Thursday, August 03, 2017

Freshman Baseball Update, Games 10 and 11

After an entire season spent on the road, the Campolindo freshman baseball team finally played at home for the first time in their tenth game.  The boys faced a rematch double-header against archrival Miramonte, playing on the home varsity field for the first time.
The first game was a taut pitcher’s duel, with Campo winning 2-1.  Campo’s ace went 6 2/3 innings, allowing only three hits and one run.  The few times Miramonte threatened, he managed to induce the critical outs to prevent the merry-go-round and comedy of errors that we had seen so many times over the years against the Miramonte players.  For his part, Michael drove in the first run with a walk, made a few routine defensive plays, and was involved in a critical pickoff play to eliminate a runner he had allowed through an error.  Campo scored its other run on a sacrifice fly, doing just enough to win the game.
Juuuust a bit inside ...
... to earn a walk and an RBI for the first run
In typical Campo-Miramonte fashion, the game hung in the balance until the very end.  Campo’s ace pitcher struck out the first batter in the top of the seventh, but the next batter singled and stole second.  Everybody in the park knew what was coming.  The next batter bunted, and as always seems to happen, something went wrong, and the batter ended up on first thanks to an error.  Then he stole second, putting runners on second and third with only one out and Miramonte down by only one run.  The next batter popped out for the second out.  

Unfortunately, Campo’s pitcher had run up against the mandatory pitch count limit.  That put the ball in the hands of one of the other pitchers, who had closed out a win against Miramonte earlier in the season.  He got two quick strikes, but then ran the count to 3-2.  With the tension in the park as high as it would ever be for a freshman baseball game, he induced a game-ending ground ball to first baseman to seal the win.  Campo did not exhibit much offense, and ran themselves out of a couple of potential rallies, but played well enough behind an ace pitching performance to earn quality win
And there was joy in Mudville

During the break between games, the Campolindo families initiated a practice that will likely become a tradition.  The parents laid out the spread of sandwiches, chips, drinks and desserts for the players, coaches and families of both teams.  The Miramonte parents and players were appreciative, and there was a palpable sense (in the natural course of the way the rivalry between these neighboring towns and schools works) that a gauntlet had been thrown, and a challenge had been accepted.

Rivals breaking bread together
It takes a lot to feed two baseball teams
Campolindo sent out a new lineup for the second game, so Michael sat out most of the contest.  The game started as shaky as the first game had been solid: Miramonte’s first batter reached on an error, and the runner stole second and third.  Fortunately, he did not score.  Both teams put runners on base in the first couple of innings through hits and errors, and Campo scored first, pushing across three runs in the bottom of the second.  Miramonte responded with five runs top of the third, including a two-run home run and a steal of home on the front side of a double-steal in typical Miramonte fashion.  Each team put up a single run over the next half innings, until Campo tied the score at six in the bottom of the fifth inning.  With the contest level, two innings remained to determine a winner, a setup Campolindo partisans would always be happy to accept.

Working the sidelines
The top of the sixth did not start in an auspicious manner for Campolindo, but it felt familiar.  The first Miramonte batter reached a dropped third strike, and the second batter was hit by a pitch.  In a series of events that seemed to confirm that the days of the Moraga boys always losing to the Orinda boys as a matter of holy writ were over, the Miramonte lead runner was thrown out trying to steal third.  Two pitches later, the second runner, who had stolen second, was picked off second, with Michael – having just entered the game at shortstop – working the second base pickoff with his pitcher to perfection.  The batter during all this drama then struck out.  Thus ended a typically crazy inning: only three batters came to the plate, two of them got on base without a hit (one by strikeout), both were erased from the base paths, and the ball was never once put in play.  

Picking off a dangerous runner is always a good reason for smiles   
 (All photos courtesy B. Maher)
In the bottom of the sixth inning, with two outs the Campolindo batters string together consecutive singles.  Unfortunately, a runner was thrown out at home for the third out – the third Campolindo player thrown out at home in the game.  In the top of the seventh, the fates got back on script.  A single, a stolen base, a wild pitch, and a ground out gave Miramonte to the go-ahead run, and an error later in the inning gave them an insurance run, even as Campo’s catcher threw out another runner attempting to steal.  Down to their last chance in the bottom of the seventh, Campo got a runner on base with a single but could not bring him around to score.  Michael popped out in his only at-bat and the game ended on a called third strike, with Campo going down 8-6.  

The game was lively but a bit sloppy (the teams combined for 24 hits and four errors), but the Campolindo boys were never out of it the way they used to be against their Orinda foes over years of youth baseball.  They finished an even 2-2 for the season series and served notice that they would not roll over in habitual defeat anymore.  As they continue to play, they will clean up the mistakes that usually sealed their fate.  We look forward to several more years of this spirited rivalry, particularly as Miramonte’s program has, for the moment, surpassed the Campolindo program (Miramonte’s varsity team almost went undefeated this season, beating Campolindo in the Northern Coast Section semifinals, only to suffer their sole loss in the NCS championship game).

Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Note On Blog Pictures

This blog began more than ten years ago.  Over much of its lifespan, especially as digital photography became more common and easier to use, I began to incorporate photographs into many of the posts.   Most of the pictures involve the kids their various sporting events, or sometimes  pictures of all of us on our rare vacation trips.

For reasons that are lost in the mists of time, I began using Photobucket years ago as my primary web-based photography storage application.  The site was a bit clunky and not perfect, but it provided a reasonably user-friendly way to organize and edit our pictures.  The site also was a lifeboat for some of the pictures we lost when the hard drive in our home computer died a few years ago.  For all that, I currently use only about 4% of my total storage allocation.

Photobucket recently announced and implemented a significant change in their operating practices.  Photobucket users may no longer use the photographs stored on the site on any other site unless the user pays a hefty fee (several hundred dollars annually).   The justification offered for public consumption is that Photobucket wants to clamp down on heavy commercial users who put up thousands of pictures on sites like eBay.  The collateral damage, however, is that any photograph  stored on Photobucket that is posted anywhere else on the Internet is now in violation of Photobucket's rules.  All of those photographs have now been summarily taken down, replaced with a stock Photobucket violation warning.

Perhaps it is churlish to complain about the operations of a "free" site.  However, for all of the on-site advertising I have to click through, I don't think I am doing  too much damage to Photobucket's bottom line.   Photobucket's  new policy is a ham-fisted way to deal with a specific heavy-user problem that harms and annoys far more people than it needs to. Photobucket could have put limitations on the use of pictures hosted on its site for commercial uses, but chose to ban all third-party site uses.  I host a relatively tiny number of photographs on the site, none of which  have been used for commercial purposes, yet all of my photographs have been swept up in the extortionate dragnet anyway.
An online photography host that does not permit the photographer to use any of those photographs is useless.   At some point in the future when I don't have anything better to do, I will start migrating all of my pictures to one of Photobucket's rivals.  Sometime when I have even fewer other things to do,  I will begin the slow process of finding each banned photograph in each blog post, identifying which photograph it was by file number, then reposting that same photograph from the new storage site.  It will be a tedious, obnoxious process.  However, I look at this blog site as something akin to a diary and photo memory book that I look forward to reviewing over many years to come.  The photographs are an essential part of that record, so to me it is worth the grinding tedium to rework years of blog posts to restore the photographic part of the record.  In the meantime, I apologize for ugly warnings where there should be wonderful photos.

Freshman Baseball Update, Game 9

After putting a couple of notches in the win column, the Campolindo freshman baseball squad went on the road to Walnut Creek to face Northgate.  For the only time all season, the freshman and varsity squads would play games within sight of each other.  Unfortunately, while the varsity team played well on Northgate’s main field to earn a close win, just a medium fly ball away across the blacktop the freshmen dropped a listless game.

The contest began well, with our picture stifling hitters and receiving solid defense.  One of the early highlights was our right fielder throwing out a runner trying to score from third on a fly ball.  The offense could not get going against Northgate’s starting pitcher, though.  Michael managed to drop a single into center field in the third inning for Campo’s first hit, but he could not score.  Northgate then jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning on the strength of five singles and a throwing error from Michael.

Campo got three of the runs back in fifth inning with a two-out rally as Northgate’s pitcher tired.  Michael’s backup came into the game to start the rally by getting on via an error, which was followed by a walk and three singles before Northgate could close the door.  Northgate tacked on a last run in the bottom of the sixth inning when the last batter in their lineup worked a walk, stole two bases and scored on a wild pitch.

Nobody understood why the team came out so flat.  As has often been the case over the years, without hits and runs early in the game, the team dropped into a funk that they could not break  until the opposing pitcher ran out of gas.  Northgate was a good team, but about equal to the Campo boys on talent, and they knew they had let an opportunity for a win slip away.

They also knew they had to get over it quickly, because a doubleheader against archrival Miramonte, where the boys would play on the Campolindo varsity field for the first time, was up next.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Freshman Baseball Update, Game 8

As soon as the Campolindo freshman baseball team picked up its first win, the schedule called for a hiatus for several weekends for spring break.  When the action resumed, the boys again faced Las Lomas, who had prevailed in a deeply frustrating early-season doubleheader.

The freshman boys seemed to be inspired by the varsity squad’s big victory in the early game, including two home runs by one of Michael’s teammates from back when he was nine, when Michael looked like this:

Much changes in six years, but not the love of the game
The freshman boys came out of the gate quickly.  Michael let off the game with a single, and although he was thrown out trying to steal, Campo still managed to push a run across in the first inning.  The team’s ace took care of business for the next five innings, not giving up any runs and striking out ten.

The boys had a great day at the plate, none better than Michael.  In addition to his single in the first, he had a run-scoring double in the second, a run-scoring double in the fifth, and another single in the sixth.  

Muscling up an RBI double

Safe all the way
He also alertly stole third without a pitch or a throw in the second inning, which allowed him to score on a ground out.  He finished the game with four hits, two runs batted in, a run scored, a stolen base and five errorless plays at shortstop.  Over the years, Michael has had several games with three hits, but this was his first four-hit day. 
A good day at the plate and in the field
One of our mainstay relievers took care of the sixth inning with three strikeouts.  Finally, a player who had been expected to be one of our key pictures until he hurt his arm in the preseason took the mound for the first time in the seventh inning.  He was a little rusty, but he worked around a walk, striking out two to close out the 7-1 victory.  It was great to see him back on the mound, finally getting the opportunity to show what he can do.

The boys played well in every facet of the game.  Nearly every player had at least one hit, the pitching was outstanding, and they played nearly mistake-free in the field.  We were a little concerned that after two months of playing ball nearly every day, the layoff over spring break would set them back.  After the stumble out of the gates at the beginning of the season, we did not want to see the improvement they showed just before the break to go to waste.  The boys emphatically put our concerns to rest.  It was one of the most complete games this crew has ever played, and a very welcome payback for the doubleheader loss earlier in the season.  Onward and upward! 

About as serious as you will ever see this group

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Freshman Baseball Update, Games 6 and 7

Five games into the season, the Campolindo freshman had yet to win a game.  There was not a worse time to face off against their rivals at Miramonte.  Throughout their youth league years, it is not an overstatement to say the Miramonte boys of Orinda owned the Campolindo boys of Moraga.  Starting when they were all 11 years old, Orinda beat Moraga in 10 out of 11 regular-season, tournament and playoff games (the sole win came in Michael’s surprising first start as an 11-year-old).  

Every year in the youth leagues, the Orinda teams were both loaded with talent and well-versed in playing a particular brand of baseball.  They were annoyingly adept at scrappy, clever play, ready and eager to bunt and steal bases at any time.  Nearly all of the same players and coaches had moved on to the Miramonte the freshman team.  We knew they were licking their chops, fully aware that our boys had yet to win a game and ready to add their annual beating to our boys’ misery.

Unlike most of the games at the beginning of the season, the coaches had no intention of rotating through a series of pitchers unless they had to.  We started our ace in the first game of the doubleheader, hoping he could keep us close so that our modest bats do just enough damage.  The game stayed scoreless through three innings (Michael popped out to lead off the game and grounded out in the third). 
Doing the little things to keep it close: throwing out the other team's best player on a steal
In the fourth, we managed to push across a run in typical costly fashion, with a double and two groundouts.  In the bottom of the fourth, Miramonte pulled ahead the way they do: an infield single, a bunt that our pitcher mishandled, an infield ground ball where the runner beat the throw home, and a sacrifice bunt scoring another run.  One hit, one error, a fielder’s choice that did not generate an out, and not a single ball out of the infield, and yet they scored two runs.  After four years of this, it was as inevitable as it was obnoxious.

To their credit, the boys came right back in the next inning.  Our pitcher singled and stole second, and after two strikeouts, Michael drove the ball over the leftfielder’s head for a double, leveling the score.   
Deep to left ...
Unfortunately, even though the next two batters walked, we could not press the advantage any further.  Predictably, in the bottom of the same inning, Miramonte came back to put two more runs on the board.  It started the usual way: a single, followed by a bunt that our pitcher again mishandled, and those two runners immediately pulled off a double steal.  One batter later, a lazy bloop to right field scored both of them.

Perhaps heralding a new chapter the season, the Campolindo boys again came back in the next inning.  Two singles and a walk loaded the bases, and a sharp single from our catcher scored two to tie the score.  With two runners on and a 2-0 count, Miramonte changed pitchers in the middle of Michael’s at-bat.  Michael proceeded to strike out against the new pitcher.  Fortunately, the next batter came through with a single to score the go-ahead run.  The bottom of the inning played to the usual script: the first Miramonte batter singled, advanced to second, and was joined on the bases by a teammate who got on through an infield error.  After a pitching change and a hit batter, the bases were loaded.  Thankfully, Campolindo got out of the inning unscathed. 

Campo began seventh-inning with a single and a double, but was unable to push any runs across.  After years of facing the Orinda players, the notion of entering the final inning up by only one run did not inspire confidence.  It was practically a matter of holy writ, then, that Miramonte’s first batter would reach base on a walk, advance to second on a wild pitch, and arrive at third via sacrifice bunt, with only one out.  We had seen enough Orinda execute enough squeeze plays over the years to know that it would take something just this side of a miracle to keep that runner from scoring.  

On a 2-0 count to the next batter, the Campo coaches brought in a new pitcher to attempt to close the game out.  With the next three pitches, our closer dispatched that batter for the second out.  After a first pitch ball to the next batter, our closer struck him out on the next three pitches.  

Just like that, with the tying run poised to score from third base with less than two outs, the Campolindo boys broke through for their first win of the season against their fiercest rival under the most difficult conditions.  Our ace pitcher and catcher, in particular, called a great game, keeping the Miramonte batters off balance most of the time, tapping into our ace’s true potential.  The vague sense of gloom that surrounded the team before the game started disappeared immediately and, one hopes, permanently.  Taking your rival’s best shot and surviving will do that.

The second game started with a bang.  In the top of the second inning, one of our big hitters who has struggled but carries the potential of a lot of power, drove a ball over 400 feet for a three run home run.  Miramonte clawed back a couple of runs in the third inning, and picked up another run (with Michael on the mound) in the fourth.

Trying to keep it close
In the top of the fifth, Campolindo played the game the Miramonte way.  The first batter let off with an infield single, and advanced to third when the Miramonte third baseman mishandled a bunt.  Our runner was thrown out at home on the next play, a ground ball to shortstop, but Michael then doubled in two runs with a drive to left center field gap.

Second double of the day
Leading by two going into the bottom of the fifth inning and playing a feisty brand of baseball, things were looking up.  But, as always seems to be the case when playing the Orinda boys, things fell apart in interesting ways.  With Michael on the mound, the first Miramonte batter got on base by an error, and was then doubled off on a lineout to Campo’s centerfielder.  Fatefully, the third out proved to be elusive.  A single, stolen base, an error and a single plated a run, and two straight errors on ground balls scored another run to tie the game.  Our closer relieved Michael and managed to end the inning without any further scoring.

Sometimes you just have to laugh it off
All photos: S. Linden

In the top of the sixth inning, Campolindo managed to load the bases with one out, but two strikeouts ended Campo’s chances.  The game remained quiet until the bottom of the seventh, when all Miramonte had to do was push across one run to win the game.  If you have been reading carefully, you know how this works by now.  The first batter singled, and advanced to second on a wild pitch.  The next batter bunted – because of course he did – and when our pitcher threw the ball away (the second baseman had not finished rotating around to cover first), the runner on second came all the way home to win the game.

Fortunately, the glow of winning the first game was enough to ease the sting of losing the second game.  The loss was typical of the way we often lost to that team over the years, and for that reason it was almost comical.  Of course, the seven errors the Campo boys committed were a major factor in handing the game over to their Miramonte rivals.  

For his part, over the two games Michael went 2-for-6 with three runs batted in, and pitched an inning and two thirds without giving up an earned run.  The three unearned runs he gave up were costly, but he got the ground balls he wanted.

Over the course of the two games, the boys started to play more like the team we had grown accustomed to seeing.  There were still some ragged edges, but against a smart and clever opponent, they appeared to be rediscovering their identity just in time.