For the love of the game: a baseball tale

This feature story appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on June 9, 2003.

HARDBALL HEAVEN

By Ed Odeven

It’s the first inning of a Sunday baseball game at Flagstaff High School. The Blue Sox, a Flagstaff squad, are taking on the Sedona Rockies. Ty Van Dyke, a slender, tall left-hander is on the hill for the Blue Sox. Bob Pastor is his battery mate.

Van Dyke, who played for the Yavapai College Rough Riders in the mid-1980s with a hard-throwing Phoenician named Curt Schilling, is working the corners, firing a few fastballs here, a few curveballs there. Pastor is in his element, showing the classic form of a sharp defensive catcher.

With two outs, the Rockies have a couple runners on base. There’s a single slapped to left-center. Pastor, Sinagua High School’s assistant baseball coach, shouts instructions to his squad.

“Cut it, Ty. Cut it. Hold it. Hold it,” Pastor, the Blue Sox coach, said as the ball is thrown back into the infield. The runners keep their positions and nobody scores as the cut-off man, Van Dyke, executes the play to perfection.

Sedona’s next batter crushes Van Dyke’s offering to right-center. Jack Pastor, Bob’s son, makes a diving catch to end the inning. He’s greeted with a slew of high-fives and pats on the back as he steps toward the dugout.

The Blue Sox load the bases in the home half of the first but strand three runners. They are one of seven teams in Northern Arizona’s National Adult Baseball Association, a league that runs from April until mid-September. The other teams: the Rockies, the Thunder, the Merchants, the Pioneers, Los Rebueltos and the Mad Italians.

In this league, games are held every Sunday. Ballplayers can use wooden or aluminum bats. Bryan Butterfield, who graduated last week from Sinagua and was a Daily Sun All-City selection this spring, is the youngest player on the squad at 18 years old. Bob Pastor, 50, is the team’s oldest player. A former Yavapai player in the early 1970s, he spent time in the Montreal Expos organization long before the days of the O’Henry craze (outfielder Henry Rodriguez’s brief stint as a cult hero).

The Blue Sox have won the league’s title in eight of the last nine years. Sure, they love winning, the players say. But more than that, they are enjoying the opportunity to play ball.

“It’s fun playing with these guys because the competitiveness stays with us,” Bob Pastor said. “We might slow down a little bit, but it sure is nice to play with all the kids from Glendale. … It kind of makes you feel good.”

Keith Killeen, a 1991 Flagstaff High School grad who played college ball at Eastern New Mexico, summed up why these guys keep playing.

“It’s a good way of keeping us in shape, and it’s so fun,” said Killeen, who’s father, Joe, is Coconino High’s athletic director. “If I could do it seven days a week, I would.”

Along with Pastor, Flagstaff coach Mike DoBosh and Mingus coaches Brad Grauberger and Seth Melton give the team an interesting mix of coaching combatants who put aside their natural rivalry as players during the Blue Sox season.

“It’s nice to play with the coaches that we get to have as our enemy throughout the season in high school,” Pastor said. “We’ve got the Mingus coach (Brad Grauberger), the Flag High coach (Mike DoBosh) and all levels at Sinagua are up here. So it’s fun to get together and have a good time. The camaraderie, you just can’t beat it now.”

Melton, for one, is not ready to hang up his spikes and join the slow-pitch softball circuit.

“The biggest thing about it is, this is still baseball, whereas slow-pitch softball is not baseball really,” said Melton, who played at Glendale Community College and New Mexico Highlands. “So this is just a chance to come out and hit a baseball, catch it and throw it. Plus, you’re against a bunch of guys that you played against in high school. It’s kind of nice to get out here and do some stuff on Sundays. That’s why I really enjoy it. I love being out here.

“I think it’s just a chance for us all to still play the game we love so much. That’s how I think everybody’s mentality on this team is. Nobody takes it (too) serious. It’s all in good fun.”

In the second inning, the Rockies pull ahead 1-0. The Blue Sox rally in their half of the second. It all starts when Tim Tapia, a former Sinagua and South Mountain CC player, reaches on a leadoff single and scores on an RBI double by Miles Ormon, an ex-Midland (Texas) College player. The Blue Sox score another run to go ahead 2-1.

Van Dyke is tagged for a first-pitch home run in the third as Sedona ties it at 2.

The Blue Sox put five runs on the board in the fourth to take a 7-2 lead. Tapia, who moments before was rubbing his eye and telling his teammates of his irritating case of pink eye, ripped a two-run homer to left.

“I closed my eyes when I swung,” he said jokingly as he returned to the dugout.

Van Dyke leaves the ballgame with a five-run lead and right-hander Louis Lucero, a former Eastern New Mexico player, takes the hill in the fifth.

Lucero shows some of his old pitching tricks, firing a few heaters and then mixing in a few mind-numbing, super-slow change-ups for good measure.

With the Blue Sox leading 11-3 entering the top of the seventh, Cliff Bryson replaces Lucero, a hard-throwing right-hander. As Bryson, the team’s starting center fielder and leadoff hitter, takes his warm-up pitches, teammates in the dugout and on the field started joking around, making predictions about how man pitches he would need to retire the side.

“Fifteen pitches,” one guy shouted.

“Nah, 26,” another said.

This is a fun little “game within the game” the Blue Sox have been playing for a couple weeks now.

Bryson, grinning with delight on the mound, doesn’t seem to mind the distraction.

“It’s fun, and at the same time it’s a little pressure that they put on you,” said Bryson, who played ball at Yavapai and the University of Kansas. “It’s something a little new we did about two or three games ago where I come in and they guess the pitch count, as you guys would say.”

The Rockies made things interesting in the seventh, scoring three runs off Bryson. All the while, his teammates keep reminding him of how many pitches he’d thrown.

“With our team it’s a lot of fun and it’s good to come out here and play a sport that you love and play with some of the guys that you played high school and college ball against and with,” Bryson said. “There’s times when we take it seriously, but we seem to have fun.”

And they’ve had success, too, at the regional and national level. Last year, for instance, players from the Blue Sox and the league’s other teams formed an all-star squad and competed in a 40-and-over national tourney in Phoenix, and they finished third out of 100-plus teams.

Other players on this year’s Blue Sox team include: Matt Ormon (Midland), Kevin Cashatt (Sinagua and Yavapai) and Adam Jacobs (Sinagua).

The Blue Sox, who improved to 6-0 with wins on Sunday against Los Rebueltos (13-2) and the Rockies (11-6), take on the Thunder, a team comprised of NAU students, at 10 a.m. next Sunday at Sinagua High School.

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