Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A better Championship Game recap

Now that some time has passed, I think it's time for a more detailed report on Monday night's activities:

I arrived at the park at about 6 p.m., where I met Michael and Scott to start testing the pyrotechnics. Specifically, we wanted to see a) how much smoke the smoke balls and grenades would produce, b) if that smoke would be enough to cause the fire station next door to send firemen out and c) if there was a chance that we would somehow burn down the entire park with these things. We decided to take our various smoke-making materials down to the Los Angeles River canal alongside the park. (Of course, being the Los Angeles River, it's completely dry and just a big cement channel. Like where the Rodriguez Brothers had their car chase with Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton in "Repo Man".)

We started off with a small smoke ball and threw that into the channel. There was smoke, but it wasn't overwhelming. However, from the other side of the channel in the trees, some homeless guy asked us very nicely to not do that, since it was disturbing "his camp". I certainly didn't want to argue with a homeless guy about where we could test our probably illegal fireworks, so we moved further down the channel. (Actually, Scott did. Michael and I had stayed up above the river bed because a) it was pretty steep to get down there and b) there were lots of briars and thorn bushes along the way, as we found by having to spend 20 minutes picking themout of our shoes and socks.)

Eventually, we did test the smoke grenade, and it looked to be just the right amount of smoke to create a cool effect for us to come running through before the start of the game, but not enough to make the fire department come out. The package on the smoke grenades promised "up to 25,000 cubic feet of smoke" each, but although we're not really sure how large 25,000 cubic feet of smoke is, what the "smoke grenade" put out didn't seem to be that much.

Of course, the irony is that for all of the planning, we wound up getting too busy ACTUALLY PREPARING FOR THE GAME to pull off our big pre-game entrance. Specifically, Scott went into his zone about 15 minutes before the start of the game where he was trying to put everyone in the best position possible in the line-up, and when he does that, basically you can't talk to him. You can, and he'll respond, but it's complete auto-pilot. Plus, we had to fill out two copies of the roster (one for us and one for the other team), and for some reason we had to include first and last names.

We did manage to get a small piece of shenanigans into the pre-game ceremonies. When we traded rosters with Redrum, Scott and Michael came out with four flutes of champagne (actually sparkling cider) to share a toast of good luck with Redrum's captains. It was a sporting gesture, especially so since we obviously DID NOT POISON THE OTHER TEAM. Which might have been easy to do, but we CERTAINLY DID NOT LACE THE OTHER TEAM'S DRINKS WITH POISON. If you want clarity, look at the two flutes we used to give them their "champagne":

See? Clearly NOT POISON at all...

Before the game started, Scott gave a really firey and passionate speech. Well, not really, but it was very sweet, and he did copy a few things directly from "Miracle", which had been watched several times the night before. Basically, he reminded us that we really had no business being in the championship game, but all things being said we actually had played better than Redrum in the playoffs, and had every right to think we would win. Plus, Redrum wasn't hiding the fact that they were completely overlooking us.

Backtrack: Redrum beat us 12-1 in the regular season. It was the low point for our team, perhaps ever, and brought about a lot of changes. Most significantly, we started practicing every week, and I moved from pitcher to catcher. Basically, we were getting bunted to death, and having a strong-fielding catcher can stop a lot of that bullshit. That loss was the turning point for the season, since that's when people started to realize that if we actually played well and won, it would be more fun than losing. Which is not to say that you can't have fun while losing, but all things being equal, it's more fun to win.

Before the start of the game, Redrum was being pretty cocky. Which is what they are to begin with, but they're cocky in a fun way, not in a douchebaggy way like some other teams I've come across before. Redrum's pitcher, Dave, basically was bragging that umping his games is hard "because my curve ball is different than anyone else's", while their captain offered us a draw to save us the humiliation of getting whomped again.

We were the visiting team for the game (as the No. 6 seed going against the No. 1 seed, they had home-field advantage), so we kicked first. Which I actually like, because I felt like if we could get a lead early, they might start pressing. Scott lead off with a single, I followed with a single, and then Scott was able to score from second on Eugene's ground-out. (Scott is very fast, and also greedy.) We were up 1-0 after a half-inning, and it set the tone that it we weren't the same team they thumped in the regular season.

What REALLY set the tone was when they came up in the bottom of the first. Their lead-off kicker is Clark, who is probably one of the two or three nicest non-Ninjas in the Division - everyone loves Clark. He's also very fast, and basically can get on base at will when he bunts. However, our whole strategy is to use me to eliminate the bunt option. It involves bending the rules as far as it can go.

Here's the thing - even though I'm the "catcher", I don't even bother to concern myself with catching the pitches. I just line up at the back of the backstop, and as the kicker is planting his/her foot to kick the ball, I break into a dead sprint alongside them towards the field. I can time it right so that I am usually right alongside them or just behind them when the ball is kicked, which is all the rules say you need to do (the restriction is to "not be in front of the kicker"). By doing that, I can make a play on the ball with all of my momentum going towards first base.

Clark laid down a pretty decent bunt, but towards the middle of the field. When I got to it, I realized that it was going to be almost impossible for me to get the ball of the ground and make a strong enough through to get him out. So, I just reverted back to my days of youth soccer and kicked the ball to our first baseman, Other Scott. And it was a beautiful kick - hard, and right at Scott's chest. Clark was out by a half-step, and the crowd (all 30 or so of them) went nuts (as nuts as a kickball crowd gets). Needless to say, our team was absolutely pumped after that, and it set a tone that there were no free bases to be had in the championship game.

Of course, the next batter also bunted, except more down the third-base line, and I was forced to attempt and awkward, left-footed kick that almost caused me to fall. But, Scott bailed us out by making a juggling catch in right center field (coming over from shortstop) and firing to second to double up the runner for a double play. Scott was so pumped up that he left me bruised by punching my chest in excitement.

The next four innings were just really well-played. We had a few chances to break things open but couldn't capitalize. Redrum for the most part never threatened on offense. Everyone on our team made every play they possibly could. I was able to get at least three or four more outs on bunt attempts (either pop-ups I caught or grounders I could field and throw to first on), which really started to get in Redrum's head. Basically, they got so frustrated that they were spending more time complaining to the head ump about me "crossing the kicker" (which I didn't) than they were worrying about trying to score a run.

We get to the bottom of the fifth, and we're still up 1-0. I go out to catch, and I think to myself "Boy, this would really suck if they came back." Which is awful to think, but I've been snakebit so many times on teams coming back on my team, that it's only human nature. All I really wanted was a quick 1-2-3 inning, with no one getting on base and no reason to panic.

Amazingly, that's what we got. Three fly balls, three catches, and just like that the game was over. The Awesome Helicopter Ninjas were freakin' Division Champions! I didn't know that ESPN was broadcasting the game, but I saw this image on my Tivo later that night...

I swear to God, I didn't know what to do. I ran towards our bench, then the field, and basically was like Jim Valvano looking for someone to hug after NC State won the 1983 NCAA Final Four title. Scott came bounding in, grabbed two smoke grenades, and quickly lit and threw them onto the field for proper "atmosphere". I took my shirt off, a la Dennis Rodman,  and attempted to throw it into the crowd. I was aiming for Sara, who was completely awesome and skipped yoga to come watch, but my throw didn't clear the fence. Which is odd since it was absolutely drenched with sweat (I sweat a lot).

Afterwards, we went to the bar to celebrate. I felt completely ridiculous being that excited about winning a kickball championship, but you know what? I still am excited, two days later. As Scott said yesterday, we took a group of people who really couldn't care less about winning and losing and made them care enough to really give everything they had. A lot of people improved how they played multiple times over through the course of the season, and for a lot of people, that's probably the highlight of their sporting lives. Plus, we proved that the wacky, lovable goofball team COULD win a championship (we're sort of the Rick Vaughn-led Cleveland Indians of kickball).

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