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  • Oh, man, this morning I’m feeling a bit like Mean Joe Green looked in the classic Coke commercial of the early 80’s (pictured). Beat up. Knocked down. Battle-worn. But proud. Now all I need is for some kid to offer me a damn coke and the scene will be perfect!

    It all came down to last night. A season that began with practices on the recently thawed turf in early March, shaking the rust of winter off the bats and the bones. A pre-season tournament to get the competitive juices going to welcome in April.

    Then we charged out of the season’s gates…and stumbled to 4 straight losses against teams we could have beaten. Memories of those early seasons began to loom large, but we bounced back and won the next doubleheader – then split the next one. A 3-5 record – still not there. But I knew this team had what it takes.

    Then, with the dawn of May, we started figuring out ways to win. Amazing comebacks piled up. Solid defense took over, and the bats started booming, up and down the lineup. We reeled off 8 straight W’s that took us into June. The final showdown began last week, as we split with the team we were tied for the lead with. All we had to do was keep pace with them this week, do whatever they did, and we’d win. We had the tiebreaker.

    “Pop Flies” got a lucky break – the team they were scheduled to play forfeited both games, so they got 2 automatic W’s. That’s alright – we’d rather play the games and win on the field. But we now knew we’d need a sweep of the final doubleheader.

    I had a questionable knee. It had been acting up for a week, but always seemed to come around come game-time. Friday night, it got worse instead of coming around. I was hobbling around the bases and gimping after flyballs in the outfield. I iced and jacuzzied it all weekend, and it finally responded by last night - I was once again mobile.

    Half the lineup was in questionable physical shape. It tends to be like this by the last game of the season. I once had a manager who liked to do the pre-game pep talks. In first-tournament of the spring, before the first game, we all gathered in a huddle and he said, “Guys, take not of how you are feeling right now. This is the best you’re going to feel, physically, all year!”

    We played our best ball of the year, on both offense and defense. Everyone made the plays in the field. I’d finally given up on the “Youth Movement” experiment on the left side of the infield. They might have had more range than the old guard, but just weren’t making the plays with any kind of consistency. I played the two old-timers over there – Roger at Shortstop, and me at Third Base. We locked it down all night. Nothing got past us. We played like we were 26 and 27, not the 56 and 57 we are. As each one made a solid play, the other was inspired to do the same.

    It was a classic see-saw affair in the first game. We led 10-9 after 3 innings, fell behind 15-10 in the 4th, but had two innings to try to catch up. Our one flaw of the night killed us in both innings. Overly aggressive base-running. We wanted it so bad, we didn’t always use our heads, and ran into unnecessary outs. We only managed 2 runs, and dropped the opener, 15-12. It really hurt. Twice we left the bases loaded.

    The nightcap was played for pride. We couldn’t win the championship now. It was the same story as the first game. Great defense. Solid hitting. The other team just outplayed us, we made a few blunders on the basepaths, and came up 3 runs short, yet again.

    The “kick-in-the-teeth-while-you’re down” came in the last inning. The batter hit a rocket shot down the line at third, I got in front of it and got my glove in front of me to field the one-hopper, but the ball ricocheted off the uneven infield, nailing me right in the chest, damn near knocking me off my feet. I managed to reach up with my barehand trapping the ball against my chest, heaved a desperate throw across the diamond to try to nail the sprinting runner, then promptly spun around and fell to the ground, struggling for air. I could not catch my breath. I almost blacked out. Damn, that one hurt. The exclamation point had just been dotted on our defeat. Alright…I get it. Enough. No mas!

    We had nothing to hang our heads about – but hung them we still did. When victory is so close, there is no way to sugarcoat defeat. It tastes lousy. I’d had a night at the plate for the ages – (for the aged, anyway). Two bases-loaded doubles and a triple, 7 runs-batted-in, but I just could not feel good about it. Well, not as good as I would have liked to.

    It’s all over now. But, man, we sure gave it one hell of a ride. It may be the agony of defeat, but I’ll still take it over not having been in the fight in the first place.

    Hey, kid – I’ll take that coke now. Thanks, buddy. Here’s my jersey. See you next season.
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