The end of the Cannon Falls Bears baseball season is always a bit of a punch to the gut for me. The punch to the gut is followed by a few days self pity, which is followed by a few days of shoulda, woulda, coulda....followed by a few days of oh well... and eventually wishing next year started tomorrow. This blog is about baseball, my faith and how they sometimes connect for me.
It was a rough season for the team through mid-July. We weren't really playing any aspect of the game well. Our pitching was sporadic and weren't getting timely hits. Playoffs were drawing near and we needed to pick our game up.
My wife had given me a book for Christmas called, "In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day." By Mark Batterson. Up until mid July it had sat on my dresser, with the kids sports done for the summer I finally had some time to pick it up. On page 38, the author was writing about praying ridiculous prayers. He said that no prayer was too ridiculous because anything is possible with God. So I sat my book down, I closed my eyes and prayed, "Lord, it's been a rough season...but please give this team the strength and perseverance to make a run at the state tournament like we did in 2015." For those who don't know, in 2015 we played on the final weekend and lost to Plato 8-5. Plato won the state title the next day. It was a fun season and we made it to the round of eight teams (the tournament starts with 48). One of the few times the Bears have played on Labor Day weekend. Oh how much fun it would be for the Bears to play on Labor Day weekend again.
The next week our league playoffs started. Because of our Region format, this year our league was fortunate to have three of the four teams move on to region playoffs. So we only had to win one game to get to the next round. We started the league playoffs with a bust. A 6-4 loss to Lake City. Fortunately, we were still alive.
I was given the opportunity to pitch the next game and we had a 4-0 win over Randolph. Randolph was eliminated. However, right before that game we received word that Lake City was not going to move on to Regions because they weren't able to field a team due to players having prior commitments. In all my years of playing amateur baseball I have never heard of a team forfeiting their spot in playoffs. We proceeded to lose a seeding game to Hampton. So Hampton, Cannon Falls and Randolph moved on to the Region, as the 1, 2 and 3 seeds from our league, respectively. Lake City, the true #1 seed, was out. Crazy!
As the luck of the draw turned out for regions we were matched up against Randolph again in the first round. Without Lake City dropping out we would have had to face Hampton. A team that beat us every time we faced them this year. Which is more times than I want to count. I couldn't believe our luck! Were the stars aligning for this ridiculous prayer to come to true?
We beat Randolph 6-1 in that game, behind a complete game victory from Jared Woodward. His first complete game he has ever thrown in his eight years as a Bear and the first game his newborn daughter attended. The next game we beat a very good Waterville team 5-2 to clinch a state tournament berth. Waterville had a 21-3 record coming in to the region playoff and we were 13-18.
As the tournament went on for seeding, we beat Blue Earth 14-7 with some very good hitting. I pitched in this game and didn't throw well at all. The toll of throwing three complete games in the past three weeks with 125+ pitches in each game had caught up with me. Thankfully Jared came in and shut the door and our bats came through to make up for my rough start. We lost to Hampton (again) the next day but secured the #2 seed from our region for the state tournament.
Our first round opponent at state was the Hadley Buttermakers. That week I did my normal routine of running, stretching, throwing and, because my arm wasn't feeling great, I had a physical therapy treatment and iced a lot.
Despite my arm feeling terrible all week, it felt great that day. In fact, as good as it has felt all year. Unfortunately, we lost a great game 3-2 in 10 innings. I didn't pitch the best game I've ever pitched but our defense kept us in the game and I was able to throw all 10 innings with a total of about 141 pitches. Nevertheless the end of another season....a punch to the gut.
A lot of people asked me over the last few weeks how I still throw that many pitches at my age. The truth is, when I step up onto the mound I ask God to give me the strength to do my very best. There is no doubt He's helped me do those things through many different ways.
I also feel He did give us the strength to do our very best in playoffs. During the regular season our team had zero home runs, Luke Winchell and Tanner Jackson both hit a home run in playoffs, Jared threw his ever first complete game, we scored 14 runs on 15 hits against Blue Earth, veteran Rich Burr hit a two strike RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to tie Hadley and send it to extra innings.
The day after our game, I picked up that same book again. Still in pity mode about how we didn't win that game, how that ridiculous prayer didn't entirely come true. This time I was on page 178 and there was my answer. "The Holy Spirit doesn't make you better than anybody else. He makes you better than yourself! He helps you become the best version of you!"