By DOUG SMITH
Niagara Gazette — Put me in coach, I’m ready to play. It was like a line from a song last Wednesday afternoon at Kenmore West, where the cherry blossoms illuminated home plate while the Blue Devils and Grand Island Vikings played one of those games that makes baseball worthwhile.
The final play in centerfield made Mays’ iconic catch on Vic Wertz seem like an infield fly. It’s pretty close to 420 to center at Ken West – the only viable fence in the place, 500 to left, infinity to right. Viking centerfielder Mark McKenna was playing no-doubles defense, with eight hole coming up, two outs and a 3-2 lead.
That eighth spot hitter would be Justice Sheehan, who sounds as if he should be on the Supreme Court, and gaveled a dissenting opinion way over McKenna’s head. “I thought I could get it,” McKenna told Base Paths the following day, “but I’d misplayed one like it earlier, turned the wrong way.”
Retreating at the speed of a beaten army, he leaped, fell over backwards, somersaulted and came up holding the ball as the umpire affirmed the catch. Pandemonium ensued and even Justice’s Mom, next to whom Base Paths was fortunate to be seated, took it pretty well.
“He sure tried,” she said, typical of a heart-warming reaction on the Ken West side where they all moved to congratulate both sides on the quality of the game.
Even the errors had merit. In a game with three double plays and several other outstanding grabs, only one of the five runs was earned. GI broke through in the third when, on a double steal, West catcher Tom Ryan appeared to nail the runner at second, only to have the ball come loose on the tag. GI took a two-out error in the sixth when a smoking grounder about knocked down the second baseman, who came up throwing with his feet not yet planted and went low to first. Jeff Becker followed with a homer to right.
For alert execution, there was West catcher Ryan in the sixth as Grand Island ran a bunt-and-run, the runner from first turning the corner and heading toward unoccupied territory at third, vacated by the defensive rotation.
Ryan sped down the line, umpire on his heels, took a return throw from first and tagged the runner sliding in. The plate ump was impressed, to say the least: “I saw him go and figured, I better follow him.”
GI Coach Dean Santorio would call it “maybe not the best I’ve ever in involved in, but certainly one of the best.”
Thrills of a different sort invested Starpoint that day, where Alex O’Connell tripled home the game-winner in the eighth, 11-10 over Hamburg after trailing by four.
Said Coach Tim Racey: “It was one of those games you just want to keep the scorebook and look back on it forever.”
Copy that.Doug Smith offers his thoughts on baseball every Monday with Base Paths. Email Doug at firstname.lastname@example.org.