The Pirates played well throughout the regular season, yet they seemed to be missing that extra ummph, that extra something. While they tended to play strong defensively, they struggled a bit at bat. Even so, they only lost one regular season game, ending the season with a 15-1 record.
The tournament began and we all held our breath. Could the Pirates make it to the championship again? There were three or four other teams that were pretty tough. Specifically, the Rays. Since they were in the American League division (and we were in the National League), we hadn't yet faced them. They had been blowing teams out all season long, though. Not only did they play well defensively, they had some heavy hitters in their line up. They had plowed over teams all season, ending with an undefeated record. Then there was the Blue Jays to contend with. They also had been a force to reckon with last year. They proved to be just as tough this year. Other teams we needed to look out for were the Reds, the Cardinals and the White Sox.
Because we had won our division, we got a bye in the first round of the tournament. Thursday night we played the Astros, winning 15-0. Late Friday night we played the White Sox, resulting in an 8-1 win. Now there were four teams left: the Pirates, the Rays, the Blue Jays and the Yankees. At this point, it became a double elimination tourney.
Early Saturday morning we came right back to the ball park to face the Blue Jays, which would be the most difficult team to beat yet. The Bluejays came out strong in the first inning, quickly taking the lead 5-0. Strangely, after the first (maybe second?) inning, the pitching machine quit working due to a short in the extension cord. There was a thirty minute delay as the umpires hooked up a new cord and buried it under the dirt. Coach Matt took advantage of this delay to rally the team. It worked. The Pirates did rally, eventually taking the lead and winning 9-6. This was the first game all season where it felt like the Pirates came together and played like a real team. They had that extra umph that had been missing prior to this game. They made some amazing plays and catches in the field and had some incredible bunts and hits. Oh, I love to watch baseball games like that! They are deeply satisfying. Deeply satisfying. I can tell you that the fans in the stands got some air that day. I know that I personally was screaming and jumping around like a lunatic!
Sunday came. It was time for the dreaded face-off against the Rays, and oh, they were playing for blood. They were ready to get some revenge after last year. We didn't play until 3:15 PM; my stomach was in knots the whole first half of the day. You would have thought they were playing the World Series. Some friends had us over after church for burgers and then went on with us to the game. I am thankful for them--it kept me from being overly-ridiculously-anxious!
What made this game more fun than usual was the fact that there were two players on the Rays that were on our travel team (the Patriots), of which Coach Matt is the head coach. AND the head coach of the Rays is an assistant coach of the Patriots. So it was Patriot Coach vs. Patriot Coach! This dynamic made us parents a bit less competitive, as we knew these players and coaches personally and wanted them all to do well!
Nevertheless...a tournament game is a tournament game. And, oh my--it was a bit brutal. The Pirates were somewhat rattled at the beginning, making some mistakes in the field. They just could never get the upper hand in the game, resulting in a loss of 9-2. We might have been beat, but we were not down for the count. We still had a chance to come back and play the Rays again for the championship.
Thus, we came back on Monday night to square off against the Yankees (who had upset the Bluejays the day before). Our Pirates had another incredible game, both defensively and offensively, resulting in a win of 11-3...
The Pirates had done it again! For the second year in a row they had come back to face off the Rays in the Championship game! Of course, it would be the challenge of all challenges. The Pirates would have to beat the Rays twice to win the championship title. The Rays only had to beat us once.
Coach Matt did up the championship game, just as he always does. He rented a sound system and had music playing in between innings. He had the players announced at the beginning of the game and every time they came up to bat. This is how Coach Matt operates. He likes to make it extra-special for everyone involved. And extra-special it was.
Coach Matt has a knack of squeezing every bit of talent out of a player that can be squeezed. Oh, in this game every bit of talent came forth. The Pirates shone. They played the game of their life. They held the Rays to three runs for the entire game, something that no team had been able to do all season long. It was a great defensive battle. In the end, though, the Rays just had a few extra hits in them then we did. It was a rather fast and furious game, ending in a score of 3-1, Rays.
While we would have liked to have won that first game, I don't think there was a parent there that didn't feel as if the Pirates had played 110% that night. It was a great game--almost everyone hit the ball. It was a defeat to not be ashamed of. And they were runners up, which was no small feat.
That game was quite emotional for my husband and I. There had been something special about that Pirate team and now--well--I suppose it was the end of an era. It was the last game of rookie recreational ball. The last time ever for Wes to play as a Pirate. The last time ever to play for Coach Matt as a Pirate. What a run it had been these last two years...what a run.
And now we get to do it all over again this week with Joshua and Jeremiah... Oh, I can't wait! :)