For at least 5,000 years, people have run, jumped, swam, kicked things, hit each other and thrown a variety of round, oval or pointy objects, all in the name of sport.
At first these games were individual affairs: one Greek against another, lobbing a stone plate into the distance. But at some point we started organising ourselves into teams. Later, perhaps, teams would appoint a captain, someone to lead, motivate or just shout at the other players. Finally, team managers were introduced, to pick the team, plan the strategy and take the blame.
One of the key jobs for any team manager is the team talk. When the half-time whistle blows, and the football players trudge off, three-nil down after some inept defending, the manager will carefully deploy a range of techniques to turn things around. Arsene Wenger may offer a logical analysis of pass completion percentages; while Sir Alex Ferguson prefers the hairdryer and a well-aimed football boot to the kidneys.
In baseball, the manager has more opportunities to butt in with helpful advice: in the dugout, between innings, or during a flamboyant visit to the mound. And in last Saturday’s season finale between the Giants and the Dodgers, Coach Mike Wakelam found the perfect time and the perfect words to make the difference.
Over on the posh diamonds, the U14s and U17s were in playoff action. But here, the drama was somehow more personal. The Giants trailed by three games to one in the series. We would play a 4-inning game, then a 5-inning game. If the Giants could win these two games to draw level, there would be a one-inning decider for the championship title.
Both teams fielded familiar line-ups, with a couple of additions. A new arrival for the Dodgers: Niklas Makwana, a cricketer with a fearsome throwing arm, looking to apply his batting and fielding skills to this, the junior game. Noah Haines came in for the Giants: he also looked pretty handy during pre-game practice.
Game 1 started in a cagey fashion, scoreless after one inning despite Noah Haines hitting a confident double. In the second, Niklas also doubled for the Dodgers, advancing to third on an error in the same play and scoring during the next at-bat. Ozan Martin also scored thanks to a Tom Garton double. But the Giants hit straight back, with a string of singles and two runs. The Giants’ inning was ended with an individual double play, as Tom Garton caught a fly ball from Noah Haines at third base before tagging out Noah Lynch. The scores were tied 2-2. In the third, no Dodgers batters achieved a hit. For the Dodgers, Ben Jupp got on base and scored when Oliver Durer hit a double. Three to two for the Giants. The Dodgers couldn’t find a run at the top of the last, and so Game 1 ended with a narrow win for the Giants.
The Dodgers now held a slim one-game lead over the Giants. Could the Giants level the series ?
The Giants were now the visiting team and first to bat. Alex Trautman singled, then Ben Jupp hit a double to deep right field. Noah Haines hit a single to bring home both Trautman and Jupp, and Haines then scored, as did Lewis Auchterlounie, with RBIs for Oliver Durer and Alex Jones. Four runs to the Giants, which looked more impressive when they picked up three quick outs to close out the Dodgers.
The Giants’ strong batting form continued in the second inning. Alex Trautman bunted cheekily for a single, Christian Lynch got on base, and then Ben Jupp stepped up again to blast a two-RBI triple. Singles from Haines, Oliver Durer, Jones and Trautman brought two more runs, and the Giants suddenly found themselves 8-0 ahead.
Things were looking bleak for the Dodgers, and the mood didn’t improve as they went scoreless again at the bottom of the second. At least they pegged back the Giants in the third, which included a double play as newcomer Noah Haines failed to tag up on a fly ball caught by pitcher Nicholas Durer. At bat, the Dodgers finally got onto the scoreboard, with a ground rule double from Ozan Martin and a line drive from Jonathan Wakelam for a two-RBI single. 8-2 to the Giants after three innings.
Despite achieving three quick outs at the top of the fourth, gloom was spreading in the ranks of the Dodgers. It was hot, players were tired, and they saw the coveted title slipping away from them. Coach Mike gathered his players. “Don’t worry about the score”, he told them “Let’s relax, swing the bat and have fun out there.”
Fired up, the Dodgers looked a changed team. Niklas Makwana hit a single, then managed to sprint home all the way from first base while the Dodgers fielded an outfield line drive from William Morillo. Two more singles loaded the bases, and Ozan Martin stepped up to hit a 2-RBI double straight past second base. Rory Vangundy finished up the inning by hitting a single to bring home Garton and Martin. Five runs to the Dodgers, and now it was 8-7.
Rattled, the Giants hit back. The first seven batters reached first base, and three runs were scored before Oliver Durer was forced out at home plate to close the inning. The Dodgers needed four to tie, five to win. Coach Mike took his team into a huddle. “You hit five runs in the last inning – just go out there and do it again.” A group shout of “Dodgers” filled the Grovehill ballpark.
After five at-bats, they had scored one run but were two down. Ozan Martin then hit a single and Nicholas Durer ran in. Now Jonathan Wakelam hit a huge line drive to the right field fence, allowing Thomas Garton to score and putting Ozan on third. Rory Vangundy came to the plate and followed suit for another RBI. Scores were tied. Up stepped Niklas. He needed only one pitch to drive the ball past Christian Lynch at second base; Jonathan Wakelam sprinted in from third, crossed home plate and the Dodgers erupted.
To mark the end of this Dodgers vs Giants series, there was a short presentation. Coach Paul and Coach Mike awarded medals to the outstanding players of today’s games: Oliver Durer for the Giants, and Niklas Makwana for the Dodgers. Both coaches thanked players and parents for their commitment over the course of a rain-shortened season, and commented on the enormous progress made by all the players in all areas of the game. It only remained to spray the Perrier and present the handsome crystal trophy to the winning Dodgers team, who will keep it until this classic series resumes in the spring.
Season Batting Averages