Tribute to our Junior A's
Submitted By hbusseri on Monday, August 11, 2014
ON THE ROAD AGAIN: I know that I'm not the only one among us that has ever coached baseball within the community and found it rewarding, so I feel like I am speaking for many of us. Besides, I have this platform so I will use it. But for anyone that has ever offered their time, energy and emotions to coaching sports at any level, whenever you reach a team goal, when you win a league title or take a season-ending playoffs, it's rewarding, as much or more for how satisfied you for the boys or girls that have worked so hard as for yourself. It makes the journey worthwhile. But when you have had many of the same players over time, from 12 to 21-years-old, as I have, even more so.
Thus it was this weekend, over the course of five games in the Central Ontario Baseball Association (COBA) championships. For the Oakville Junior A's, the rallying theme evolved into “win it for the old dawgs” the five Oakville Junior A's players competing in their final season of eligibility who were still seeking their first league title together. The group included Alex Kupchak (Laurier), Justin Mattiussi, Matt Reagan (Queen's), Mark McIntyre (Brock) and Pat Griffin (Coll. Of St. Rose).
It seemed appropriate that these five were among the many players leading the way, both on the field and in the dugout as the A's clawed their way to a pair of Sunday victories and the COBA crown.
Matt Reagan is a horse. On Sunday he started the semi-final aganst Etobicoke, pitching five inning and picking up the win. Then he started the final two hours later against Mississauga Tigers, grinding out five more innings for another win. He wanted more, but, reluctantly, he was done.
I recall coaching Matt Reagan as a Midget, as a 17-year-old. He just found out during our season that he was diabetic. I remember how hard it had been for a teen to find out his life had changed and that he was mortal. All I could do as a coach was let him know about other diabetic athletes like Brandon Morrow, who sent a message, and Bill Gullickson and Bobby Clarke and Arthur Ashe, that excelled at their sports, despite dealing with diabetes. I remember being proud of how he learned to deal with the personal discipline needed to live a normal life. It made him even better as a player and a person. In fact, through the years, whenever I was looking for a morning pitcher, Matt was my man.
Then on Sunday, with a well-thought-out plan of action at the front of my mind, I started out to the mound in the final, with two outs in the fifth to get my pitcher. He glared at me and growled. “No, no, you can't do this, Rich.” Matt Reagan turned his back on me. I stopped and turned around and went back to the dugout. One popup later he was done on pitch No. 140. The “old dawg” had a new trick.
The chance to win always brings out the best in young athletes. Earlier in the day, on the way to the semi-final at Clearkson Park, Pat Griffin, who caught all 24 innings in three games on Saturday over the course of 10 hours, informed me that he would start and pitch the championship game if I needed him. He could hardly walk. Anyone that has coached baseball at these levels, at any age, knows that by the time you reach Sunday's championship game that you are looking for answers, looking for volunteers. Denver Carter (Guelph) had thrown a 122-pitch complete game on Saturday. He said he was good for an inning. McIntyre had thrown 123 pitches on Saturday. He was good for one.
McIntyre is another great finish. He has been a LHP/1B playing for me since he was about 13-years-old. This was his last game as a junior at 21. He has never believed or understood how good he is or can be. So it was really special that on this old dawg's last swing, his last at-bat against the Tigers, this lefthanded hitter launched a huge bomb of a home run to right that bounced and rolled to the edge of Winston Churchill Blvd....who once said “...nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” Fitting.
Kupchak, one of the other old dawgs had come through in the first game with a monster two-run homer against the Etobicoke Rangers deep into the long grass behind the left field fence to regain a lost lead. Mattiussi, the best right fielder in the league, rebounded with big hits in both Sunday games.
As for Reagan, knowing we were pitching shy, he took the ball and ran with it until he ran out of gas. He emptied the tank and handed the ball to Griffin for the final six outs, with an 11-6 lead. Guided through it all by second-year junior catcher Troy Findlay (Notre Dame College), not quite an Old Dawg, but close, who had also volunteered to come out from behind the plate and pitch if needed, Griffin closed it out with swagger, a final of 11-7 and the A's were finally COBA champions.
It was a team effort led by old dawgs, but the feeling of finally winning was just as sweet for dynamic leadoff man Danny Beaver, Denver Carter, Nick Dalby, Blake Donaldson, Ismail Patel, Callum Murphy, Matt Thomas, Sean McLean, Andrew Hart, Tim Levert and Cooper Stanley, who had already gone back to school in the States.
Many of you can identify with all of it, but that's what coaching is all about and my coaches Jim Findlay and Mike Nightingale agree. We'll be smoking cigars when I return from Seattle.
By Richard Griffin
Reprinted with Permission