Why we all love sports
Great article by Richard Griffin, Head Coach, Oakville A's Junior team
No World Series rings or gold medals but why we all love
This is not
simply a tale of one GTA baseball team and what it accomplished. No, this theme
is universal, with hundreds of coaches, volunteers that can identify with the
emotions, if not the details.
This column is not about finger waving and posturing in victory. Instead, this is about why as adults we love baseball, why we love coaching, why we love being involved in sports and working with young people. It's why thousands of coaches choose to give of their time, setting aside and balancing the responsibilities of jobs and families, in sports at every level, with no Olympic Gold medal or World Series ring at the end of the sporting trek. The commonality is young athletes.
In this particular case, the example team is the Oakville Junior A's that in 2016 fell short of its ultimate goal of earning a spot at the Canadian Nationals in Regina, but still found another motivation, another gear, another ultimately satisfying victory that will be remembered for a lifetime.
As a focused Blake Donaldson made his way around the backstop towards the first-base dugout at Clarkson Park in Mississauga, he carried his equipment bag over his shoulder, holding in his hand a COBA championship ring from 2014, the other time he had won a league title. He was now the A's captain and leader. As the lone graduating member of the three-year group, the 21-year-old first-baseman felt the need to let his eight teammates know what was at stake. Pride and memories.
The day before, the A's had won an unlikely three straight games despite a depleted roster, down to a total of nine per game. Pitchers were called upon to play unfamiliar positions and there was no rest for the starter once his mound stint was done. He went from the hill to a defensive position, his arm often dragging at his side. But there were no more games after this, so suck it up.
Each of the four opponents over 27 hours believed they had a decisive advantage playing a baseball team with no bench, no bullpen -- and maybe they did. In fact, on the prior Tuesday, following the final regular season game at Mississauga North, I had been ready to forego entering the Central Ontario Baseball Association tournament because of the diminished roster size.
As coaches, Mike Nightingale and I had been so focused on a spot in the Nationals that we allowed for lingering confusion on the dates for the league tournament. Mention it and it seems you're expecting it. As such, many of our 18-man roster had made weekend plans, or work commitments.
I was talked out of the decision to withdraw from the tourney by a show of hands from seven A's that insisted they would be there for every game. But we needed nine. We managed to mix and match to cobble together a lineup for every Saturday game, making sure nobody was ejected, praying nobody was injured. Even then, getting to Sunday's championship was a longshot.
Mentally tough. Greg Barbuto had been scheduled to start Game 1 on Saturday, but was nursing a badly bruised knuckle on his pitching hand. By Sunday morning, Barbuto was still hurt, but lefty Ben Donnell stepped up and volunteered, despite 67 pitches in relief and the win in Game 3. Donnell tossed another 67 pitches, logging three innings, finishing the game, arm dragging, at first base.
Barbuto started the final at second base, stepping up to close the final two innings of an 11-5 championship win, without being able to feel his breaking ball. Lefty Austin Gerow played right field in the championship after throwing 75 pitches and 5-2/3 innings in Game 2. Righty Tyler Rymal, the fourth starting pitcher asked to play the field on Sunday, was at third base and said he was available to close if needed. He had thrown 129 pitches, going the distance in Game 1.
Well, at least there were five players familiar with their position for the championship game. Catcher Troy LaCoste had been willing to catch all four games in 27 hours, but we brought up Midget catcher, Zach Dera to backstop the middle game on Saturday in the heat. Regular shortstop Robbie Cant was the glue to an infield that made all the plays. The rest was pitchers supporting pitchers.
Left fielder Dan Ohorodnyk had been hobbled all season with a high ankle sprain, but limped through the finale coming up with big RBIs. Centre fielder Vic Christiansen made it to all four games and even volunteered to pitch in Game 3, loading the bases with nobody out before being relieved.
But the true emotions of the weekend channelled through Donaldson. In his final game as a junior, the Oakville native started out at first base, pitched two innings in relief, ripped a two-run go-ahead single, was the winning pitcher and effected the final out of the game as a second baseman. He showed them how and he earning his second ring.
Others in the tourney that played a huge role were infielders Luke Whitehouse and Kyle Carey, plus Matt Scanzano. Those that helped earn us the regular-season COBA title, included Cam Cook, Ryan Kosmynka, Danny Roderick, Mitch Over, Alex DeVos and Alex Fulton.
Every coach has his own similarly inspiring stories. This is just one of them. It's why we coach.
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