Day 1: The Games
The afternoon continued with the first of five intersquad games. The pros (or coaches) excused themselves from lunch to pick teams. I was on Team Hargrove and Team Rhomberg. The Rhomberg in this case was Kevin Rhomberg who played for the Indians from 1982-84. Kevin also organized the entire camp and made sure everything ran smoothly. He of course, did far more behind the scenes than the campers would probably ever know, but it was a lot of work that shouldn’t go unrecognized.
I was penciled in the lineup in the 3-hole and playing shortstop. I was the White Team’s Ryan Rua. Aside from a few swings in the cage during the spring and the morning BP session, I hadn’t played a game of baseball since my last collegiate game in 2003. There were a few Alumni Games at Mount Union but those were less competitive than the games at Classic Park. Trailing the Blue Team 1-0 after a half-inning of play, I was getting ready for my first at bat. All I was looking to do was hit the ball hard and did not care about the result. This is actually the approach we take with our hitters but it is easier said than done. With this in mind, I was looking for the first fastball near the zone. I wasn’t sure how many good pitches I would get so the first one to fit the description I was hacking. Ordinarily with a runner on first and one out, I would look to find a way to get him into scoring position and staying out of a double play. Had I not beaten out the relay throw I would have failed at both goals. But despite the rollover ground ball to short, I felt pretty good about the at bat because I accomplished my original goal of hitting a good pitch, and hitting it hard. I knew if the same pitch was thrown in my next at bat, I would crush it.
I lead off the 4th with the Blue Team still leading 1-0. I had made a few plays at short, one ground ball and one pop up, and I was starting to get a feel back for the game I had played competitively since I was seven years old. I was again looking for the first ball I could hit hard and as the leadoff hitter of the inning; my job was to get on base. There was no bunting allowed so that wasn’t an option. Not that I would in a game like this but it didn’t matter because it was against the rules. So was stealing, pick-off attempts (by pitcher or catcher), and advancing on passed balls or wild pitches. It was pretty much like playing backyard ball as a kid, but without pitcher’s poison or opposite field out.
Walks were enforced but hit-by-pitches were left to the hitter’s discretion. If the bean ball didn’t cause enough pain and the hitter wanted to stay in the box, they were allowed. This sparked a story from skipper Mike Hargrove about the time Albert Belle was hit by a pitch and refused to take his base. He told the umpire we would not take his base and he was taking his at bat. Hargrove was summoned from the dugout and had to basically tell Albert that he had to because “those were the rules.” Each camper had the option to think like Belle if inclined, but most just took their base and kept the game moving.
I took a few pitches and was in a 1-1 count when I got a fastball over the middle of the plate in which I was able to drive to the right-center gap. The players manning the outfield were not as fleet of foot as they once were so what should have been an opposite field single turned into a three-bagger. I was hoping it was only a single so I wouldn’t have to leg out a triple but the ball scooted nicely on the fresh-cut grass and I was on third. A groundout to first later and the game was tied at one.
There wasn’t much offense in the opener. The Blue Team took a 2-1 lead and we brought the infield into the cut of the grass. With an insurance run standing 90 feet away, we did our best to keep it a one-run game. The batter did his best Luis Gonzalez and I turned into Derek Jeter. The ball hung in the air for what felt like an eternity but I needed one more second because the ball fell softly into the outfield grass for a base hit. The 3-1 lead stood tall and we dropped the opener. We would have three more chances to get our revenge but game one belonged to the Blue Team.
In the locker room, we got more of the big league experience. Clubhouse attendants, or clubbies, were on hand to take dirt stained uniforms and throw them in the wash. This was a welcome change for me, as Coach Sankovich and myself split the laundry duties last season. Laundry left in the bins, campers said their goodbyes and went their separate ways, if only for a night.
Up next: Day 2