May 22, 2007
As you may know, I’m knee-deep in football for the magazine, so I thought I would take today to talk a little baseball. If you’re a fantasy baseball player, I’m sure you’ve been reading our fantasy baseball stuff this year and you’re familiar with new contributor Mike Gill. Mike, as you may know, hosts a show on the local ESPN Radio affiliate in my area, and he also was an accomplished baseball player in High School and college. But what you may not know is that he’s a son of a bitch.
See, Mike coaches in the Atlantic Shore Babe Ruth league, the same league my 14-year old son plays in. Ironically, he coaches the team from Ventnor, which is where our offices are, and my son plays for the town we live it. His Ventnor team is one of the best teams in the league, if not the best, and they entered our game last week with an 8-1 record. They have this kid, I won’t name his name, but he’s nothing short of a man-child. He’s in the same grade as my son, and in fact they both go to the same parochial high school. He’s probably damn near a year older, but he’s in the same grade as my son. This kid stepped into the school last fall three months removed from his 8th grade graduation and was immediately named the starting QB for the Varsity team, just like JeMarcus Russell was (of course, Russell won a state championship). He played JV basketball, and this school is one of the better basketball programs in the State and has won some parochial state titles. The baseball team is also considered a powerhouse, and he skipped right over the freshman team and was a key player on JV (my son had a solid year, but he was strictly freshman team material).
So our town’s playing against Gill’s team, and it’s a very close game early on. We take a 2-1 lead right after my son hits a nice solid single to right, so Gill puts in this beast of a kid in the 3rd inning. Keep in mind my kid was hitting off a pitching machine in LaDainian Tomlinson’s rookie season, and now he’s facing a 6” 2’ animal with 80+ MPH fastball and a nasty curve. The kid shuts us down from there, as expected. My son faced him a couple of innings later, and he did get the bat on the ball, hitting a sharp grounder to 2nd that he almost beat out. And as the game progressed, our guys started getting around on this kid, and he was proving to be human.
Then, in the bottom of the last with the game tied 3-3, we get men on 2nd and 3rd with two out. And look who’s comin’ up, the #5 hitter, Christian Hansen. The stage was set. My kid, against the best pitcher in the league, the most confident athlete in his high school class, with the game on the line, in front of the home crowd. It was the type of moment you dream of as a kid, and, hell, even a parent. My son would tell me later that he was confident stepping up to the plate and knew he was going to get the game-winning hit.
Maybe getting the game-winning hit wouldn’t be an all-time great childhood story for my son to tell – it wasn’t a championship game or anything like that – but it was set up to be one of his better childhood sports memories, perhaps one of the best.
I gotta say, I should have expected it, but I was so caught up in the moment that what happened next really caught me off guard.
This Gill guy, author of our MLB Stock Watch, intentionaly walked my kid to load the bases. As he was walking around the infield I had to yell from the stands “Hey thanks for taking away a potential childhood memory from my kid!” I do have to give Gill credit; part of his decision was based on my kid hitting the ball hard his last two Abs, but loding the bases to set up a force at any base was the percentage play to call, and the next batter grounded out to end the inning. But I had to break his balls.
The game went into extra innings, and in the 9th inning, after our fastest player beat out an infield hit, our #3 hitter, Billy Guerro, who has been friends with my son since 4th grade and also attends the same high school as my kid and this pitcher, comes up to bat. When we first moved to our town five years ago, I was very impressed with this kid. I coached against him, and we never got him out all year as a 10-year old. He’s matured into an excellent player; I’d give him a very good chance to play and excel at the college level, and as impressive he’s humble about his abilities as far as I can tell.
It was stud vs. stud, one hell of a matchup, with the game on the line. Billy blasted a ball over the centerfielder’s head and we won the game.
So in the end, Gill got his.
My son last night, on the way home from his HS baseball banquet, attended by the key players in this story, expressed an interest in writing for me about fantasy baseball, which he’s playing seriously this year for the first time with all the guys from his HS team. He’s been pounding the WW all year, and he claims he’s always all over the guys who are the best pickups at the time.
That would be cool, but we will see; I will have to take him along very slowly. Like JeMarcus Russell, he has big potential, but he’ll have to be coached up for a while.
Here’s a shot of my son warming up getting ready to pitch in a babe ruth game last week, with the hero of this game in the background.