Well, I'm pretty fried, to put it bluntly. The Cal Ripken World Series always presents a busy, stressful, yet fulfilling week for us at The Aegis, what with so much going on in Aberdeen, and, if you're a terrible planner and manager of time like me, things can get a bit out of control. So, in place of what I'd planned to be a masterpiece of sportswriting, I'm going with a list of personal highs, lows and observations from this year's tournament. Here goes:
Japan's warmup drills: I feel like I've written about this before, but the Japanese squad running through its pre-game drills is a sight to behold. It looks like if one player or coach was out of place, the whole operation would collapse, or somebody would get injured, but they run through the maneuvers quickly and efficiently, with nary an errant throw or a misplayed grounder (I realize I'm perpetuating a stereotype by saying a group of Japanese kids does something "quickly and efficiently," but it's true). Also, and I'm pretty sure they were doing this on a practice field, three hours before their Tuesday game, because they'd be stopped if a tournament director saw them. I saw the Japanese players and coaches playing a modified game of pepper, which made my heart skip a beat. If you're too young to remember, pepper involves a player with a bat, who stands facing a semi-circle of players with gloves. The fielders throw the ball to the batter, and he bunts ground balls or light line drives back to them; repeat until everyone is sufficiently warmed up or tired. For some reason, playing pepper was banned at major league ballparks sometime in the early '90s, so future generations of fans will never get to see the most graceful and artful of all baseball warmups. The Japanese team, though, they were playing it, and I'm glad somebody is keeping it alive.
Where have you gone, team from Mexico?: At my first Cal Ripken World Series in 2007, I ran into Bill Ripken just before the Wold Championship game between Mexico and Tampa, Fla. Bill jokingly said, "you can go get a bite to eat and come back at the end of this one, because you know Mexico is going to win." He was right, and though the Mexican boys lost the next two years in the final game by American teams from Florida, they came back in 2010 to take their second title. Last year's tournament was the first since I began at The Aegis in which the Mexican representatives didn't make it to the championship game on Sunday, so I think it's not a stretch to call them a powerhouse squad. This year, however, Mexico just barely goy into the playoffs with a 2-3 record, and was knocked around in the final pool play game by Japan, losing that one 11-1. They have to play Japan again in the first round of the International playoffs, and though I'd like to see a barn burner, I'm putting my money on Japan.
Temper, temper: I'm not going to say who they are or which team they play for, but at one of the games I covered this week, a couple of players were putting on prima donna acts in the dugout, slamming helmets and bats down after striking out. As a former hothead, it stings to see young guys act like that because it brings back the memories of my own helmet-tossing tantrums, and the frustration that caused them. I wanted to say this: "Fellas, every time you throw your helmet down, or slam a bat back onto the rack or fight some inanimate object because you're frustrated, the other team sees that, and they know they've got your number. The pitcher that just blew that high fastball by you, after he sees you stomp your way back to he dugout, he knows that high fastballs make you mad, probably because you can't do anything with them, and he's going to blow another one by you next time. He might even give a little fist pump if he strikes you out again, just to put salt in the wound, and then you're really going to get angry. Bite your lip, walk back to the bench and don't let them see you sweat."