Photos by Grant Engle.
Grant Engle | Staff Writer
The battle for Chautauqua men’s slow-pitch softball supremacy was fought Sunday evening in balmy conditions. The rain earlier in the day jeopardized the game, but the men would not let that delay their quest for glory.
The game was a battle of generations. It pitted Chautauqua stalwarts the Slugs versus a team of 20-somethings, the Mayo-Based Salads. One can laugh at their whimsical name, but the Salads’ reputation preceded them, and the Slugs knew they were in for a tough game.
The Slugs took time before the game to discuss the importance of being vocal from the bench and encouraging their teammates. Meanwhile, there was a buzz around the bench on the third-base line as the Salads hyped themselves up for the culmination of all of their hard work this season.
The Slugs stood tall in their green uniforms with orange print. The jerseys — like many of the men — showed the wear and tear of a long season.
The Salads stood united in bright orange shirts with cut-off sleeves. Instead of names on the back of the jersey, each player was named after a type of salad. Appropriately enough, many of them were mayonnaise-based.
As spectators continued to shuffle into the grandstands, home plate umpire Paul Mischeshin declared it was time to play ball at 5 p.m.
The first inning set the tone for a hard-fought battle. The second hitter for the Salads blasted a deep drive into foul territory in left field. Left fielder Dave Kurtz raced over and made the catch, but he slammed into the fence in the process.
The catch was greeted with loud cheers from the Chautauqua faithful. However, the violent collision with the fence left Kurtz on the ground for a few minutes, and the crowd’s jubilation quickly turned into genuine concern for Kurtz’ health and well-being.
After two or three minutes, Kurtz rose to his feet and was greeted with an ovation from the crowd.
The Slugs escaped the inning unscathed, as the Salads did not record a hit or reach base in the first inning. The Slugs ran to the dugout with high-fives and slaps on the back for the 1-2-3 inning.
The team of longtime Chautauquans was vocal from the outset of the game. As leadoff hitter John Chubb came to the plate, he was serenaded by encouragement from his teammates.
“Let’s go John Chubb, Captain Slug,” yelled a few of his teammates. “Start it off right!”
Chubb obliged his brethren when he ripped a double into right-center field. Dan Miller followed Chubb with another double, and the Slugs took an early 1-0 lead with two quick hits.
Kurtz was next to bat. The look on his face was either stone cold determination, or he was still in pain from running into the fence in left field — it was hard to tell.
Pain or no pain, Kurtz pounded a single up the middle that scored Miller, and with three straight hits, the Slugs took a 2-0 lead.
After another single and a walk, the bases were loaded with nobody out, and Mark Doty at the plate.
Doty hit a sacrifice fly to push the lead to 3-0. What followed was the formation of a massive rally that had the potential to decide the championship.
Six straight singles, a sacrifice fly and an RBI triple lifted the Slugs to an 11-0 lead by the time the first inning was over. The veterans hit the ball between fielders on seemingly every pitch. The Salads fielded every ball cleanly and made no errors in the inning, but the Slugs dinked and dunked their way to a double-digit lead.
As the Salads left the field and headed to the bench, they appeared to be in a mild state of shock.
“Chicken Salad,” one of the more vocal members of the team, said he wasn’t surprised by the Slugs’ fast start. He also noted that it wasn’t time to shift into panic mode just yet.
“We know they’ve got bats,” Chicken Salad said. “They’ve been playing forever. We just need to play solid defense and hit singles. We’ve laid 20 runs on guys in one inning before, so we’ve got it in us to come back.”
However, the Salads’ ability to score 20 runs in an inning didn’t show in the second inning, as the side was retired before it could make any dent in the enormous deficit. On the bright side for the Salads, they were able to stop the bleeding and hold the Slugs to a scoreless bottom half of the second as well.
From the third to the seventh inning, the Salads used timely hitting and hustle to cut into the lead and claw within striking distance at 15-9.
Greg Miller, who has been playing softball at Chautauqua for more than 40 years, commended the Salads on their ability to fight back, but he said he was relying on the experience of the Slugs to hold on for the victory. Greg’s brother, Jeff, nodded in agreement and said the veteran team would be poised under pressure.
“As we get later in the game, I think we might be a little more relaxed than (the Salads),” Greg said. “It’s a matter of — when you really need it — that you stay calm and not tense up.”
The Salads added another run in the eighth and held the Slugs scoreless in the bottom of the inning. The men went into the top of the ninth down, 15-11.
The team of optimistic young men pushed across another run that cut the lead to 15-11. Nonetheless, the Salads’ journey ended there. The Miller brothers’ prediction was correct, and the Slugs calmly recorded the final three outs to win the championship and once again claim Chautauqua softball immortality.
After the game, Salads captain “Poo Poo Salad” said he was proud of his team, and he expected to be back next year for the title. He pointed out that the Salads outscored the Slugs 11-4 after the first inning, but he commended his rivals’ ability to perform on the highest stage.
“They know how to hit and where to hit it,” Poo Poo Salad said. “It was a good game. We’ve beaten them before, and we’ll beat them again.”
Kurtz, whose catch while crashing into the fence in left field seemingly set the tone for the entire game, said the blow stunned him more than anything, but he was able to stay focused and help his team win.
The left fielder admitted that he has previously fractured his collarbone and “tore up” his knee playing softball at Chautauqua in the past.
Team leader Jeff Miller praised all of his teammates, but he singled out Kurtz as a driving factor in the team’s championship.
“Dave is unbelievable,” Jeff said. “He’s the best. He’s as good as any hitter in the league and as good as any fielder.”
The Millers, Chubb and Kurtz all agreed their window to win more championships may be closing as the league continues to have an influx of young talent, but the men said they weren’t ready to give up the crown just yet.
In an exclusive interview with The Chautauquan Daily, a source who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed a long-standing rumor that the Slugs celebrate each championship by streaking around the base paths of Sharpe Field at midnight.
No Slugs player would either confirm or deny the report, and no reporter or photographer for the Daily was willing to find out if it was true.