Friday July 21st, Beveren, Belgium: Croats on the Brink of Elimination!
After that heartbreaking loss the evening before it is sometimes hard to measure the attitudes of your players and how they will respond the next game. Fortunately in this game of baseball in a tournament format one does not have too long to dwell on bitter defeats or even exhilarating victories. The very next day it is back to the field of competition and time to refocus on staying alive in this double elimination format. It is pretty clear. Lose to the Brits on Friday and go home to Croatia a day and a half sooner than scheduled or win and give yourselves another crack at the host Belgium team.
We found ourselves back at a more familiar 2:00 game time, however the heat in Belgium this week has been unseasonably and unreasonably hot. I don’t believe I need to worry about packing on the normal 10-15 extra pounds this summer. I’ve been sweating it off all month, even with pivo, which is Croatian for beer. To beat this British bunch I knew I would have to find a new hero. My number 1-3 pitchers were all used early in the tournament and not quite ready yet. So the call would go to our number-four guy, Dabo Matko, the Dalmatian from Split. The Dalmatian athletes are normally warriors so I felt fairly confident in the big guy. Unfortunately, the heat was wearing on Dabo and he struggled a bit early and we got off to our customary slow start with the bats. Our defense was developing a few holes also and by the 5th inning we were down 5-0. I was beginning to wonder what I would do with a few extra days back in Croatia.
True to form, in the 6th our bats started to come alive, stringing together a few singles to close the gap 5-2. We were the home team and with the knowledge of having the "hammer" one always feels if they can stay within 3 runs they have a shot. In their bottom of the 7th with the score 6-2 and 2 runners on base, Bobo hit a towering blast to right field that would have been out of most Major League parks, but in this cavernous field it fell just short of a home run. Our runner on first, Mile Pesa, was sent home as he should have been and their relay made it close, however Mile slid under the tag, presumably allowing us to cut the lead to two. Presumably that is until the Belgium umpire called Mile out to end the inning. We had a perfect angle on the play and it was obvious to us and all fans that he was safe. Unfortunately, not to the umpire, whose name I will not disclose. I’m normally pretty composed with umpires here, certainly moreso than when back home in Colorado. And after officiating high school football for 15 years, I have been on both sides of the dugout and sideline so I now take a different approach to arguing, or discussing if you will, with umpires.
Certainly I would have words with this guy, but I also know my limits. Well, this guy never allowed me to get to that limit. He was obviously intimidated by my presence and after getting a bit loud with him he actually came at me. I thought it was supposed to be the other way around. He asked me if I needed glasses and I informed him that no, but the ones he was wearing obviously weren’t working. Had I known I was going to get tossed so quickly, I would have given the fans a little more for their money. Lets see, in 32 years of coaching this is my fourth ejection and I can never recall a quicker one. So quick that my assistants, Bekic and Ijo, did not even know I was ejected until an inning later when the technical delagate came over behind the dugout and made me remove my jersey and sit in the stands. I felt like the French-Canadian hockey goalie in the movie "Slap Shot". I felt much shame.
So now I figure let’s see if the proverbial phrase "fire the players up" would work. Pesa came on in relief of Dabo in the 5th and was outstanding. He kept us close and when we went to bat in the bottom of the 8th we were hoping for yet another comeback like the day before. Crazy game this game of baseball is. Without question, the most unpredictable and contagious game on Earth. The day before Belgium scored three runs on three bleeders and an error. Now it was our turn. Walk, hit batsman, bunt single and and error and we are right back in this thing. Two more walks and and we have scored four runs in the bottom of the 8th inning without having hit a ball out of the infield.
What goes around comes around. Now we take a 7-6 lead into the top of the 9th and I am a spectator in the stands. I’m kind of enjoying this. Pesa, our newfound closer, shuts the Brits down 1-2-3 in the 9th and the Croats would get their revenge match come Sunday against Belgium. After the game, amidst the jubilation, I simply told these young men what all of us coaches remind our players from time to time. The game of baseball is not administered by a clock so just keep putting the pressure on the opposition and you always have a chance. It’s never over till the last out. It certainly wasn’t pretty but we were moving on and we will take it.
And to make matters even better, Saturday is our off day for the tournament. Time to rest some tired bodies and take in the sights of Antwerp the next day.
Until tomorrow, Bok, Bill.