It was the kind of thing you hear about from your grandfather every time the younger version of yourself stormed off the field and hung his head. Your grandfather probably put a weathered pointer finger under your chin and gave a gentle lift, looked you in the eye and told you “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” He might share with you, in the quickest of moments, a vague pep talk about how they didn’t give up against the Germans, never to be mentioned again and obviously only for the two of you to share. Then he turned you around with a firm pat on the behind and told you to go back out there and finish the game, no matter what. And you did.
The industrious, dogged American is a well-worn—and well-earned—stereotype. Though the clock hands be nearly vertical, and the odds long, we Americans soldier on with an almost foolishly optimistic hope that we certainly must, somehow, come out on top. Perhaps this is a trait passed from our original colonial forebears, the British. After all, the plucky English instilled in our young country attitudes of excellence and teamwork that have allowed us to rise to heights even they never dreamed of.
But teamwork and organization are not enough. It’s a good start in business, war, or sport—but there is something more that generations of writers have struggled to define that makes a difficult task so seductive. Magical. Intoxicating. But it’s a rare organization that can perform the mundane and the magical in equal measure.
What is the magic of which we speak?? It is the ethereal substance that surrounds a group of men as they walk on the field, down by ten runs in the bottom of the ninth. It is more than just confidence. More even than momentum or pure skill. It’s culture, and desire, and brotherhood. It’s a spark that finds a tinderbox amongst ready and willing teammates. It’s faith, belief, dashing, reckless, and irreverent, all rolled into one. It’s a gleam in the eye; to do and die.
Why do we strive! Why do we stand straight against the wind and howl! Why do we shake firm hands, look to the horizon, praise the steadfast! Why, indeed! It is not, of course, uniquely American, but it is certainly a foundational belief of ours: It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.
This phrase is generally credited to Yogi Berra, whose 1973 Mets found themselves in last place with September only a day away. The implacable Berra, used to pressure and spotlight, brushed away a reporter’s question with the new-famous phrase. The Mets went on a tear to win the division, advancing all the way to the World Series. The season is also remembered for the catchphrase “You gotta believe!” Last Saturday, May 28 against their old foe the Mountain Athletic Club, the Dairymen believed.
Playing by the rules of 1895 (overhand pitching), the teams tossed a coin before the match according to the custom of the day that did not automatically give home field advantage to the home team. Winning the coin toss, the Dairymen elected to bat last. It was a fateful decision.
As ever, the good and bad starts at the top: Captain Nick “Roughcut” Frandsen committed a throwing error to allow the first batter to reach base and score. It was almost all downhill from there, as the Dairymen fumbled their way to a staggering 16 fielding errors. One could almost forgive the hapless Milkboys, who played out of position all day: a left fielder behind the plate; a third baseman in center field; a rookie at shortstop.
The offense tried to keep pace, plating five runs in the third behind five straight singles to put Bovina ahead 5-4. But the vaunted Bovina offense simply could not keep up with the flood of fielding follies. Four errors in the fourth allowed the MAC to score eight runs, chasing starter Dylan “Hobbes” Tucker. Of the 12 runs allowed by Hobbes, only three were earned.
The bleeding stemmed slowly. MAC slugger Devon “Beeds” Bedient took Dairymen reliever and ace Troy “Teabag” Tucker deep in the fifth, and after six, the MAC sat ahead at 18-8. But the Dairymen started to put themselves back into position in the fifth and sixth innings: they brought a catcher in to catch, put a veteran at short, and mercifully allowed the outfielder out from behind the plate. With their ace on the mound and a solidified defense, the Dairymen only allowed two runs after the sixth. Nonetheless, after eight and a half innings, the MAC were poised for victory: only three outs to go and ahead, 20-10.
We must pause at this point in our story to contemplate the attitude of the Mountain Athletic Club at this moment. MAC pitcher Beeds Bedient threw a gem, allowing eight runs over six innings pitched and hitting a home run. They are on the home stretch, and can surely smell home cooking and feel a warm embrace only inches away. No doubt, a feeling Icarus felt until the moment his wings melted off.
But that, so they say, is why we play the game.
Leading off in the ninth, Dairymen 3-hitter Ben “el Gamero” Denison, already with four hits on the day, popped out to the catcher. Bovina were down to two outs remaining. But then something strange happened: after two singles, Frandsen attempted to steal third base, only to realize Teabag Tucker already occupied the bag! A gasp from the Dairymen bench and glee in the faces of the MAC remained only for a moment; and the world stopped as the MAC catcher threw to third base for what would surely be an easy out.
But no! The throw was wild and both runners scored. The Dairymen bench whooped and hollered; the collective MAC shoulders slumped forward. Doubt circled the MAC as the sunset glowed pink and red on the clouds. Three walks, three hits, and three errors brought the tying run to third base, and a fourth error allowed it to score. A murmur coursed through the Dairymen bench: John “Chico” Finn, representing the winning run, stepped to the plate with two outs.
After watching their ten-run lead sink with the sun, the MAC simply could not get Chico out. He reached on an error and, reminiscent of Dave Roberts in the 2004 World Series, stole second after everyone knew it was coming. After a pitch to catch his breath, he took off for third in what seemed like slow motion. Sliding into third, Chico looked up to see another errant throw and his bench screaming with a single message: HOME!!
Picking himself up, his legs pumped for home, for the win! The universe, it seemed, hung in the balance. The MAC scrambled for the ball, too late. Chico crossed just in time and was mobbed by a jubilant Dairymen squad. The speeches and toasts ensued. Somewhere, a grandfather looked down and smiled.
And that, boys, is why we play the game.
Teabag Tucker bested an MLB record (4), striking out five batters in the sixth inning. Every Dairymen had at least one hit on the day, leading the charge was “Iron” Mike Brown (5-7, 2 2B) and “Gamero” Denison (5-7, 2B). Alan “Silky” Scarpa added a single and a double, and Tom “Thumb” Carey and Justin "Juice" betterley added a single and a walk apiece. Likewise, every Dairymen had at least one error. The Dairymen improved to 5-0. The MAC dropped to 4-4 on the season.
NEXT GAME is June 11 at Hilltop Farm in Suffield, CT, against the Westfield Wheelmen. First pitch as at noon.