Photos by Brian Smith | Staff Photographer
A breeze off the lake lifted dust from the third base line. The sun peeking through the dust lent the entire scene a golden light, like a staged and faded Daguerreotype scene captured by an antique camera obscura. With a few more handlebar mustaches, it could have been the turn of the century.
But it wasn’t. It was Sharpe Field and the first semifinal for Chautauqua men’s softball. It was the Slugs versus the Mayo-Based Salads in a battle for a championship spot. It was the beginning of the end of a season full of surreal moments and friendly competition that could only happen in Chautauqua.
Slugs vs. Mayo-Based Salads
A Salad injured himself in the first and spent the next few innings on the bench. In a breach of journalistic ethics, a reporter gave the injured player two Advils in exchange for a plug of Grizzly chewing tobacco and a tad of access. Typical mainstream media.
Ben Hoste, a rookie Slug, proved his worth, hustling all of his 145 pounds back to first to avoid a tag. He ended up being a standout of the game. The Slugs left a slime trail over the Salads in the third, scoring seven runs and setting the pace for the game. Kevyn Adams, a retired NHL hockey player, had several successful at bats. It is unclear if this semifinal game in a casual softball league was as difficult as his Stanley Cup win in 2006.
The Salad known by the team as Waldorf pulled off the hit of the day, pegging a shot that literally never hit the ground. Defying all logic, the ball lodged itself in the fence and waited for a Slug outfielder to pry it off. As impressive as it was, the Salads needed a markedly larger miracle to whip the Slugs.
The Slugs were up 10-5 going into the sixth when the Salads began to pepper their solid fielding with errors. The Slugs oozed confidence, scoring six. The Salads dressed four more runs in the seventh and three more in the eighth, but alas, it was not enough. Slugs win, 16-12.
Cops vs. Arthritics
The Cops came out swinging in the first, tazing the Arthritics’ fielders with hit after hit. They put 15 points up before the Arthritics came to long enough to end the first inning.
The Arthritics had fallen, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t get back up. Over the next two innings, they chipped away at the Cops, getting within five runs by the third inning.
Andrew Mitchell stood out — and not just because his height allows him to get to first base in three strides. In the next few innings, he helped the Arthritics inch back into the game and get within three.
But it wasn’t enough to overcome the Cops’ show of force in the first. Cops win, 22-18.
Cops vs. Slugs
The Slugs were scoreless in the first. The Cops put three up, far from their explosion in the first inning of the semifinals. As usual, someone wandered through the outfield, unaware that a game is being played. She got a pass, being a little girl and all.
In the second, the Slugs shed their torpor and decided that they weren’t going to forfeit the championship without a fight. John Chubb led his boys with several doubles. It seemed the Cops were going to have to pacify the situation. They may have looked like old Slugs in the first, but in the second they looked like the Slugs of old, champions of yesteryear, scoring nine runs.
The Cops scored three more in the third inning. A kid in the stands kicked the bleachers in intervals just irregular enough to be maddening. Some folks eyeballed his grandparents, who had obviously trained themselves to ignore his shenanigans, as well as others’ reactions to them.
The weather turned gray in the fourth, but the Slugs’ lead grew more plump. They seemed to find a magnetic field in right field that pulled balls in like a tractor beam. It was their last great inning of the game, one that raised the hopes of even the most skeptical fans. Fans of any Cleveland sports team know what I mean.
The Cops played a game of attrition, putting on a few runs per inning as the Slugs’ bats grew quiet. Even though they were up by nine halfway through the game, the Slugs slowly shriveled under the Cops’ offensive assault. Last year’s champs scored their last two runs in the fifth. Starting in the seventh, a woman in the stands began to heckle the Cops’ pitcher. He seemed to consume her shrillness like psychic Gatorade, dropping in strikes with a newfound vigor.
John Chubb, husband of Kathy Chubb of the MOMS, almost carried the team defensively, but unfortunately for the Slugs (and for Kathy), there is only one John. A one-man riot is just disorderly conduct, no matter how skillfully perpetrated. They tagged on run after run over the next four innings.
The Cops ended it in the ninth after a brief interlude caused by a tennis player walking across the outfield with one out left. He actually slowed down when players requested that he vacate the area, and for a minute it seemed that the Cops may actually need their riot gear.
The Cops squashed the Slugs, 19-15.
The Slugs were the hometown favorite, and their defeat caused a quiet but audible outpouring of negativity from the stands. Commissioner Altschuler wasn’t having it.
“Come on, people, let’s be gracious losers,” Altschuler said.
The Slugs looked tired as they gathered their gear. One player summed it up well:
“We were doing great until the pain set in.”