Monday, May 02, 2011

A History - Bombers, 1995

It's 2011, and The Bombers are now a team with confidence. We expect to win. For you newcomers, I've got to tell you it wasn't always like this. Here's the story of our first season, way back in 1995.

The Bombers came into existence via an advertisement in the pages of Sports PLUS, a Friday supplement to the Boston Globe. Much of that section was for free advertisements, similar to classifieds, provided for teams who sought players for various leagues and activities. Having recently moved to Watertown in 1995, I scanned the ads looking for a local fast-pitch softball league I could join. I saw an ad for tryouts for a Saturday morning league in Brighton. I decided to go and give it a shot.

When I arrived at the field for the tryouts, there were 15 or 16 players milling about waiting for the organizer of the event to show up. I had been slightly apprehensive concerning my age - I was 38 at the time - wondering if I'd be much older than most of the guys who came down. Imagine that! Given my age now - 54 - it seems ludicrous to have worried about that then, but what did I know? Anyway, the first person I struck up a conversation with was Stu Stone, who would turn out to be my teammate for 12 years in three different leagues. He certainly looked older than me - way older, as a matter of fact - which I found comforting. As it turned out, he was perhaps 45 or 46 then. And there were a couple of others around my own age, so no need to have worried.

The organizer showed up. For the life of me, I can't remember his name now. We'll call him Asshat. As we found out later, he was the manager of one of the established teams in the league. He handed out some short questionnaires for us to complete, and then he had us all take the field for batting practice. We took turns hitting (Asshat pitched) while the rest of us shagged flies, fielded grounders, or just stood around shooting the shit and getting to know one another.

Here's the important thing you need to know about our history. As I said, Asshat was already manager of an established team in the league. A fellow by the name of Ron Johnson was supposed to be manager of the team of guys who passed the tryout. However, Ron wouldn't be showing up until later. Meanwhile, Asshat got a good look at us and picked off 3 or 4 guys for his own team, leaving the other 12 or 13 of us for Ron to have. In other words, he scooped what he considered the cream before Ron got there, leaving Ron to piece together what amounted to an expansion team from what remained.

For the sake of this next part, you have to know that Ron was (and still is) black. He had been a member of a team called the Bowdoin Bombers (from Dorchester, a neighborhood of Boston) made up almost completely of black players. The team broke up for one reason or another, and Asshat asked Ron if he'd like to manage a new entry in the league. Ron, being a good guy and a softball lifer, agreed. So, now Ron shows up at the field and meets his new team. As he related it to me a couple of years later (with a big laugh) his first thought was, "Who are all these white guys?"

After his initial shock wore off, he christened us the B-2 Bombers.

Ron is one of the truly nice guys in this world. If he had been more of a prima donna, he could have taken one look at the ragtag bunch of honkies he was handed and just walked away. God knows he was good enough to find a slot as a player on another team; he carried our asses that first year, leading the team in most of the significant offensive categories. But, he's a gem of a human being, so he stuck around, did the coaching, and suffered through some seriously sub-par performances.

That first year was hideous. Ron augmented our roster with an old teammate of his (and I do mean old, as Jimmy Jackson was well past 50 at the time and ran the bases about as you might imagine Fred Sanford doing so, but he was still a good pitcher - and a great teammate - and I felt sorrier and sorrier for him as the year went on and he was ill-treated by some of our defensive efforts.) We finished last with a record of 6 - 21. A few decent players (I like to think I was one) escaped the clutches of the selfish prick who ran the tryouts, but we had more than our fair share of flakes, nuts, and head cases who thought they were superstars.

We had an outfielder named Jeff Scott who seemed to think it was his mission in life to antagonize the shit out of every other team in the league. Jeff was an OK ballplayer, but nowhere near as good as he thought he was. He considered himself a power hitter, so he swung from the heels at everything within a foot of the strike zone. He had one home run for the season, and about 55 huge pop ups. In the outfield, he styled as often as possible, catching fly balls with a downward snap of his glove that just totally dissed whoever had hit the thing. And then he'd often make some comment to the opposing player as he was running in towards our bench. I'm amazed somebody didn't croak the guy. If it had been me he was taunting, I'd have had to take a shot at him sooner or later. Of course, the other teams might have taken into account the number of catches he didn't make, and figured it was in their best interests to keep him healthy.

We had another guy, a Hispanic fellow named Eli, who once beat the shit out of a City of Boston rubbish receptacle after making an out. While we all watched, he took his bat, walked over to a trashcan behind our bench, and pounded it with 12 or 15 vicious strokes that would have served him a heck of a lot better had he hit the ball with one of them during his just-completed at-bat. He accompanied the beating with perhaps the most foul string of obscenities I have ever heard spewed on a ballfield, but some of it was in Spanish so I have to reserve judgment on that part of it. Both teams, as well as the umpire, just stood in awe watching the performance. Ron said something soothing during the tirade, aimed at calming Eli down, but it seemed only to spur him on to greater insane heights. Afterward, with his demons released, Eli returned to the bench and sat down, huffing and puffing from his workout, and the rest of us tried to slide as far away from him as possible without his noticing. We didn't want to take a chance at him mistaking any of us for a garbage pail.

(I've got to be honest here and admit to recreating Eli's act myself, a few years later, substituting a stone wall for the trashcan. I had just gone something like 0-for-6 in a one-run extra-inning loss. I was trying to break my bat, but all I succeeded in doing was to chip off a few pieces of the wall and leave myself with a ringing sensation in my hands for a few hours afterward.)

The highlight of the year was our first win, and a true highlight it was. Let me wrap this up by telling you about it.

We played a doubleheader every Saturday, and it was the second game of our fourth week. We were 0 - 7 thus far. There had been a couple of decent games, but overall we hadn't scared too many people. This game, however, was against Asshat's team, the guy who passed all of us onto Ron as though we were leftovers from a rummage sale in Bangladesh. We wanted to beat him, badly, and we hung tough. Going into the bottom of the seventh (seven inning games were, and are, the norm) we had a one-run lead.

We got an out, then they got a runner by way of a base on balls. We got a second out via a fly ball, the runner remaining on first. Then Asshat came up to bat. And we all got a sour taste in our mouths when he laced one down the left field line for a double. Jeff Scott's throw came in quick and on-target, holding the lead runner at third. We still had our one run lead, but now the tying and winning runs were in scoring position, two outs.

We didn't walk the next guy intentionally, which might have been the correct strategic move, but Jackson worked very carefully to him, giving him nothing really worth hitting. Ball One. Ball Two. Ball Three. Ball Four.

At the umpire's signal for the batter to take his base, Asshat claps his hands and starts jogging towards third. Halfway there, he looks up and wonders why the runner on third hasn't moved. And then he realizes why, and desperately tries to run back to second...

Our catcher pegged the ball to second, because everybody on the field - except Asshat - realized that he wasn't forced to third by the walk. Any advance was at his own risk.

"Out!", said the umpire.

"Aarrgghh!", said Asshat, as he lay in the dirt facedown, his outstretched fingers still an inch from second base.

And we all exploded as though we had won the damn World Series. In a way, I don't know if doing so could have topped it. It is, to this day, still the most satisfying feeling I've ever had following any one win on a diamond. And that's why I'm still playing at my age. I've never won a championship at any level, and I need to find out if it could possibly feel any better than that game.


AB   H  2B 3B  HR   RBI   AVG    BB K   OB%   SLG%  OPS  R

Ron Johnson   50  28  0  0  8  27  .560   9  3  .627 1.040  1.667 16
Eric Cooper   55  26  3  1  0   9  .473   5  2  .517  .564  1.081 19
Scott Sarro   36  17  5  0  0  10  .472  10  0  .587  .611  1.198 17
Jim Sullivan  62  27  6  0  1  17  .436  13  3  .533  .581  1.114 15
Eli -         53  21  4  3  2  22  .396   4  3  .439  .698  1.137  8
Mike -        60  23  4  0  3  16  .383   4  1  .422  .550   .972 15
Scot Hathaway 79  30  4  0  2  16  .379   3  0  .403  .506   .909 21
Jimmy Jackson 66  24  3  1  0  15  .364   6  3  .417  .439   .856 16
Stu Stone     42  13  0  0  0   5  .310   1  0  .326  .310   .636  6
Jeff Scott    80  24  3  0  1  14  .300   2  0  .317  .375   .692 19
Paul B.       30   8  1  0  0   3  .267   2  1  .312  .300   .612  7
ALL OTHERS   101  31  2  2  2  13  .307  14 11  .391  .425   .816 19

TEAM         714 272 35  7 19 167  .381  73 27  .438  .529   .967 178


Jimmy Jackson 4 - 7
Scot Hathaway 1 - 2
Stu Stone     1 - 8
Ariel Monges  0 - 1
Al Lewis      0 - 3

BOLD = Team Leader

Notes: The only two players remaining from the original team are Ron Johnson and me. While I'm 54, Ron is now 58, and this will be our 17th season with The Bombers. Jimmy Jackson retired following the 2003 season, well past the age of 60, and only then because he had to have both knees surgically replaced. Stu Stone was a Bomber for 12 years. It was a Saturday league for the first three seasons, switching to Sundays in 1998. Next on the list of veterans is Fast Freddy Goodman, now entering his 15th year, then Jay Atton and Jack Atton, starting their 11th. And we're all damn proud to be Bombers.