I know this is starting to sound more like The Ryder's Baseball Diary than an account of the interesting moments in our lives. Truth be told, our lives are all about baseball right now, so it's as appropriate as it can be.
Smunch's club team, the Thunder, has been practicing all season for a single tournament this weekend. One shot at glory.Too bad I took that photo during warm-ups. There were few heroic plays like this in the two games on Saturday...at least not by Smunch's team.
But the organizers made the tournament a big deal for the boys, complete with a stencilled path of stars between the batting circle and the plate.Each player was introduced over the loudspeaker before batting, with their cool team-chosen nickname. "And next up to bat, Smunch, the S-man, Ryder!" It was cute at the very least. Smunch's team all got painted with "whiskers" as well...just to make them look extra cool.Turns out, the tournment circuit is a completely different experience than what most of the boys were faced with during the regular season. The basepaths (the distance between bases) is longer, the balls are harder and take weirder bounces, the opponents hit the ball to the outfield as a matter of course and the rules are all different. It's entirely coach-pitch. You get six pitches and you're done no matter if you foul them off or not. (We never saw a player strike out on strikes alone.) The defensive pitcher (the kid who stands next to the opposing team's pitcher coach to field the ball) stands in a circle. If/when the ball gets back to the circle, all play stops. The strategy is different. And although teams are still limited to five runs per inning, the tournament includes a "mercy rule" stating that the game is over once one team is 10 runs ahead of the other.This rule proved crucial to the Thunder.
The Thunder were scheduled for two games on Saturday and one on Sunday, so we arrived bright and early at the field for warm-ups before Smunch's 9am game.It was bright and sunny and warm...a marked improvement over the weeks of cold and drizzle we've had to this point.
Smunch played right field and second base. I strongly suspect he plays right field (where only left-handed batters are likely to hit the ball) because he's one of the weaker players on the team. The fact that they gave him a shot at second base was nice, but he had no spectacular plays there. Mam, as usual, held court with the other younger sisters, having finally warmed up to each other now that the season's almost over.The Thunder's first game lasted just 45 minutes, then ended according to the Mercy Rule...LABT 13, Thunder 3. Ouch. It was eye-opening to say the least. The Thunder isn't a bad team. It turns out they just aren't very good, especially with all the new rules. I suspect they are also playing against teams that have practiced together a lot more and not just for a couple of hours most Sundays for the past few months.
Smunch was mad. As the last kid in the batting order, he got to bat only once and popped out to the pitcher in his one attempt. "We were AWFUL!!!" he spouted, with not a little vitriol in his voice. I'm somehow going to have to get used to managing this kind of frustration and anger in him. Compared to the other team, they did look pretty awful. Compared to his regular season team, they rocked.
We went home for several hours and returned to the park at 3:15 for his 4pm game. More warm-ups. They don't look bad warming up.The game, however, was much the same as the first one, lasting about 10 minutes longer, but with a similar result -- Cambrian Pumas 12, Thunder 2. Smunch, still batting last, got to bat only once again. This time he made it to first on a pretty little line drive between second and third. It was beautiful. And the next batter drove him over to second. When the third batter hit a giant fly ball to the outfield, it looked like Smunch would score and he started for third, only to have the ball caught and have to dash back to second with a slide to the base to stay safe. *phew* And then he was forced out at third by the next batter. And the game came to another abrupt end.
Today, game 3 is at 3:30, but I don't expect to be blogging about it. They'll be playing a team that beat both teams the Thunder played yesterday. And they'll be missing two of their best players. But maybe Smunch will get more field time. And maybe he'll get to bat more than once. It's all possible. I still expect it to be a short affair. Fortunately, Smunch seems content with the idea that he can go out there, have a good time and learn from the better teams.
Today will mark a farewell to club team play, but the All-Star team will be set to go. Should be an interesting sight to see... I think we'll spend tomorrow watching the big boys play. Timmy's on the mound. Buster Posey's on first. The weather should be fantastic. The Giants may not win. They'll be facing Ubaldo Jimenez, the Rockies' pitcher who is having an incredible season (to Timmy's current slump), but it should be a fitting end to the weekend...