I got to the stadium just in time to catch the last inning of the Raptors and Yogis game. Winner heads to next week’s championship. Ryan (Day #100) walked to the dugout from the bullpen, ready to resume catching duties at the pitching change. With one on and no outs and the tying run coming to the plate, Justin (Day #217) took the mound in hopes of earning a save. I spotted Caleb (Day #261) and Ben (Day #271) for the Raptors and Chandler (Day #270) for the Yogis and cheered loudly for all.
Justin promptly struck out the first two hitters and got the third out on a ground out to first and the Raptors were victorious, 3 – 1.
I congratulated the team in orange and promised my presence next week. After getting an ice pack for his shoulder, Ryan walked me to the field and introduced me to Mike.
“The league just wouldn’t be the same without all the work Mike does,” Ryan said.
Mike has been with the Grip ‘N’ Rip Baseball League from the start.
“I just love the game, love the league. The first year, I didn’t know if I could still do it and figured the worst thing that would happen would be getting hurt.”
Mike played ball at Hillcrest High School and was a back-up catcher and served bullpen duties.
“Benchwarmer?” I asked.
He smiled and nodded his head.
It’s always good to meet someone who understands the value of the underdog and role player, as my friend Moonlight Graham (Day #207) would say.
This year, Mike’s role is league photographer.
“I’m just trying my best to capture everything, to make these guys look better than they really are.”
A couple players from the Engineers team happened to be walking by and looked at Mike, nodding and laughing along at his words.
“Really, all these guys are great guys. Their talent is secondary to who they are as people. They are what makes this league great.”
We played catch in foul territory on the first base side, Mike using the new Wilson and me the old. A Cardinals fan, he last played catch with his sons earlier this summer. We got a good laugh at how the distances in the game seem to change with age. Throws from home to second used to happen with a flick of the wrist from the knees.
“Now it’s forever away, and don’t even think about asking me about my pop time.”
We continued playing catch and the Engineers warmed up nearby, taking grounders and fly balls as storm clouds rolled in. Coach Nasby of the Drury Panthers passed donning catcher’s gear, ready to start the game behind the plate.
“Four fingers, no lacing, but there is a web.”
It took a moment for me to process the words. Reuben, the home plate umpire for the second game, was commenting on my glove. He has purchased a couple of gloves more than 100 years old from estate sales and appreciates the beauty of the old leather.
When the announcer declared the time, I knew Mike would have to get in position for first pitch, so I took a quick selfie and shook his hand.
Grip ‘N’ Rip Championship Game is next Sunday at 2.
I’ve got a week to track down something orange to wear in support of the Raptors.