The Greatest College Baseball Game Ever Played

Game seven of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians may go down as the greatest major league baseball game, or at least greatest game seven, of all time. The two thousand-plus inning exhibition game between the Cubs and all-stars from the Iowa Baseball Confederacy in 1908 in W.P. Kinsella’s The Iowa Baseball Confederacy is doubtless the greatest fictional baseball game of all time.

So what about the best game ever in college ball? Well, there certainly is one.

New Haven, Connecticut. Yale Field. May 21, 1981. NCAA Northeast Regional, first round.

Future MLB star hurlers Ron Darling of Yale, and St. John’s’ Frank Viola would square off in a pitchers duel reminiscent of  many deadball-era gems of several decades prior. Many of the game’s 2,000 spectators hung around the ballpark for the second game of the NCAA Regional doubleheader, hoping for a better contest than the earlier 10-2 drubbing of Central Michigan at the hands of Maine. They had no idea what they were in for.

Darling and Viola were deadlocked in a scoreless game in the ninth inning. Moreover, Darling had yet to give up a hit and no runner had reached third base. As the game entered extra innings, both pitchers’ pitch counts were skryocketing into the 170’s, but it had no effect on either arm. St. John’s catcher Don Giordano marveled at the movement that Darling had on his pitches all game long. “An unbelievable slider that broke like nothing any of us were accustomed to seeing,” Giordano said.

Yale managed to scatter several runners throughout the game, but Viola, dominant in his own right for the Redmen, held them scoreless. Darling was just a tick better however, taking his no-hit sensation into the 12th inning.

Stephen Scafa led off the top of the 12th for St. John’s and managed to muscle a soft liner off his hands into left field, ending the no-hitter by Darling. Everyone at the ballpark, including, in a great show of sportsmanship, the entire St. John’s team, gave Darling a standing ovation. “I’ll never forget this as long as I live: The St. John’s team came up to the top step of the dugout and gave me a standing ovation,” Darling said during a 30th-anniversary of the game in 2011. Even in the midst of a great battle, monumental moments are respected by those who respect the game.

The speedy Scafa, always a base-stealing threat, immediately swiped second.

Giordana then reached on an error by Yale shortstop Bob Brooke to put runners at the corners. Thomas Covino came in to pinch-run, and the Redmen called a double-steal on the very next pitch. Darling stumbled coming off the mound and thus could not cut off the throw, which went to second. Scafa froze at third while Covina got caught in a rundown. At the moment the ball was thrown to first, Scafa broke for home, sliding in safely to give St. John’s a 1-0 lead they would not relinquish.

Yale was unable to score in the bottom of the 12th against St. John’s closer Eric Stamphl and the game ended.

In a performance that would make Walter Johnson proud, Darling went the distance in the 1-0 loss, allowing just one hit and striking out 16. Viola twirled a gem of his own, scattering seven hits over 11 scoreless innings. The fans at Yale Field that day saw the greatest college baseball game ever played. A timeless pitchers duel that lasted three extra frames and was decided on a gutsy (and brilliant), display of smallball at the most opportune time.

It was the greatest spectacle of sport and strategy at the NCAA level, and 36 years later has yet to be outdone. It may never be.

‘Tis a strange and wonderful game, that baseball…

Sources: http://www.nationalpastime.com

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A Draft Day Adventure

Lost in a world of fantasy, look what you’ve done to me.”

Yeah, that was a nod to a sizable hit song from 1982, remember? No? What about the Canadian rock band Triumph, who wrote it? Geez, what about the mega hit “Fantasy” by Aldo Nova? How about…crap, never mind. You may have known somewhere in the far recesses of your subconscious mind that these songs existed, but their details were very sketchy, at best. Basically, you don’t remember these songs any more than I remembered just how to play fantasy baseball.

You can imagine then, that I was a little concerned heading into last weekend’s draft, feeling like a mechanic from the 1970’s who started working on cars again in 2017 after a long time away. Sure, cars still have four wheels and an engine, but what makes them actually go is radically different from what he remembers.

This 2017 season is not my first foray into the world of fantasy baseball per se, but it is my first jaunt into this modern age of the game. You see, the last time I delved into this universe, the internet didn’t quite exist and you had to mail in your draft picks and lineups. Yes, that mail. So, here we are today and after some weeks of not-too-strenuous convincing and courting by a group of friends whom I share a mutual passion not only for baseball but specifically the Cubs with, I joined their league. Mind you, this is a league that is some 16 years old, give or take a foggy year or two at it’s inception during those joyous college years. Yep, this is me: Don’t try and join a startup league with fellow noob’s (as legions of basement-dwelling World of Warcrafters might call me), or a basic online league like I participated in, sort of, once before. Nope, just join a full 12-team keeper league full of veteran, extremely smart, analytical players. It’s going to be fun they said.

I started my prep with no singular direction, and outlined a list of players at each position without too much intricate research. I honestly had neither the time, nor the die-hard inclination. As a league rookie, I first got to participate in a mini-expansion draft with a fellow new team to the league and, actually, I think I did OK here. Selecting from a short list of available players who weren’t kept from last season, I managed to snag Johnathan Lucroy, Adrian Beltre, Brandon Crawford and Javier Baez. Not a bad start.

Draft day arrived and I was filled with excitement and anticipation, but also a modicum of fear as I didn’t want to completely Lewis Skolnick myself in front of a room full of long-time players. The auction rounds came and went, and my initial goal was to try and spread the wealth a bit to get a decent number of good players. Five buys later, mission accomplished. It was then that things began to trend in a direction that was less than upward, but not entirely to the trajectory of the Titanic‘s ultimate buoyancy in the North Atlantic, either. When it was all said and done, I took a look at my roster, feeling pretty OK about my performance. While I didn’t get remotely close to every player I had targeted (who does?), I still felt I had a roster of players who could deliver consistency in multiple categories. On second look however, I noticed two overarching themes:

Youth.

Health.

I don’t have a lot of either on my roster.

I do seem to have a good amount of power with guys like Lucroy, Beltre, Mark Trumbo, Giancarlo Stanton, Wil Myers, and Mr. Do-It-All Charlie Blackmon (easily my best pick of the draft.) Then comes a bench with what ended up being multiple catchers, but whom can also DH, a semi-surprising 22nd-round pickup with Josh Bell, and Kansas City utility man Whit Merrifield, who sounds like an Alpha Beta pledge at Adams College if ever there was one.

While the position players may be adequate, the pitching staff is cause for concern. Anchored by three injury/loss-of-stuff risks with Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Zack Greinke. A couple mid-level starters with James Paxton and Gio Gonzales round things out with Sam Dyson and Kyle Barraclough (whom I admittedly drafted about 12% due to his name), in the mix as well. Draft snafu #2 happened nearly too late of course, when I realized somewhere around the 19th round that I had no true closer, and all the big guns were long off my board. I had to settle, for now, on Huston Street, who promptly began suffering from some sort of ailment (again.) Not a great sign. But sort of fitting, in a way. I’m the dumbass who overlooked that spot on my roster.

What’s the point of all of this you ask?

None, really. I just wanted to write something, I haven’t written about fantasy baseball before, and figured I’d throw this yarn of shameless self-deprecation out in the universe and open the floor to mocking, laughter and sneers. Hopefully it works out and I can maintain something above the level of animal excrement for the season.

But I’ll keep an eye on that waiver wire too.

It Takes a Great Game 7 To End the Greatest Drought

Of course it just had to happen this way.

There they were, in the 5th inning of Game 7 in one of the best World Series of all time, with a fairly comfortable 5-1 lead and things were looking rather bright for the Cubs.

Then terror struck.

Beginning with Joe Maddon pulling starter Kyle Hendricks with two outs in the fifth at only 63 pitches and after Hendricks assumed cruising status, the domino effect rippled through Progressive Field in Cleveland. Almost immediately, the tides began to turn. A rare throwing error from David Ross and a wild pitch from Jon Lester plated two and we have a ballgame. Ross then lit up the scoreboard in the top of the 6th with a solo home run to make the game 6-3 and a little sigh of relief for the Cubs. Lester would settle in and toss three solid innings in relief before giving way to Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the 8th.

Then terror struck again.

Chapman, already depleted from overuse the previous two games was tasked with getting the final four outs. A single by Jose Ramirez and a double by Brandon Guyer brought the score to 6-4. The next batter, Rajai Davis, drilled a strong 2-2 fastball into the left field bleachers. Game tied at 6. Oh my. Lead gone, new ballgame, and several innings of extremely questionable moves by heretofore headstrong skipper Joe Maddon. The collective angst from Cubs fans was palpable. “Is this really happening? And now of all times?”

After both teams were blanked in the ninth, it was another “but of course!” moment, and only fitting that this game go to extra innings. Right then, it was time for perhaps a little divine intervention: A rain delay. A short one that only lasted 17 minutes, but it provided enough time for the Cubs to be ushered into a small weightroom near their clubhouse and given a rousing lecture by, of all people, Jason Heyward. For anyone questioning his worth on the team, at least for the amount he is being paid, and if his defense and baserunning weren’t enough, he justified it right then and there. It turned out to be exactly what the club needed to hear and at precisely the right moment. A leadoff single by Kyle Schwarber led to a brilliant tag up by pinch runner Albert Almora, Jr. on a deep Kris Bryant flyball, a hustle play that is up to Dave Roberts’ stolen base levels of importance. Cleveland intentionally walked Anthony Rizzo, and World Series MVP Ben Zobrist doubled home Almora Jr. to reclaim the lead. Another intentional walk to Addison Russell brought up pinch hitter hero Miguel Montero who promptly singled home Rizzo to extend the lead to 8-6. The Cubs had retaken control of the game even quicker than they’d lost it, something that fans got used to seeing all season long, leading to the team mantra, “We Never Quit.”

But you guessed it, this was far from over.

Reliever Carl Edwards, Jr got the first two quick outs in the bottom of the 10th but then walked Brandon Guyer to bring up Rajai Davis again, who singled Guyer home to cut the lead to 8-7. With two outs and a man on  first, Mike Montgomery entered the game to get the final out. He did, on a Michael Martinez chopper to Kris Bryant, who, smiling the whole time, gunned the ball to Anthony Rizzo for the final out, taking 108 years worth of championship drought with it. Thank you, boys!

The whole spectacle was just fitting in typical Cubs’ fashion, having to scare the crap out of the fans one last time before making history. But it makes sense to do it this way. With a four run lead entering the late innings, the game could’ve gone somewhat vanilla. But instead, some headscratching strategic decisions led to a dramatic game-tying homer, followed by a rain delay, extra innings, an offensive explosion, lead change, another two-out rally and then lastly the historic final out. Why not? The end result was what many are calling the greatest baseball game ever played. Again, fitting to end it this way.

This was three nights ago. The victory parade and rally was yesterday, drawing an estimated 5.5 million people to the streets of Chicago in a glorious celebration over a century in the making. For Cubs fans, it’s not only a euphoric feeling of a championship long overdue, it’s vindication. It’s more than a feelgood win. It’s an F-U win. Countless generations have had to endure the ridicule, jabs (many unfriendly), and ridiculous counterarguments from people who’s only rationale was “just because.” Or, “It’s the Cubs, you just have to hate them.” Whatever. I even had one person proclaim, with honesty, that “rooting for the Cubs to lose is part of the American pastime. It’s hilarious when they choke.” Really dude? Well you can now take the Commissioner’s Trophy and stick it up your ass. All of you. 1908 is a historical fact. So is 1945, and that’s fine. But things like the goat, the black cat, Bartman, curses, choking, “when’s the last time you guys won the Series?” which always prompted the tiresome prophecies from Cubs fans of “wait til next year,” blah, blah blah, are all things that Cubs fans will never have to hear again. The haters have gone silent.

And that silence is very pleasantly deafening.

71 Years In the Making, a Dream Is Ready To Be Real

“…what do you become when you walk through that door in center field?”

“We sleep,” says Chick Gandil finally.

“And wait,” says Happy Felsch.

“And dream,” says Joe Jackson. “Oh, how we dream…”

And so have Cubs fans also dreamed long. For 71 years. Or actually, 108. Although the context of Jackson, Gandil and Felsch’s above remarks were fictional (from W.P. Kinsella’s amazing Shoeless Joe, from which Field of Dreams was based), their poignancy remains relevant here. For lifelong Cubs fans, we have waited. And dreamed. I cannot recall how many times as a kid, or even as recently as two days ago, I dreamed I’d one day hear the words “the Cubs have won the pennant!” from some official voice. A broadcaster, perhaps. Or a news anchor. Any voice other than the one in my own head.

And then it happened.

By virtue of Kyle Hendricks’ masterpiece and some thunderously received runs, the Cubs beat the Dodgers 5-0 in Game 6 of the NLCS to clinch their first pennant since 1945. Rejoice, hallelujah, amen. Fans of other teams, save for possibly the Cubs’ opponent in the World Series, cannot understand what it’s been like. Nor would we really want them to. It’s been part of what makes the Cubs “our” team. But alas, one of the very reasons the Cubs have been able to do what no Cubs team could in the past 71 years is because they simply didn’t care. Well, not about the past, anyway. Sure there is ridiculous talent and unique energy on this team that has become the unequivocal best in baseball, but where past teams may have allowed pressure to mount and the “oh here we go again!” feeling to creep in if things started going south, this team did not waver in such ways. And here they are in the World Series.

Boy, baseball sure is funny. The Cubs as we all know haven’t won a World Series since 1908. The Cleveland Indians haven’t won since 1948. That’s the two longest championship droughts in baseball, a combined 176 years. While Major League Baseball may have yearned for a Cubs-Red Sox date in the World Series, featuring endless narratives about the teams Theo Epstein built pitted against one another, one long losing streak snapped with the other in-progress, the two oldest ballparks, etc. they got the next best scenario: Two classic, old-time franchises with the longest and largest World Series snakebites.

As has been the case all playoffs for the Cubs, pitching will be the focal point. But Cleveland has ridden the coattails of their stalwart arms themselves, to impressive feats along with timely hitting to arrive in this series red hot and hungry. The matchups look pretty intriguing too: NLCS Co-MVP Jon Lester takes the bump for the Cubs in Game 1 in Cleveland, going against their ace Corey Kluber, an 18-game winner this season. Jake Arrieta gets the call for Game 2, allowing Kyle Hendricks to rest fully for Game 3. Arrieta takes on Trevor Bauer, while Hendricks will face Josh Tomlin back at Wrigley Field. Rugged veteran John Lackey will go in Game 4 for the Cubs and although no starter for that game has been announced yet by Indians skipper Terry Francona, there is a good possibility that Kluber could go again on short rest as he did in the ALCS.

Offensively the Cubs really found their stride again in the final three games of the NLCS after a too-lengthy stretch (including the NLDS) of some quiet bats. By way of one little bunt from Ben Zobrist in Game 4 of the NLCS, something clicked. For just about everyone that is. This is the Cubs team I saw all summer was the collective sigh among Cubs fans. What’s more, is that it’s looking like slugger Kyle Schwarber may join the active roster in a DH role for the Series. Not only would this be a terrific morale jolt for the Cubs, it provides them with a bat that has game-changing ability, even if he hasn’t faced big league arms in over 5 months. The fact that Schwarber could be ready to go after a dreadful knee injury in April is a testament to his work ethic and, perhaps intangibly, the right piece to the puzzle at the right time. Conversely in Cleveland, their aggressive baserunning and some very timely homers charged their playoff attack. Look for them to test Lester and Arrieta in particular, with the threat to steal or take extra bases. Cubs catchers and outfielders however can counter that threat, and the stellar infield defense will need to continue. Beyond those factors, the head to head chess match between two of the best managers in the game, Crazy Joe Maddon and Terry Francona, should be enjoyable to watch.

Whatever happens, one long title slump is about to end. It should be one for the ages to see how it happens.

Source: Shoeless Joe, W.P. Kinsella, 221.

The Professor Runs a Strict Class

Before the season began, my prognosis for Kyle Hendricks was simple: That he could be one of the most effective number five starters in all of baseball.

As of September 13, he’s one of the best starters in all of baseball, period.

“The Professor” as he has come to be known from his intensely cerebral preparation before each start, and surgical-like approach to every pitch, has been nothing short of stellar this season. In his most recent start, Hendricks took a no-hitter into the ninth inning in St. Louis, before having an 0-2 pitch blasted into the right field bleachers by Jeremy Hazelbaker. Though his date with baseball history was, for the time, postponed, the shine on yet another dominant performance was hardly dulled. It was his 20th consecutive start giving up three or fewer runs, adding to his MLB-low ERA of 2.03.

Far from a power arm, Hendricks employs scholastic tactics to outwit opposing hitters, with a a variety of speeds (though he rarely tops 90mph on his fastball), and precision locating. The result is a chess match which, more often than not, the Dartmouth alum wins.

Predictions be damned.

The whispers of Hendricks joining the Cy Young Award conversation have now become screams, and for good reason. In addition to his staggering ERA and constant ability to get his team deep into games, Hendricks’ latest win was the 30th of his career and 15th of the season, putting him squarely among the league leaders in that more-sexy-than-vital category. In all, it adds up to a brilliant season for the young right-hander, drawing him more and more comparisons to hall of famer Greg Maddux every day. While that is certainly high praise and a lot of hyperbole given that Maddux did Maddux things for 23 years while Hendricks is only in his third, the approach and execution are certainly comparable.

With a Central Division title nearly within the Cubs’ grasp, followed by the playoffs, it’s sure to be an exciting fall for The Professor and his class.

WWL: The Story of the Best Midwest Wiffleball League of All Time

Baseball is one of the few sports that can be enjoyed in almost countless versions. Whether it be with broomsticks and racquet balls in a neighborhood street or alley, foam-cushioned indoor balls in a gym or basement, spitballs and your bare hands in any convenient room (or classrooms as many of us got detentions for in our youth), numerous tabletop board games, video games, card games, or variations on a cell phone, there are multiple ways to enjoy America’s favorite pastime.

Arguably the most common however, is Wiffleball. The old backyard version of baseball has long been enjoyed among friends and families for decades, but some take it to a much higher, more competitive level. If you do a Google, or YouTube search, you’ll find many Wiffleball leagues nationwide, from officially sponsored leagues to private, backyard club-type organizations among friends. But one man had the foresight to start a trend, at least regionally, which later took off on a grand scale.

Image result for Wiffleball

In this special edition post, we will visit with Illinois resident Chris Walker, a longtime baseball umpire in the Midwest and founder of the former WWL, (Walker Wiffleball League,) which allowed family, friends, and then-current, up-and-coming, and former ballplayers a chance to shine on the diamond in Chris’s custom-built Wiffleball stadium, in a league complete with an official rulebook, compiled individual and season statistics, awards, and well, lots of amazing stories along the way, long before anyone else was doing it.

Stay tuned for the full interview and story!

The (literal) Dog Days of 1886

Well now this is something you don’t see anymore. And some probably only saw it once, ever. For as bizarre of a game as baseball always is, it was even more strange in the 19th century. Chickens, wolves, and dogs…oh my.

On August 22, 1886, in a tied game between the Louisville Colonels and the Cincinnati Reds, the truly unusual happened. Louisville’s William Van Winkle “Jimmy” Wolf, also known as “Chicken”, hit a walk-off, inside-the-park home run to defeat the Reds. This game-winning whack was made possible because a stray dog, uprooted from his siesta near the outfield fence, charged Reds outfielder Abner Powell and started biting his leg. The feral canine attack caused him to be unable to throw the ball in on time as Wolf scored easily. The dog, in essence, saved the Wolf.

In the steadily growing list of Things You’ll Never See Again, this scene should be in the top five at least.

Also, let us not overlook the irony of a man named Chicken, playing in Kentucky.

Sources: http://www.nationalpastime.com

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1747745-mlb-dog-days-of-summer-a-player-named-chicken-wolf-and-aug-23-obscurities