louder as four of the next five Monarchs reached base. The next batter, Jake, doubled, then scored when the next batter’s single rolled under the centerfielder’s glove. After a fielder’s choice and a double steal Andrew seemed to wilter, walking two of the next three batters…both on full counts. Then he threw two straight wild pitches, allowing two more runs to score. Nashville had scored five runs, and the team and fans were cheering wildly. Will called time and went to the mound to settle Andrew down. Mercifully, the ninth batter of the inning grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.

Sam led off the fourth for Crown. After knocking in eight runs in the 9 am JayVee game, he promptly collected his third straight varsity hit. But another Crown baserunning mistake kept the Nashville fans cheering: with the hot-hitting top of the order coming to bat, Sam was thrown out trying to steal. The Nashville cheering continued as the next to batters flied out to center.

Andrew quieted the crowd by striking out the first two batters in the fourth. Next up was the tall first baseman Jake, a former teammate for Perry’s in Huntsville. When Andrew’s first pitch hit Jake, the crowd roared, and Jake slammed his bat to the ground. The rotund Monarchs coach again stormed out to the umpire, demanding to know why Andrew hadn’t been immediately ejected, since there had already been a warning. Now the game was completely out of control, and the Nashville fans voiced their displeasure. Fortunately for Crown, the next batter popped out to end the inning.

With Braeden leading off the top of the fifth, in the concession stand I told Mr. Lusk that a home run would go a long way to quieting things down. The tall Crown first-baseman granted my wish, parking a high fly ball just over the distant centerfield fence. Perry then walked, took second on a wild pitch, stole third, and scored on an errant pickoff attempt at first.

With time running down, Crown just needed to hold one more time. But after the first Nashville batter grounded out to short, Crown second-baseman Franklin missed catching a looping line drive when it faded away from him. The next batter hit a grounder to third. Even though it didn’t seem like a double-play ball, Will had plenty of time to get the force at second. Not giving up, Franklin made the turn and threw to first. Though it appeared obvious the batter had crossed the bag well before the throw arrived, the field umpire made another bad call: out!

As the plate umpire called the game over, some Nashville fans screamed. Near me, at least one dad chuckled, accepting what he could not change.

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