Everyone in baseball knows to respect a streak


POSTED: Sunday, July 12, 2009

In baseball, our seasons are much more of a marathon than a sprint. While our 96-game season pales in comparison to the 162 games on a major league schedule, it is no less draining and challenging, considering that our nearly 100 games occur within a four-month span, and all of our travel is by bus.

Needless to say, one big game, one hot series, one week of seeing-eye ground balls and bloopers falling in for a hitter won't make a season. For the most part, hitters, pitchers and teams try their darnedest to hold water until they can catch a hot streak at some point during the season.

To paraphrase Kevin Costner's Crash Davis from the movie “;Bull Durham,”; streaks don't come along everyday, so when you get on one, you have to respect it and do everything you can to keep it going. You don't mess with a streak.

Which explains why ballplayers are, as any sports fan on the planet will tell you, the most superstitious athletes around.

Our right-handed ace with the Southern Illinois Miners, Ryan Bird, rode a long, fruitful streak that ran from the middle of last season until halfway through this one.

In a run the Frontier League has never seen, “;Birdie”; posted wins in a league record 16 consecutive decisions dating back to last July. Ryan's successful streak vaulted him to league Pitcher of the Year honors last year, and earned him an invite to spring training with the St. Louis Cardinals.

This season, he has been no less dominant. Through his first eight starts this year, Bird was again the best pitcher in our league, with circuit-best marks in wins and ERA through the first 42 games of our season.

During his run, Ryan did all he could to maintain his momentum. It all started with his routine of eating a “;6-inch meatball sandwich combo from Subway on game days. Wherever we have traveled the first half of this season, Ryan has had a Subway meatball sub.

With each arrival into a new town came a mission for our staff to make sure Birdie had his sub. In Evansville, Ill., there was a Subway a few blocks from our downtown hotel, and everyone made sure to point it out as we pulled into town on our team bus.

In Kalamazoo, Mich., our bench coach Ron Biga drove his personal car on our road trip so he could pick up Ryan's Subway special before the game. The story was the same in Orland Park, Ill.; Traverse City, Mich.; O'Fallon, Mo.; and Sauget, Ill.

Birdie pitched, but never without his meatball sub.

Each month during the season, I run a quality points contest for our pitchers. Starters get points for quality starts, while relievers get quality appearance points for successful outings out of the bullpen. Both starters and relievers get points for shutting out our opponents the inning after we score.

This month, Ryan was the winner, and his reward was, of course, a $25 Subway gift card.

Knowing Ryan's personality, the attention given to his pregame lunch routine was probably a little embarrassing. A hard-working, straight-shooting Midwesterner, Birdie is as good a guy as he is a pitcher, which is saying a lot considering his 88-92 mph fastball and his plus breaking ball.

We all did whatever we could to keep him on his streak. But as do all good things, the streak came to an end four days ago. It was a typical Ryan Bird outing. He gave up just one run going into the eighth inning of our game against the Washington Wild Things in Pennsylvania, but we could not get him the run support he deserved.

Deadlocked 1-1 with two runners on and two out in the bottom of the eighth, our manager Mike Pinto left Birdie in, as he should have, with the game on the line. He was still under pitch count, and no one wanted to be the one that allowed the runs that ended Ryan's win streak.

As luck would have it, Ryan got the batter to squirt a soft pop-up into our infield. It seemed as though the streak would have another chance to live on. We would go into the top of the ninth tied, and go to a fresh arm for the bottom of the ninth.

But as the runners sprinted around the bases, moving at full speed with two outs, the short fly ball took a strange turn. Looking up deep into the Pennsylvania night, our third baseman lost track of the ball and dropped it. A run had scored, and ultimately, the streak ended.

The story of the winning streak was one I have wanted to tell for some time now, but I wanted to see how long it would go.

Besides, I didn't want to jinx it.


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