There are some games when it is truly unjust that one team must lose. Such was the case last Wednesday night June 12th when the Gregorio Luperon Generals nipped the Beacon Blue Demons, 5-4, for the Class AAA PSAL NYC high school title.
In a 12-inning Yankee Stadium nail-biter that ended well after midnight, Beacon led for most of regulation and carried a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the 7th, usually the final inning in HS play. But an overzealous throw from right field missed the cutoff man and allowed speedy Richard Vasquez, who pitched the first five innings, to reach second.
With the tying runs on second and third with one out, Beacon's RHP Adam Bogosian, in relief of fellow righthander Max Moss, notched a strikeout to bring the Blue Demons within one out of the school's first championship. He got ahead with two strikes on Luperon cleanup hitter Angel Castillo-Lopez who then dribbled the ball a few feet in front of home plate down the first base line.
Both Bogosian and catcher Greg Hurlbut instinctively went for the swinging bunt but there was no play at first as the third run scored. Operating on "pure instinct," Luperon coach Rico Pena said later, Vasquez never stopped running from second base.
With home plate still vacated, Bogosian dove for Vasquez who slid away from the tag to tie the game.
To Beacon's great credit, they fought Luperon on even terms for four extra innings until the bottom of 12th. Then Castillo-Lopez led off with a walk, stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and scored the championship run on a a solid single up the middle by catcher Henry Pena-Mercedes.
It was the first-ever title game for coaches Rico Pena and Beacon's Tom Covotsos of Beacon, two baseball veterans who really care about the game and the players. Both schools are relatively new on the New York City scene and Covotsos and Pena are the only coaches the schools have ever employed.
Talk about a sense of tradition. Rico Pena remembers he started coaching Luperon the same year Dellin Betances graduated from Brooklyn's Grand Street Campus - 2005. And Pena wears #24 in homage to Willie Mays who he never saw play but knows all about from reading and tales told him by his mentors.
The first PSAL game last Wednesday also had its memorable moments. Competing for the Class AA title for schools with smaller enrollments, Brooklyn's Lafayette Patriots shut out Manhattan's Inwood Campus Gators,
2-0. Jason Jimenez hurled a complete game besting Inwood's Steven Santos. Lafayette flashy center fielder Brandon Prescod provided the key first RBI.
What a thrill it must have been for all of the players to compete on the hallowed Yankee Stadium ground (even though the grandeur of the 1923 original is long gone). Win or lose, the memories will always remain.
Beacon's star pitcher-second baseman Max Moss and center fielder Harper Diliberto-Bell are planning on playing at Clark University, the Division III school in Worcester, Mass. Already highly recruited by colleges, junior Adam Bogosian will return for his senior season. As will versatile shortstop-catcher Leo Jenkins, who kept the game alive by solid relief pitching in the extra innings and throughout the playoffs.
Lafayette stars Jason Jimenez and Brandon Prescod are both heading north of the city to Dominican College.
In my continuing desire to watch baseball on lower levels - away from the overly noisy major league stadia - I also enjoyed my first visit recently to the Soet Patriots independent Atlantic League franchise in Edgewater, New Jersey. TD Bank ballpark may be twenty years old but it still looks spiffy.
Independent league rosters are filled with older players hoping to get an another chance at affiliated baseball and the level of play can be spotty. But I saw a well-played Patriots victory over the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. Check the website somersetpatriots.com for the upcoming schedule.
Before the summer is over, I hope to venture out to Suffolk County to see the Long Island Ducks, Somerset's big rival in the Atlantic League who beat the Jerseyans out for the league title last season.
One last note on grassroots baseball: On a tour of Oriole affiliates Maryland last weekend, I was pleased by the atmosphere at Perdue Stadium in Salisbury, home of the Delmarva Shorebirds, the Single A-affiliate of the Orioles in the South Atlantic League (the Sally League). The team is playing well and has an outstanding record, a rarity for any Oriole team these days.
The Shorebirds' veteran gm Chris Bitters has a commitment to a baseball experience that is not overburdened by an ear-splitting sound system. Last Saturday night, he even opened the gates at 4p for batting practice.
It may not become a regular event because attendance was rather sparse, but Bitters deserves a tip of the cap for trying to create an atmosphere that reminds a fan of what the baseball experience used to be.
Here's an another tip of the cap to the Michigan Wolverines who though unrated in college baseball's top 25 is undefeated so far in the College World Series in Omaha. They have an ace southpaw pitcher Austin Henry who actually hurled a 100 pitch 3-hit shutout to get them close to the final best-of-three series.
Unheralded but gritty Michigan will make the final if they win a rematch against Texas Tech on Friday afternoon June 21 at 2p EDT. Vanderbilt plays at 7p June 21 and makes the final if they beat winner of 7p Louisville-Mississippi State elimination game on June 20.
Double-elimination tourneys can be confusing but they are simple in the later rounds. Undefeated teams like Michigan and Vanderbilt need just one win to make final round. Their opponents must beat them twice to get in.
Before I close, though 2019 has started with major losses of my ex-wife to cancer and my beloved calico cat Sheba to kidney disease and old age, I have found that experiencing live arts in NYC remains a great consolation.
I saw a memorable production by the New York City Ballet of George Balanchine's choreography for "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with Felix Mendelssohn's music. The brilliant humorous dancing of Sara Mearns was truly outstanding.
I also caught the Philadelphia Orchestra led by charismatic Yannick Nezet-Seguin at Carnegie Hall in a program of Stravinsky-Prokofieff-Rachmaninoff. Rachmaninoff's First Symphony is rarely heard because its debut was such a disaster in Russia that the 24-year-old composer withdrew it from performance.
It starts very traditionally Russian, almost as if the 24-year-old was writing Tchaikovsky's Seventh Symphony. Later movements veer into the realms of the unique brooding and yearning that Rachmaninoff would plumb more effectively later in his career. Still glad I heard the 45-minute symphony, especially in the hands of Yannick who really cares about the music and draws out astonishing sounds from the wonderful Philadelphia ensemble.
That's all for now. As summer officially nears, always remember: Take it easy but take it!