February 12, 2010

11 innings of hope (warning: really long)

Hey guys, my next two blog entries are going to be about the two baseball teams I coach. This past year baseball wise was a ton of fun and I’ve been wanting to write about it for a while now. Going to be long, but am going to divide it up into two parts, high school and summer ball. Also, I’m going to jump from game to game and it’s not going to flow real well, again I just wanted to write about this and if anyone enjoys it, that’s a bonus. I’m not going to use school names or player names. I had a blast coaching this year and our teams had a lot of success especially considering where we came from the previous year.

As far as the high school team, I’ve been an assistant on the varsity for 3 years now. I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t a very good coach my first 2 years. There are a number of reasons for this but I’ll be the first to tell you that I was probably a bit too young when I first started. I had played with many of the players and it was tough to get into a coach-player relationship when some of the players were your teammates either in high school or in summer ball.

So the first two years were simply put; awful. We went something like 5-15 and 3-18 my first two years. It was at the point where I couldn’t wait for the season to be over, it just wasn’t any fun and was extremely frustrating to look back on the year to see no progress being made.

So what changed? A new coach was hired this past year. I played under him my senior year (2004, seems like a long time ago) when he was an assistant. I was a catcher and he worked a lot with me, not only the technical aspects of catching but pitch sequence and how to control a game and help our pitchers. He was nice enough to let me keep my same position and we started with our off-season workouts.

We knew it was going to be a long process but for our first workouts at the end of summer we would typically only have four kids there. Meanwhile our competition would have no problems getting their whole varsity and JV teams to a camp, off-season conditioning, etc. However we started to lay the foundation there. As we went into fall we were slowly getting more of our players to show up to our fall ball practices and weightlifting. Despite that, there were still days where the turnout would just be deflating.

As we rolled into the winter, the new coach was able to get us into a winter hitting league and it was pretty clear we were overmatched in the beginning. Despite making progress throughout the duration of the league we weren’t exactly intimidating anyone. The hitting league ends right as tryouts started and we were on our way.

It was about this time that I took a DC member up on the opportunity to exchange hitting lessons for poker coaching. I learned a ton throughout our sessions and while we couldn’t implement a bunch just some of the basic things that we were teaching our kids were getting rid of bad habits and we were seeing results. While I was super confident going into the season a lot had changed.

1.No more three+ hour practices. The head coach’s philosophy is practice is 90 minutes, we’ll work our kids extremely hard for 90 minutes and then get em out of there. We were extremely efficient as a coaching staff and that certainly helped.

2.More coaches, we had 4 total coaches compared to two the previous year. This allowed for a lot more one on one time and a lot less going through the motions.

3.Scouting- we attended at least one game of every team in our league. We had tendencies, hitters weaknesses, how they react with two strikes, etc. This was invaluable as I’m the one that calls the pitches from the bench

4.Different attitude- The new coach basically told our players to play hard and play the game right.

Despite all this I wasn’t overly optimistic going into the season. Our team was very talented and athletic but we’ve never been able to put that together. In previous years the team was just unable to win any close games because of a number of factors. We were hoping to go .500 on the year and just build off that for future teams.

However I was cautiously optimistic going into the first game of the year. It was a league road game but a team I thought we were better than. It was to put it mildly, a nightmare. We were down 2-0, tied it at 2, down 4-2, tied it at 4 in the fifth inning and then gave up an eight spot in the bottom of the sixth to lose 12-4 thanks to a combination of bad pitching, bad defense, and bad decisions in the field. (for those that don’t know high school baseball is seven innings). As a coaching staff we were deflated, wondering if we had overestimated our ability.

Our next game was a non-league game against a weaker team in a higher division than us. It was a home game but going into it I wasn’t too optimistic. However baseball is a funny game. In that game we hit two homers and were up 9-5 in the fifth. Unfortunately that didn’t hold, I forgot when they tied the game but it was late and here we are again, in a close game late. Tied 9-9 going into the seventh were we able to win the game on a bases loaded walk. The range of emotions in that game was huge and it was great for our kids to be able to win a game that we definitely would’ve lost the previous year.

After that game we got really hot, winning our next four boosting our record to 5-1 including making it to the finals of a spring break tournament in which both host schools lined us up in their bracket. We won those games 4-3 and 14-7 and the kids were gaining a ton of confidence. In the finals we lost 15-7 to a team that was in a higher league than us and ranked in the state. Nonetheless we still had a 7-6 lead at one point but were just out of pitchers.

Rolling through we won two of our next three, including a 2-1 league win against another team that was ranked in that state that ended on a 4-6-3 DP. Now practices were fun. We hadn’t played any top teams in the league yet but I was excited to go to the field every day. It was no longer a chore and you could tell the attitude difference in the kids too. All of a sudden they were coaching themselves and believed they could be really good.

Two of our next three games were against the two best teams in our league and were both on the road. As a coaching staff we didn’t really expect to win either of these games but were never in either. The first we lost 25-5 and it was that close thanks to a 4 run 7th by us. The other game we lost 7-0 but were never really in it. Fortunately we were able to hold serve at home and go 1-2 on the week, but all of a sudden some doubt was creeping into our heads about how good we really were.

The next 2 weeks we played well but again the teams weren’t very good and we lost our games against the better teams again. Going into the last week of the regular season we were 12-6 and in 4th place of a 6 team league. In the last week we were playing the two top teams in our league again as well as a team that we never play well against on the road. At this point we were the 5 seed for sectionals (playoffs) out of 15 teams. We needed one win that last week to secure a good seed and a good draw as a weaker team was actually in the 3rd seed at this point.

The first game of that week was against the team we lost 25-5 against the first time. However we had our ace on the mound and were at home this time. We took the lead right away and were up 7-2 thanks to two home runs. Going into the top of the seventh, up 7-2 we obviously felt like we had the game in hand. Then again, as is usually the case the last three outs, or last out in this case is the toughest to get. Up 7-2 with two outs and nobody on the next 5 batters went something like this; single, walk, E-7, E-3, home run. So now we’re tied and have no momentum.

Again, last year we would’ve caved but during that day we were able to bear down and get out of the inning and then in the top of the 9th we were able to get through their two, three and four hitters without scoring and eventually won it with a bases loaded single with one out after about a 10 pitch at bat. It was by far the biggest win of our season and showed our players that we really can compete with anyone.

We lost the next two games but played well in our last game of the season and after the win in the beginning of the week our seed was already locked in as #6. Being the 6 seed we got a great draw. Our first round opponent was going to be weak and we had the easiest second round game in our entire bracket. Despite not playing well in game 1 we won 9-0 and steamrolled over our second round opponent and all of a sudden we were in the semis.

Going into the semis nobody gave us a chance at winning. The team we were playing is a private school (and the 2 seed) so we didn’t see them during the season, made the finals last year and had pretty much everyone back from that team. There’s a local sports message board team and very few guys were even giving us a punchers chance. Our coach even hung some quotes on the wall during practice. It was a game where we knew we had to play our best to have a chance.

We had our ace on the mound and a brief scouting report but not much else. It was a cool atmosphere as we were the night game and I had never played in a sectional semis as our team got upset in the quarters my senior year when we had a chance to make a nice run. So all of this was new to me too. The game that was played that night was one of the best baseball games I’ve ever seen and I was lucky to be a part of it. I might be a little off with some of the details but here it goes.

We got off to a great start in the game going ahead 1-0 in the third on a double off the left-center field wall with runners on first and second and a sac fly made it 2-0. In the bottom of the inning with two outs and nobody on their two hitter reached on a bad hop single. Then, the next hitter who was the player of the year in the state hit a triple to right center followed by a single to tie the game at 2. They chased our ace after 3+, he gave up 10 hits and 3 runs. Fortunately our relief pitcher was able to get out of a bases loaded jam in the 4th by striking out the state POY. We tied the game in the 5th with a single through a drawn in infield, and it was a new game.

Right before the single to tie the game, the other team brought in their ace. He’s about 5’ 6’’ but throws very hard especially for upstate NY high school. We knew we weren’t going to have a ton of chances against him so tying the game in the fifth was huge, and this was when the game became a classic. In the sixth we were able to get out of a bases loaded 1 out jam, by striking out their 3 and 4 hitters. It may have been the lighting in the park but we struck out a kid who only struck out once all year in 2 big situations.

In the top of the seventh we had runners and 1st and 2nd, 2 outs when our leadoff hitter hit a soft liner up the middle. Their second baseman made one of the better plays I had ever seen diving to knock it down and it never trickled away from him. With the bases loaded we had our hottest hitter up and he popped out to second on the first pitch. In the bottom of the inning we had to bring in a sophomore to pitch and he had only been on varsity for a couple weeks. He was throwing the ball well and we traded zeros for a couple innings.

In the bottom of the ninth their four hitter led off the inning with a double. They didn’t bunt him over and the five hitter popped out to short. Unfortunately our pitcher uncorked a wild pitch and he advanced anyways on the next pitch. The next hitter flew out to shallow center. The runner on third bluffed and drew a throw that missed the cutoff man. It hit our catcher in the shoulder on the bounce, popped straight up in the air and he couldn’t find it. It was at this point the runner was halfway down the line, if he committed at that point he probably scored. However our catcher located the ball at the last minute and the runner retreaded the third. The next batter hit a bloop to shallow right and I thought the game was over. Our second baseman made a full extension diving catch to keep us alive.

Unfortunately we weren’t getting anything going at the plate. We had a runner thrown out trying to steal second and a couple atem balls but no serious threat since the sixth and the kid was on short rest but showed no signs of slowing down. In the tenth our 4 hitter lined out to right with a runner on third and two outs and in their end they put up a 0 and ended with their CF getting tossed after he slammed his bat and helmet after a strikeout. It was at this point I looked up at the scoreboard and noticed they had 11 hits. Just one since the third.

Going into the top of the 12th we had our 2-3-4 hitters up but none reached base, we were into the fourth pitcher and they were only one their second with nobody even warming up in the bullpen. After getting the first out in the 12th the next 3 batters went walk, E-6, walk. So now the bases were loaded with one out with their 3 hitter up, the POY. We didn’t solve him this time and he laced the first pitch he saw to right center to end the game.

I’ve never been so mentally exhausted after a baseball game, it started around 7:30 and ended at 12:30. Their line-up was so deep that we were constantly making adjustments to our scouting reports and our pitchers did a great job at making pitches in big spots. I’m not a big fan of moral victories but and I certainly wasn’t right after the game, but thinking back on it, it was a ton of fun to be a part of.

That team eventually won the state championship which makes the loss sting even more. I don’t think we win states but it would’ve been nice to have a chance at the sectional finals. One cool part about the game is I have seen fans that were at the game who talked about the game and everyone said it was the greatest game they’ve ever seen. The game is constantly rebroadcast on local TV, but since watching it for the first time I can’t even turn it on anymore. Sadly, all sports endings aren’t like a Disney movie otherwise we win the game in 13. Nonetheless, from where we came from the past two years it was a great experience and wouldn’t change a thing.

I’ll get going on part 2 early next week, I still have the score books from that so it’ll be a little more detailed oriented and accurate.

Posted By bosoxx34 at 07:39 AM

8 Comments

8 Comments:

Jackson Kings posted on February 13, 2010 at 13:33 PM

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[x] Really long


barrypatterson posted on February 15, 2010 at 18:28 PM

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high school baseball is awesome. becoming a team, buying in to a winning philosophy, practicing/training hard, continuing to play hard when overmatched... fun post. looking forward to the next.


xix posted on February 16, 2010 at 15:53 PM

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I'm so jealous of the support you guys have for high school/college baseball teams. I would have loved to have a catching coach. There are so many small little things I could have improved when I was a catcher back in the day, maybe I could have gotten a bit further with my game. I remember having one of those crazy long games, our was so long that the coaches and the reffing team both decided it was starting to get too late to play and we recheduled to finish the game the next day. In total we played 16 innings.


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