Monday, August 17, 2009

Tournament -- Final Day...

I don't even know where to begin. I guess I'll start at the beginning. "Well, let's see. First the earth cooled. And then the dinosaurs came, but they got too big and fat, so they all died and they turned into oil. And then the Arabs came and they bought Mercedes Benzes." Wait, no...that's from the movie, "Airplane!"

Saturday was the last day of this softball tournament and it was also the first time my mom was ever going to see me play softball. So, I really had two separate goals for the day: one was to win the entire tournament (as the goal has been all year) and the other was to at least have her witness one win. I just wanted her to see me happy because I knew that would make her happy, too.

We arrived at the fields around 10am for our first game at 11:15am versus whoever won the game currently being played. After everyone had gathered, I asked the team if anyone would do the honors of shaving my head (because it's falling out like crazy!) Ryan and Erin volunteered and I ended up with a mohawk for the day. Not what I planned, but hey...why not??

The # 4 seed in the tournament, Florida, ended up winning the right to play Pitt. Earlier in the season, they beat us to win the division title. Ugh. Our coach's pep talk included "we have one game to win. That's all. We'll worry about the rest later." And I kinda thought that too...for my mom. The game started off back and forth for a few innings as they grabbed a 5-3 lead after 3 innings. The score remained the same until they tacked on an insurance run in the 6th. So, we had one more at-bat in the last inning and trailing by three. It wasn't looking good as we only scored three in the previous six innings combined. First batter -- base hit, next batter -- base hit, next batter -- base hit, next batter -- base hit, next batter -- base hit, next batter -- base hit (that was me), next batter -- base hit, next batter -- base hit. I kid you not. Eight straight hits to start the inning and we took an 8-6 lead. It looked like that Bugs Bunny cartoon where the Bronx Bombers got hit after hit as they rounded the bases in a conga-line. We were going crazy...I literally was hoarse for the rest of the day because of that inning. Florida had the final at-bats. But, I knew I was not going to let them get anything easily. How'd they do? Well, as the Soup Nazi would say: "No runs for you! NEXT!" What a comeback. My mom got to see us win and we were moving on in the tournament. SURVIVE and advance. Our coach smiled and told us, "we have one more game."

We then waited to find out our next opponent. It turned out to be the #1 seed, Villanova. We had just lost to them a few weeks prior, 9-1. Our team had a mental block against them and I was hoping we could fight through it. We batted first...we were out, 1, 2, 3. Then in the second inning, we had base-running errors and errors in the field and we found ourselves down 4-1 after the dust cleared in the 2nd inning. The following two innings were scoreless. We were just marching through the innings in what could be our final game. Luckily, the 5th inning arrived. We got some life in us and got some people on base and scored 4 to take the lead. As I arrived at 2nd base, the shortstop said to me, "You guys just never quit." I responded, "I can't." He just he knew my situation. I don't think Villanova quit, either, but they couldn't manage to score again and we pulled off another comeback win, 7-4. SURVIVE and advance. Our coach smiled and told us, "we have one more game."

We had about 10 minutes to grab something to eat or use the port-a-potty or whatever before facing #3 Auburn. What the heck is up with us? We fell behind 3-1 after one inning. For some reason, other teams loved to jump out in front of us and we seemed helpless to stop it. I'm glad games last seven innings. I was comforted that we had just come back from deficits in the previous two games. And it worked that way again...we scored runs in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th innings as Auburn never scored after those three in the first inning. Our defense has to be the best in the league. I didn't mention it in my writings about the other two games, but we commit very few errors and make unbelievable plays. There were diving catches in the outfield, double-plays, diving stops by the infielders, complete splits by the firstbase girl! (Just like Geena Davis in "A League of Their Own.") Amazing had to be there. I can't do it justice. I makes my job as the pitcher so nice! I just have to make the batters hit the ball. Anyhoo... The Auburn game was over as we won 7-3. SURVIVE and advance. Our coach smiled and told us, "we have one more game."

Next up? #8 Virginia who had sent us packing to the losers' bracket the previous weekend. How would we handle that fact? We exploded for five runs in the first inning. I was psyched! I finally had a lead to work with at the begging. Well, that didn't last long as I had my worst couple of innings of the tournament. It seemed like anything I threw they hit well. It must have gotten in my head a little, too. Virginia had a pitcher who is about the same age as Mr. Burns on "The Simpsons." I can joke about it because his jersey read "Fossil" on the back. Well, he batted and I knew he wasn't going to swing the bat. Sure enough, he didn't. But I threw three straight balls to walk him. That was so foreign to me. I walk a batter about once ever 10-15 games, I think. I still don't know what came over me there! Okay...back to the game. After two innings, we lead 8-6 because my team was hitting a groove with the bats. I got my head straight, our defense did it's thing, the bats continued and after six innings it was 13-6 in our favor. Now, give me a 7-run lead and one inning to pitch...and I'll take that every day of the week. I just threw pitches so they would hit them...they scored twice, but that wasn't nearly enough. Another win. We were still playing (four hours after the first pitch of the first game). SURVIVE and advance. Our coach smiled and told us, "we have one more game."

Well, look who we had next. #10 Maryland. The team that beat us twice last year in the tournament for our only two losses. They are traditionally one of the best teams because of all the local alumni. But, now we knew we could beat them because we came close twice last year. Our coached asked before the game "is anyone intimidated?" We all knew we were not. Our great hitting continued with three runs in the first inning. They scored twice that inning, though. We both added a run in the 2nd, none in the 3rd, and none in the 4th. After four, it was 4-3 with Pitt in the lead. This was too close for comfort. What is a cure for that? How about our biggest inning of the tournament? Okay, by this point in the day, chemo boy (me) was a little out of it. So, I cannot remember what exactly happened that inning. I know it included one of the following (the others were in other innings or other games)...either Ryan hit a bases-loaded double or Carrie did...or Brittany hit one to the fence...or John did. They all were hitting great, so I can't recall exactly. Blame the drugs. We ended up plating seven runs that inning. We added another two in the last inning to take a 10-run lead on the team everyone loves to root against. Remember what I said about the previous game and having a 7-run lead in the last inning? Well, a 10-run lead is a done-deal. I came to the mound and our coach said, "No smiling. We can't smile yet." But that's what I do! Ask anyone. If I'm pitching well, there is a smile on my face as I'm ready to release each pitch. I wasn't going to stop (but I knew what he meant.) They had the top of their batting order up. So, I knew they could score and I'd then get to the lesser hitters. Sure enough, they scored three with their big hitters. But then it was my time. No one else crossed the plate. A 13-6 win for Pitt. I have to mention the one play that is my absolute favorite of the weekend. There was a runner on first and the batter hit the ball right back to me. I immediately turned to 1st base where our firstbase girl, Erin was on the base (right where I know she always is). As I threw to first, it was fun to watch the runner saying to himself "oh crap" as he uselessly tried to get back to the base. The runners are never in time. Erin and I have turned that same play countless times and it never gets old to me! Where are we? Oh yeah...SURVIVE and advance. Our coach smiled and told us, "we have one more game."

You know where we are now? "You're in the jungle, baby." No, wait...that is Guns and Roses. We are in the championship game of the Capital Alumni Tournament. That's right...out of 70 teams. We are in the final game! Last year's tournament run (last year's blog) was amazing and we finished 3rd that year. We had just outdone "amazing." But you know what? We were about to play our 6th game in about six hours and 45 minutes. Let me run down where our lineup stood as the game was about to start:

Ryan -- twisted his ankle in an earlier game
Sam -- playing with a bad back
John -- awaiting an ambulance because of severe cramping and dehydration (he is fine today)
Mark -- playing with a sprained knee
Jake -- trying desperately to keep bandages on his knee to stop the bleeding and allow him to still play
Wayne -- cramping muscles
chemo boy (me) -- the only "healthy" male starter on the team.
One of the substitutes we put in to replace some of these guys had a fractured wrist! That should give you a clue as to how we were doing.

How was the James Madison team we were about to face? They had played two games earlier that day and had an hour(s) in between each game. They were ready to run. Not great odds. In the first inning, we each scored a run. Then nada for each team in the 2nd inning. We were hanging tough. (I'm not a New Kids fan.) Unfortunately, we were pretty much too tired to put together any type of offense. We didn't score for five straight innings. If only we could have held them silent, too. But they were just too good and too rested. JMU took an 8-1 lead before we (in our never-quit style) added a couple of runs in the last inning. Final score...8-3. Our streak had ended. But it was a hell of a run. We actually won more games than any team (including the champion) because of our route to the championship game. I mentioned our defense earlier. We played for 41 innings and in 25 of those the other team did not score.

A few years ago, the U of Pittsburgh beat Notre Dame in football on NBC tv. After the game, the quarterback said on live tv, "I'm so proud of this f***ing team." Well, our coach quoted that in the post-game speech. I was thinking the same thing he was. We have the best group of friends (who happen to be teammates). It's so great. You want to know what kind of teammates I have? The entire event had a food drive for charity. All 70 teams combined to donate 10,000 units of food. Pitt, alone, donated 1800 of those units. In doing so, we won a gift-certificate to a local bar/restaurant where we will hold our end-of-season party. It will be such a fun time...getting together and talking about how incredible our season was yet again.

As I was packing up my gear, two random girls from the Virginia team approached me and introduced themselves. "We heard your story...can we hug you?" OMG. I was a little shocked, but it was very sweet. For anyone who has been on know hugs help a lot.

I cannot thank my team enough. You have no idea how much it helps to be laying in a chemo bed and having the past season to reflect on and the next season to look forward to. It's just helps so much. It's such motivation to get strong again. Although, next season...healthy or not, I'm told I have to keep my mohawk for good luck.

As I'm typing this, I have tears in my eyes. And I'm sure my mom does right now, too, as she is telling her friends about how great the weekend was for both her and me.

If you would like to see more photos from the day, a local free magazine covered it: "On Tap Magazine"


Paula said...

What an inspiration...Survive and more game. Almost like going through chemo...gotta take it one treatment/game at a time. Good stuff!

Jimmy P said...

Sweet!!! Rock on, Shawn...I guess that would be one time I'd be ok with rooting against my Terps for your/Pitt's amazing run.

Holly said...

Awesome! What a great season!

Sara said...

Awesome story, Shawn! I can't believe how many comeback wins you had to end up in the finals. I hope you are proud and happy with the outcome. Best wishes for the scan tomorrow.