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Rain doesn't wash away title memories


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POSTED: Sunday, June 21, 2009

Returning to Crestwood, Ill., for our series against the Windy City Thunderbolts has been surreal the past couple of seasons.

Two years ago, as pitching coach for the Thunderbolts, I was part of a squad that set a league record for season wins to finish 40 games over the .500 mark, en route to a Frontier League championship. The relationships I established that year with fellow members of the coaching staff and players have become some of my most cherished in my years of professional baseball.

Returning here as a coach with the Southern Illinois Miners this season, and looking out onto Standard Bank Field from the “;other”; dugout, has been different, to say the least. Although I would love nothing more than to beat Windy City every time we play them, I still have fond memories of my time here, and can sometimes envision the final moments of our championship-clinching win over the Washington Wild Things in September 2007.

I can see the final pitch by our closer Matt Petty, and the soft grounder fielded cleanly by our second baseman Gilberto Mejia, who calmly flipped the ball over to Phillip Hawke for the final out, and the ensuing celebration that started with our entire dugout emptying onto the field into a dog pile on the pitcher's mound.

But things are very different here now. With a new manager, and an almost entirely new inventory of players, these Thunderbolts look nothing like our '07 team. They look like a team full of strangers, save for Mejia and our first base coach Mike Kashirsky, who still helps out with the ballclub.

We got our series here off to a strong start, as right-hander Brett Scarpetta carried us to a 5-2 lead after five innings. But a rough outing from our bullpen and a few unlucky hops saw the momentum quickly turn, as we ended up losing the game.

Coming into our series here in Crestwood, a suburb of Chicago, we were expecting to battle Mother Nature to get our games in here. Currently 25 days into a stretch of 41 games in 43 days, and with our bullpen having to work overtime on a lot of nights recently, we had been told that a series of storms would be coming in during our three-day stay here. And frankly, a rainout would not break our hearts.

Soon after our pitcher's bus arrived at the ballpark this afternoon, we were notified by Windy City General Manager and good friend Steve Tahsler that our pregame batting practice would be in jeopardy due to an expected cell of severe thunderstorms.

We got B.P. in, and then it was hurry-up-and-wait time until the rain actually hit. When it came, it came in angry, as the skies opened up and threw buckets of rain, thunder and lightning out onto the playing field.

That's when the fun really started. The relief and joy was quite evident from both dugouts. Windy City had a doubleheader at home the night we arrived, and had been making good use of their bullpen arms as well, so it seemed as though they were open to a rainout as well.

As is often the case in minor league ball, the Thunderbolts opened the gates at 6 p.m., allowing the fans lined up outside the ballpark to come in to the stadium—even though it was pretty apparent that there would not be a game played. The Bolts allowed fans to buy food and drinks from the concession stands in the concourse for a couple of hours as the ballplayers found ways to entertain themselves.

The festivities kicked off when our former bat boy for Windy City, Sean “;Sweaty”; Kennedy, did his best home run trot in the downpour, slipping and wobbling on top of the infield tarp as he circled the bases. By the time he made his way around third base, Sweaty had a full head of steam, which helped propel him about 30 feet as he slid head-first toward home plate, to a standing ovation by the fans who stuck it out in the rain.

Our rookie infielder Michael Higa did his best “;upside down man,”; wearing baseball pants on his arms and head, and his jersey on his lower half, dancing around for a minute beside the tarp.

At one point, about a third of the Windy City roster was out running and sliding and flinging themselves about the soaked tarp. If nothing else, tonight's rainout gave us all a chance to take a break and mentally re-adjust for the rest of our long string of games.

I grabbed dinner and caught a movie with our catcher Chris Crescenzi, and for a night, we led “;normal”; lives. It was a nice breather, a rare break in our schedule. But tomorrow is another day of baseball. I wouldn't have it any other way.

 

Brendan Sagara, who played baseball for Leilehua and UH-Hilo, is pitching coach for the Southern Illinois Miners.