After he married Wendy Peffercorn, Squints paid tribute to his days at The Sandlot by starting his own t-shirt company. When the Buck O’Neil Center was vandalized in June, Squints designed a t-shirt honoring Buck’s legacy to be used as a fundraiser toward some of the necessary repairs. More than $1500 was raised through the t-shirt. I wore mine to the Grip ‘N’ Rip League Championship game because legends are born in the postseason.
Like Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the 7th game of the 1960 World Series.
Or Alex Gordon’s home run in the bottom of the 9th in the 2015 World Series.
The Raptors were the visiting team against the Engineers at U.S. Ballpark in Ozark. The stadium was full of catch-playing friends. Lester was umpiring at first base and Coach Lael worked behind the scenes as league president. Rance was calling the games on the broadcast and I spotted Austin enjoying the game from the Press Box as well. Ryan, Justin, Caleb, and Ben were all catch-playing friends on the Raptors team playing for the honor of The Howard Bell Trophy.
In the bottom of the 3rd inning, with one on and no outs, Ben made a running catch in right field and doubled the runner off of first base. The first of many fine defensive plays made by the team in orange. From Schuyler’s gold glove diving catch in centerfield to Caleb’s arm at short, the Raptors defense was solid.
The next inning, however, the Raptors weren’t as lucky. The Engineers loaded the bases with no outs and scored the first runs of the game, taking a 3 – 0 lead at the end of four innings.
Tony, the league founder and commissioner, celebrated a gender reveal by hitting a ball off a tee. A puff of blue smoke filled the infield and the crowd cheered as players from both teams congratulated him. His swing would not be broadcast on Sportscenter’s Not Top 10.
“I’m kinda emotional, to be honest,” Tony said as he greeted me with a handshake.
At the top of the 6th inning, we played catch in the grandstand as the Raptors came to the plate, still down by three. Tony loved the new Wilson and threw several terrific knuckleballs. It felt appropriate to use the old Wilson while wearing Squints’ t-shirt. Tony and I both agreed that Coach Bell is a baseball legend.
“Just think of all the people he touched,” Tony said.
And then the Raptors rallied.
We stopped playing catch when Justin stepped up to the plate and I cheered as he drove in the first two runs for the Raptors.
“Justin’s teams seem to have magic about them when it comes to the championship game.”
Once the scoring started, it didn’t stop.
By a final score of 13 – 3, the Raptors are the Grip ‘N’ Rip League Champions!
A sincere thanks to all the friends in the league who played catch!