May 8, 2005
Georgia On My Mind...
Over the next three weeks we'll need to be listening to a heavy rotation of Travis Tritt, Ray Charles, R.E.M., and Charlie Daniels. Our last 11 regular season games are scheduled to be played against teams from The Peach State.
Today we're rolling up the Turnpike with Johnny Matarazzo behind the wheel of his Travel Lynx sleeper bus. Johnny was MIA until our trip last week to UCF. He loves our guys and has become a fan and a friend.
I don't like being away for Mothers' Day- especially because it means leaving MB home alone with two kids, five cats, and our new dog. Replacing Katie wasn't planned to happen so soon, but we now have a five year old Samoyed named "Trouble". Will that name prove to be prophetic? Stay tuned.
Anyway- the trip started auspiciously when it suddenly got pretty warm on the bus. It wasn't just the 35 bodies- the AC was blowing hot air! That's not what you want 45 minutes into a 12 hour ride through Florida and Georgia.
While Johnny checked some valves, Coach Mac told the story of a bus ride from hell to FIU a few years ago.
We had found a cheap bus company to save some money on our budget. It's a 50 minute ride to Miami. What could go wrong?
By the time the bus reached I-95, it was obvious the AC wasn't working. The driver said it would cool down once we got some speed going. Wrong!
It was about 95 degrees outside and getting hotter inside as each mile passed. Guys were complaining as usual, but it just kept getting worse. I looked back, and saw two guys with their faces pressed against a ceiling vent. Players were stripped down to their sliders, and the bus had the look of an old WW II submarine movie.
Just when the heat seemed unbearable, we pulled into the parking lot at FIU. The bus erupted in cheers as players rushed for the front door.
The front door that the driver couldn't get open.
Panic was about to set in. I tried to push open the emergency window, but it wouldn't budge. Big Tim Burton pushed me aside and drove his shoulder into the window with a flying leap. 240 lbs of red head knocked out the window and landed in a pile on the ground.
It was every man for himself, as guys followed Tim's lead and poured out the window. You need to picture 30 screaming, sweating, guys in their skivvies rolling on the grass outside the stadium. The FIU guys and their coaches stopped BP and stared at the sight of our troops as they paraded by half naked, but finally able to breathe. I thought the adventure would give us a competitive edge. If we survived that, the game should be easy. We got hammered!
Johnny got the AC going and the rest of the trip went smoothly. A tired bunch of guys are safely tucked into bed, exams and school work behind them, anxious to see how we measure up against 6th ranked Georgia Tech tomorrow night.
The Yellow Jackets have a team batting average of .341. We have the Ensure aided, 165 lb freshman, Mickey Storey. Something's got to give.
It quickly did. Leadoff hitter Tyler Greene sent Mickey's second pitch over the right field fence and the Jackets had drawn first blood. But after two outs in the third, Alex Fonseca hit a bomb out to the discus throw area behind the leftfield wall, and we were tied.
Mickey started to settle in. He had the best command of his curveball that I'd seen this season. He simply started to mow down some great hitters. Tech got their second hit in the second inning, and that was it for the next six innings.
Meanwhile, Dr. Longball seemed to be wearing gray that night.
In the fifth, Jon Shapland stroked a one out homer to left to put us up 2-1. Justin Martin followed with a double into the leftfield corner, and Alex Fonseca picked up his second ribbie with a single up the middle to score Marty.
Tony La Russa likes to tell himself... "Slow the game down- and stay ahead of it."
As Mickey sailed into the late innings, I needed to control my emotions about what was transpiring, and stay ahead of it. How far would we ride Storey? Do we use McBryde in the eighth, ninth, or start him tomorrow?
Robbie Widlansky helped by drilling a fastball over the rightfield fence in the eighth, the lead was 4-1, and it was time for a decision. Send Mickey out for the ninth or bring in a guy who's been near automatic?
I had tried to "stay ahead of it" by talking to Coach Fossas. The extra run helped make the decision- we'd send Mickey out but have Mike ready at the first sign of trouble.
Trouble arrived quickly when Tyler Greene drove an 0-2 pitch off the wall for a leadoff double. As the Tech fans went wild, I brought McBryde in from centerfield to nail it down.
But my fear of the season's odds catching up with Mike were about to be realized.
He didn't have his curveball.
Mike has a great 12-6 curve which is especially tough on lefties- normally a good match for the lefty heavy Tech batting order. But not tonight.
The first lefty Mike faced drove in Greene with a single and the lead was down to two. The place was rocking.
Big Matt Wieters stepped in and Mike got him to pop one up about seven stories high in front of our dugout. It settled softly in McKenna's glove and there was one out. Fortunately we had Widlansky guarding the line at third when cleanup hitter Wes Hodges pulled a screamer to third. Woody laid out and knocked it down to save a double, but the hit left Blackwood at third and Hodges at first. The tying run was on base.
Mike got Jeremy Slayden swinging and we were three strikes away from the win.
Lefty Jeff Kindel was all that stood in our way. Mike got ahead with a first pitch fastball- two strikes to go. Another fastball for ball one.
I couldn't swallow.
Mike reached back for something extra as Kindel fouled back another heater.
One strike away.
The best pitch to throw here was the curve- follow up the high fastball with Uncle Charley. McBryde let it fly and Kindel drilled it past first and down the line in right.
Mike struck out the last hitter and we went to the tenth.
We loaded the bases with one out but couldn't get one run across, and went back out on defense with all the momentum having settled into the Tech dugout.
A leadoff walk, followed by a strikeout and a wild pitch, and the winning run was at second. After an intentional walk, Steven Blackwood singled and it was all over.
I didn't know for whom I felt worse- Mike or Mickey.
We needed to rebound from a devastating loss. We felt the early innings would be the key and we were right. But the key didn't work for us.
Chris Salberg got an umpire whose strike zone was the size of a postage stamp. We misplayed a double play ball and Tech went on to score two runs. This after a leadoff homer by Mike McBryde had put us on top.
The pattern continued as Tech scored two in the next two innings. We got as close as 7-3. But they broke it open and we lost 12-3.
It would be another sleepless night in room 505.
We took a terrible infield/outfield during pre-game. I wasn't happy with that, and that wasn't all. I gathered everyone down the right field corner and expressed my dissatisfaction with our approach all morning. What we discussed remains private, but my feelings were made clear. I hoped someone was listening and that those for whom the shoe fit, would wear it.
It's risky calling out guys right before a game; you never know how they'll react.
But, as someone once said in Atlanta... "Frankly, I don't give a damn."
If we lost because of the feelings I expressed- so be it. We have a lot of young people who have more to learn than they realize. But, as my old coach, Clary Anderson, always told me...it's our job to teach them.
Brandon Kloess was on the mound with about fifty relatives in the stands, and his Mom's chocolate chip cookies in the dugout. It's a tossup which was better- his pitching or her cookies!
Brandon brought his "A" game, and his slider. That slider, and his ability to pound the fastball inside to keep hitters honest resulted in a performance that looked to mirror that of Mickey Friday night. Tech got their first hit in the fourth inning.
We drew first blood in the fifth inning.
Widlansky led off with a single. I gave Fons the bunt sign despite my strong desire to let him swing his hot bat. But one run might win this thing, so the bunt was in order. The lefty, Turner nearly picked off Woody, further convincing me to bunt. A hit and run was my preference, but this guy's move was too good- risk versus reward.
Fonseca took a curveball for strike one.
"Lead me not into temptation Fons" , I said to myself.
I took off the bunt, but held Woody at first. Maybe Alex will hit a double. Instead, he dribbled a groundball in the approximate location of a perfect bunt, and Woody advanced to second.
Freshman Mike McKenna was at the plate and in a weekend funk. But Mac's a fighter and he drilled a single toward the line in left. Woody should score easily.
But the Tech third baseman stepped in Woody's path six feet from the bag. The collision prevented Woody from scoring and precipitated in a five minute argument that I lost. The umpires ruled that the interference should award Woody the base he was attempting to reach, which was third. They said that since he made no attempt to reach home, they could not grant it to him. My point was that it was within their discretion to award him home if, in their judgement, he would have scored without the interference. Since the outfielder's throw went to second base, I felt I was right. They didn't.
A wild pitch later, Woody slid safely home.
The ball never lies!
Kloess and company got a scare in the sixth when, with two outs and a runner on second, a Tech hitter singled to center. Nice day to give McBryde a rest by DH'ing him instead of having his cannon in center. But Tim Mascia was up to the challenge, nailing the runner at home for the third out and preserving the 1-0 lead.
Kloess was back out for the seventh, but we had Mike Crotta warming in the pen, as a debacle developed. The leadoff hitter lofted a fly ball to shallow left sending Alex Fonseca on a collision course with Jon Shapland.
We teach our infielders to go for the ball until called off by the outfielder.
Jon Shapland's a pretty quiet guy. He said nothing as Fonseca kept coming. The two players crashed and went flying off in different directions as the ball fell to the grass, the runner trotted into second, and I raced trainer Andrea Harrison to the fallen pair of players.
The tying run on second with no one out.
Kloess popped up the next hitter, but walked the following guy, bringing Tyler Greene to the plate. Fossas and I preferred this matchup with Kloess over Crotta, but Brandon's stuff had fallen off the past two innings, which we felt negated the advantage.
I went out to get Mike.
Crotta has struggled this season. He had some real good starts earlier this year, but is now in the pen, trying to get back to the pitcher we all feel he can be. McBryde couldn't throw today, so Crotta had to be the guy. Big Mike blew Greene away on a fastball, and ended the inning with a fly ball to center.
Daniel Terpak hasn't seen much action in the outfield this season. He's frustrated and I don't blame him. It's hard to expect young players to be patient and wait their turn, especially when they were good high school players who experienced nothing but success.
Coach Fossas suggested I DH McBryde and put Terp in right. It would give Mike some rest and Terpak a chance.
When opportunity knocks, it pays to be ready.
Danny made a nice running catch in right, singled in his second at bat, and grounded out sharply in his third trip. So far, a pretty solid day.
But we needed another run in the ninth, and Tech's right handed closer was dealing. I told Coach Roig that if Hutton got on base to lead off the inning, we'd send Stevens up in place of Terpak, to sacrifice Hut to second. Terpak is not a good bunter. Should Hutton make an out, I wanted a lefty to hit for Danny. The Tech righty has a nasty slider, and a lefty is an advantage in this ballpark.
Good assistants are a plus. George talked me out of making a change. He felt it was better to maintain our outfield defense late in the game, and he felt that Danny looked good at the plate. I went with his reasoning and let Terp hit.
As Danny fell behind 0-2, I was cursing George. But Danny battled through the at bat and ran the count to 2-2, fouled off four pitches, and then sliced a liner over the right field fence, making George and Tony look like geniuses.
Danny Terpak looked pretty good too!
Meanwhile, back on the mound, Crotta was in command. A 1-2-3 eighth, with two punch-outs, brought us to the bottom of the ninth as "Ramblin Wreck From Georgia Tech" blared form the speakers and the mouths of the faithful.
Deja Vu all over again!
But Mike Crotta was not going to be denied.
The first Yellow Jacket hitter went down swinging, but then a walk to the next batter brought the tying run to the plate, and the crowd to their feet. A bouncer in the hole at second was speared by Hutton and the game was down to one more out.
The last out was a fly ball in the gap at the outskirts of Shaplandville. Shap raced toward the gap, lunged, and grabbed it. The dugout erupted, but I waited until I saw Jon turn toward us and start jogging in before I breathed out again.
There were a lot of happy people on the field. I walked over to the fence beyond the dugout and congratulated Mrs. Crotta on the best Mothers' Day gift Mike could have given her.
This is my second Mothers' Day without my Mom, and it's still tough.
There's nothing like a Mom.
Mine played catch with me in the backyard when I was Luke's age because my Dad was never home before dark. She taught me how to iron my own clothes, helped me memorize the Latin necessary to be an altar boy, and showed me the strength of a working Mother long before the age of Women's Liberation. She was a strong influence in my life.
In the sermon at Mass this morning, the priest was talking about the special gift of Motherhood, particularly the ability of a Mother to always find the good in their sons or daughters. Even when, as in his case, the Nuns think he belonged in reform school, or in mine, when I was kicked out of the church choir.
Mothers somehow seem to find something in us.
Pope Benedict XVI wrote about his Mother's death in his autobiography.
He said that when she died, he felt a part of his home was in heaven.
Happy Mothers' Day. KC