This past Father's Day weekend held special meaning for some dads in Finksburg.
Joe Griffin, who manages this year's Finksburg Baseball Rookie League champion Orioles, gave them the honor of handing out the championship trophies to their 12 sons. Well, actually 11 sons and one daughter.
The Orioles took the title by sweeping four games in the league's postseason championship tournament. They clinched it on June 16, nipping the Diamondbacks at Deer Park, 2-1.
Griffin says he had expected his kids to win it this year. While they are only 7 or 8 years old, they were experienced ballplayers. He and assistants Mark Korpa, his dad Bill Griffin, Jeff Gruenzinger and Brian O'Donnell have coached them since they were 5.
Coming into this season, he felt his youngsters had developed a pretty good idea about how the game is played, although even he would be surprised at just how well they had learned.
A big skill they picked up was pitching. League rules allow a player to throw until the batter hits the ball, is hit or strikes out; there are no walks. A coach pitches if the youngster can't get the ball over.
Most of the Orioles youngsters, though, could throw strikes from the beginning.The rest had picked up the knack by mid-year.
The Orioles won their first three regular-season games before losing, 7-5, to the Diamondbacks. Griffin's gang then swept the last six contests to go 9-1, finishing second behind the 10-0 Diamondbacks.
The kids' strongest point was fielding, although a few could hit the ball pretty well, too. The coaches had stressed defense over the years, and it was paying off.
"They were really good fielding groundballs and popups. They had also been together three or four years and we'd coached them the whole time. There wasn't a different coach teaching different things every year," Griffin explained.
The team's fielding had gotten better and better as the season progressed. It would need that in the postseason tourney.
The Orioles opened postseason play on June 9 at Roaring Run Park. Playoff games went only four innings, but there was plenty of excitement packed into those abbreviated contests.
Pretty much everybody had a good day in that opener as they blanked the Pirates, 12-0. Matt Clark scored three of those runs, and Carlie Rosewag, the team's female member, drove in three. She also homered. Tameron Hofmann had two hits and two RBIs; Preston Lafferty added a two-run triple.
However in subsequent games the defenses took over, and the scores started resembling those of baseball's Dead Ball Era.
The Orioles faced the Diamondbacks and won 3-1. Nolan O'Donnell had the big blow - a two-run first inning homer that put his team ahead for good. Pitcher Jake LaForce struck out six batters in his two innings. Young Zach McClung, promoted from Finksburg's instructional league to fill in for an absent Orioles player, made a couple of excellent outfield plays.
The Orioles nipped the Nationals, 2-1, in their next game. Daniel Zentz's two hits moved both runs into scoring position. T.J. Korpa tripled in one run.La Force scored the winner. Ryan Higgins homered for the Nats' score.
Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks had won their way through the double-elimination tournament's losers' bracket and were there waiting for the Orioles in the championship game.
The Diamondbacks clung to a 1-0 lead as the Orioles came to bat in the bottom of the fourth and final inning. Then with two outs and two strikes, Cole Griffin doubled home LaForce with the tying run.
The game moved into extra innings and Jack Gruenzinger took the mound for the Orioles. He preserved the tie by striking out the side. The youngster had already made a big contribution in the first inning when he made a good play at first on a batted ball to save a run. In the bottom of the fifth, O'Donnell smacked a dramatic homer to win it.
"That was the most amazing game I have ever seen at this level in two years," Griffin declared. "Everything we taught the kids, they showed in that final game."
Griffin in fact, praised both teams for their play, also noting that, "the Diamondbacks were fantastic."
"I wish more people would have seen [the game]. They would not have believed it was a Rookie League game. They would have thought it was a couple of age brackets up," he said.
Griffin said that the fathers had been there to help the coaches out all year. He felt it fitting that they get to hand out the trophies, particularly on Father's Day weekend.
"That day was really special. Families are a big part of baseball," he commented.
The Orioles players move up a bracket next year. The players will be evaluated and then distributed so the teams are relatively equal in talent. A number of the Orioles' players could wind up on other teams as as a result.
Whatever happens though, Griffin plans to be in on the action and hopes he can hold at least some of his team together.
"I'll be coaching, and we'll take as many [of our] kids as we can with us," he said.