If the last few weeks has taught Vancouver fans anything, it’s thevalue of pitching. When the C’s bats were stone cold quiet, whenstrikeouts were so in fashion that some called them ‘the new black’,when crowds were silent and results terrible, the one constant thisseason has been pitching.
In fact, Vancouver’s pitching has been so good, for so long, that somepundits across the NWL have stated that the team is really no betterthan average - they just got lucky with some quality hurlers. I saythat’s wrong. Big time wrong. Those who write Vancouver off as anaverage team and put their victory down to throwing are missing onevery quality ingredient that every successful team needs: The Gamer.
Let’s roll it back to yesterday. It’s the bottom of the 7th,Vancouver trails 3-2, and Haas Pratt has led off with a single. JoseGarcia grounded him into a force-out at 2nd, but Shawn Callahan thensingled to move Garcia into scoring position. The Everett Aquasox,realizing that their pitcher was done, brought in a reliever by name ofJustin Thomas.
Thomas is a decent pitcher, he was 3-3 on the season, had racked up asub 3.90 ERA, and most importantly, with the left-handed Chad Boydcoming up to the plate, Thomas is a southpaw. This wasn’t a panic moveby Everett management, it was the absolute right move. Thomas was theman to close the .278 hitting Boyd down.
But there was something Everett hadn’t considered when they looked atTum-tum’s stats - Chad Boyd is a Gamer. He’s fierce. He’s hard-headed.He’s a warrior. He refuses to lose without leaving a piece of himselfon the field.
So as Thomas bore down on Boyd and hurled a scorcher inside, Tum-Tum turned on it, and the ball did fly.
As Boyd would later tell TEAM1040’s Brook Ward, "In the first inning,when they hit a homerun, I realized the ball was carrying today, so Iwas really looking for something to pull. They’ve been coming in thelast few days, so I knew if I just waited for the right pitch it wouldhappen eventually. I wasn’t going to miss this one."
Boyd’s shot went deep over the right fielder - not deep enough to getout of the ballpark, but deep enough to send Garcia and Callahan home.Vancouver was in the lead, 4-3.
But it wasn’t over - indeed, for a Gamer, it never is… until it is.
Chad Boyd stood on second as Anthony Recker went through his pre-batflex routine, knowing that if the ball went fair, he was headed forhome, no matter what. Recker, to his credit, delivered the fair ballBoyd was looking for - straight up the center.
If one negative thing can be said for Gamers, it’s that they sometimesthink with their hearts and not their heads, so when the ball wasquickly reined in by Everett center fielder David Hall, Boyd waspassing 3rd and steaming home, even though wise heads would have saidhe had no business doing so.
The ball flew in to 6′3" Everett catcher, Daniel Santin, with the 5′10"Boyd still a mile away from home plate. This left the Gamer with twochoices - either turn back, or run right through the bigger man withenough impact to jar the ball loose.
As Boyd describes it, "I was going all the way, we needed to score thatrun, the pitchers had been doing it for us all day, but we needed thatextra run. So when I saw the catcher with the ball, I knew there was noway to slide past him, so I decided to put the hit on. […] I played aseason of football as a linebacker, so I was definitely trying toremember that when I ran at him."
Boyd dropped his shoulder, ran at the bigger, much better-padded man,and slammed into him with full force. The two players slammed together,both stayed on their feet, but the ball rolled free.
"That’s baseball," said Boyd afterwards. "There were no vicious tactics, it was all legal, and it worked out in the end."
Indeed it did. Because Chad Boyd, my friends, is a freakin’ Gamer.
But he’s not alone. The night before that game, Vancouver’s Jimmy Shulland Everett’s Harold Williams had been engaged in fierce battle on themound. In fact, going into the 9th inning, both pitching staffs hadkept their opponents down to just 2 hits a piece. To be sure, a lot ofthat was down to good fortune, a lot was down to sheer pitchingability, but some of it, at least on Vancouver’s side, was down to thework of a flat-out Gamer; 19-year-old shortstop, Justin Sellers.
Bottomof the 3rd, and the pitching is clearly dominant. Vancouver hadn’tmanaged to get anyone on base with the bat, and the sounds of whiffingwere becoming commonplace. Sellers, standing at the plate for hissecond time around, looked at Williams and realized he needed to shakethings up a little. So as Williams sent in his next pitch, Sellersbunted solidly into the gap between pitcher, 2nd baseman and 1stbaseman.
His idea was simple - get the ball close enough to the 1st basemanso that the pitcher would have to cover the base, then beat him to thebag in a foot race. More often than not, the pitcher will win this racebecause they have less ground to cover. But Justin Sellers is fast. AndHarold Williams is not.
Aquasox 1st baseman Jeffrey Flaig was committed - he had to grab theball, and as soon as he did, realizing that Williams wasn’t going tomake the distance, he ran at Sellers to make a tag. Sellers, seeing the arm coming at him,shimmied his shoulders around the tag like a wide receiver dodging atackle, and then, realizing that the 2nd baseman was looming at thebase in cover, dived headfirst to the bag, wrapping his arms around itlike a life preserver on the Titanic.
As the dust settled, Sellers lay flat, clutching the bag like a longlost love, as three bewildered, dismayed Aquasox players stoodabove him, wondering exactly what they’d have to do to have gottenthe little bastard out.
It was a full-on Gamer move, especially considering Sellers had minor surgery on his toe a few days prior.
But he wasn’t done. Going into the 8th, Sellers was revealing himselfto be the man to beat. Even as his teammates had only managed one morehit in the previous five innings, Sellers had stood on base threetimes, drawing a pair of walks to keep the crowd from falling asleep.But as he stood out at short, with the scores dead level and both teamslooking for a mere sniff of a run-scoring chance, he was about to showhe can play D as well as hit, walk, run, shimmy and slide.
With one out gone and Everett #9 Robert Hudson at the plate, the hittermanaged to knock a high bouncing shot up the middle. The ball, justhigh enough to get over pitcher Danielin Acevedo’s glove on the way up,was coming down in perhaps the toughest spot possible. As Sellers andWilber Perez loomed, it was clear that if they didn’t run headfirstinto each other, chances were bad they’d be able to stop the ball as ithit the ground between them.
As the crowd gasped, Sellers and Perez converged. For my money, someonewas about to get hurt, but Sellers noticed Perez coming, adjustedslightly, snared the ball just inches off the ground, and dodged Perezby an inch. He then spun away from 1st base, planted his back foot androcketed in a precision throw that beat the runner by milliseconds, forone of the most stylish, balletic, Major League-standard infield playsseen at Nat Bailey Stadium in years.
Gamers make their own luck, so the very next at-bat, as Casey Craiggrounded the ball hard at Sellers and it took a nasty bounce off theedge of the grass, hitting the infielder in the sternum, the ballricocheted off Sellers and dropped into the glove of Wilber Perez at2nd base for an easy out at 1st. Fortune favors the brave.
And he wasn’t done yet. Sellers would draw another walk in the bottomof the 8th - his second of the night, taking him to base for the 3rdtime in 4 plate appearances, on a day when only one of his teammateshad managed a single base hit. He would go on to draw a 3rd walk in the11th inning, to help his team come back from a 2-run deficit and pushthe game to 14 innings.
AnthonyRecker is a Gamer, though one who seems to sometimes lack belief in hisown abilities at times. In the top of the 11th inning of that same game, withEverett having scored two runs to break the 0-0 deadlock, Mike Massarograbbed the ball in deep center field and rocketed a throw to Sellersat short, who in turn gunned one to home to catch J.B. Tuckerill tryingto score.
Anthony Recker is no small guy. In fact, he’s a monster of a man. Sowhen that throw hit his glove and Tuckerill realized his only way homewas through Pipes, he must have wondered whether baseball was reallythe sport for him. But give him credit where it’s due, he ran onregardless.
Recker, in response, braced himself, protected the ball, bouncedTuckerill backwards and slammed his helmet on the plate as he trottedoff to the dugout with a sneer that would kill a mule from twenty paces.
It wasn’t that Recker had a great game on paper (he went 1-6 with adouble on the night), and it wasn’t that the play he made was a playthat was unexpected. It was that, on Recker’s face, it was clear thatright there, right then, with his team trailing, he would have runthrough a concrete wall if it meant he could turn things back toVancouver’s favor. That look he gave Tuckerill, and the sound hisshoulder made as it dropped into Tuckerill’s chest, told the crowd andeveryone else in attendance that Anthony Recker is not just a goodbaseball player.
Recker is a Gamer.
And if the Vancouver Canadians
manage a spot in the playoffs this season, it’ll be the Gamers thatthey’ll rely on to be the difference. Gamers like Boyd, Sellers,Recker, Shull, Mike Madsen, Brad Kilby, and Brad Davis. Guys who, inPete Rose’s words, would walk through hell in a gasoline suit to playbaseball.
Hell or Tri-City, whichever comes first.