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Softball Report, July 1 » Veolia Eastside Hillers: 2, Sammy’s Pizza: 16

Submitted by Editor on July 1, 2011 – 10:43 pm | Print or Email »No Comment

The eastside hill neighborhood team has been performing a wonderful amount of community service this year. Each and every game provides a veritable cornucopia of empathy and compassion, all given to the opposing team each night. While our bats have been silent, and our gloves frequently soft, our hearts have spoken loudly, and our love has been stronger than ever.

“It’s been a difficult season so far,” admitted assistant manager Joe Thielen. “We’ve yet to emerge victorious. Our only hope at redemption is the playoffs.” Thielen says the neighborhood team is on track to beat its own season-low record of two wins in a season.

The team is still in high spirits, however. Certain events have unified the group as a whole, including accidental meetings between long-lost Rhinelander residents, community-building pre-game practices, and a fresh crop of corn growing in one team member’s yard.

Perhaps the most unifying event for the team came as a negative event last week. Bats had been quiet all night. Sammy’s Pizza team was getting bored with us. Players in the infield mockingly suggested that they should start throwing left-handed and making plays behind their backs. The pitcher, serving as first-base coach as his team batted, derided the eastside hill team openly as we shouted encouragement to one another during a particularly tough inning. Seemingly playful words were exchanged between players and it appear that another joyful game would pass into the annals of history. Everyone seemed to be having fun, and the wheels of the Good Sportsmanship Bus seemed firmly in place.

The Eastside Hill team entered the bottom of the 4th inning down by 14 runs. With a walk, and several key hits, the neighborhood had scored twice. As the rally came to a close, Sara Thielen stepped to the plate. By this time, while it was clear the team may lose, it was becoming entertaining to see whether or not the game would go to a full seven innings.

“Sara’s typically in a good position to advance runners,” Thielen said. “She tends to hit grounders, essentially swinging bunts, either directly down the line, or at the pitcher. As a child, she had braces on her legs in order to straighten out her bones. While she’s not a speed demon, she often gets on base due to sheer willpower.”

With two outs, Sara stepped into the box. She took the first three pitches, and worked herself to a full count. Each pitch seemed to take forever to land. Finally, a high, arching pitch floated toward her. She hit the ball sharply toward the pitcher, a young, tall, strong left-handed man with a knuckle-ball and a good set of legs under him. The pitcher fielded the ball, and had only to make an easy throw toward first to end the inning. Tonight, however, a soft toss to first would not be enough for him to prove his prowess. Instead of throwing the ball, he sprinted toward first, racing Sara down the line, and easily beating her to the bag. His dominance of Sara on full display, he smugly walked toward the bench.

Manager Joe Thielen, noting the showboat, wryly said, “Good hustle, pitch.”

Thielen thought this humor might bring out the playfulness in the pitcher’s mood. Instead of smiling, however, the pitcher smartly snapped, “More than you can say for your team.”

The words hung in the air. Nobody, from either team, said anything.

The moment stung. True, the Eastside Hill team has struggled this year. It’s been tough. Guys are striking out, we’re making silly errors, and we’re not scoring runs. Having it all thrown in our faces in one moment was, to be frank, quite difficult. Sammy’s Pizza is filled with hardbodies; last time we played them they hit so many home runs that they passed the “non-competitive” limit. (only three are allowed in one game, the fourth is an out). There are no weak spots in their defense. Each member hits wonderfully and runs fast. None of them sport the spare tires that are so frequent in a non-competitive softball league. They truly are athletic spectacles to behold.

The Eastside Hill has traditionally played against teams with much more parity. Most teams have a few newcomers to the game, old guys who just want to play once a week, or girlfriends who like being on the field instead of in the stands. Sammy’s Pizza seemed, in this moment, more interested in crushing the opposition; so interested that the pitcher felt necessary to gloat about beating Sara to first base, despite her obvious difference in mobility.

This one tense moment, with a vocal member of their team openly deriding us, cast a pall over the group. Some of us got mad. One teammate simply walked away to avoid further confrontation. A few were able to blow it off and keep moving. But one thing was clear: Beating us on the field was no longer enough. The scoreboard was not going to tell a full enough story for Sammy’s. They wanted us to know how terrible they thought we were – weaker, slower, older, and nicer than any of them ever would be.

Still, the game had to continue. Down 14-2, with one inning left before the ten-run rule took effect, ending the game, the teams pressed on. In the top of the 5th, another two runs would come across the plate for Sammy’s. The second out would prove controversial.

The pitcher now coached third base for his team. Even though the team was up a dozen runs, the pitcher, still looking to grind the Eastside Hill team down even further, began arguing a call at third base. Expert third-basewoman Katy Hanson had clearly tagged out a runner who had slid past the base. The two ended up tangled together, his momentum carrying him past, and her glove securely on his arm as it left the bag. As the umpire called the player out, the pitcher began arguing with him. Defeating us by 14 runs would not be enough. The beating would continue until all parties were satisfied. For a second, it looked as though he might be tossed from the game, but eventually tempers calmed down.

The Eastside Hill team had one more inning at the bat before the ten-run rule would be in effect. Joe Thielen led the inning off with a weak grounder through the left side. Kelly Frasier hit a screaming line-drive right at the third basewoman, who elected not to make the play behind her back, for some reason. Josh Zeug hit two foul balls and was called out. Tori Hugo hit a bloop-single up the middle, advancing Joe to second base. Sadly, the last out would be recorded before Thielen could advance any further.

As the players shook hands, and the game ended, the Eastside hill team now pondered their options. Some left for home in dejection. Others went to Dooley’s for a beer and some food. The Thielens, along with Kyle, Mark, Becky and Houston, went to Shenanigans and sang karaoke until late in the evening.

Questions remain for the team. Will another late-season surge happen? Are all of our memories of past victories just long-lost dreams? Can we rectify ourselves in the face of adversity? Tune in next week, as the saga continues!

– Joe Thielen, Co-manager of the Eastside Hill Softball Team (brought to you by Veolia!)

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