Former major league pitcher Joaquin Andujar once uttered these words: “There is one word in America that says it all, and that one word is, ‘You never know.’ “
Semantics and correct counting aside, Andujar is right on when it comes to knowing what will happen when you attend a baseball game. You never know.
Consider Thursday night at Eau Claire’s Carson Park, when an announced crowd of 1,659 turned up to watch the Express host the Battle Creek Bombers in Northwoods League action. Who could have forecasted that Eau Claire starter Tyler Bremer would toss the first no-hitter in the five-year history of the Express franchise? Bremer came into the game with a 1-0 record, and an ERA of 3.86 over 14 innings in his first NWL season. As a freshman at UC-Davis, Bremer made a mere six appearances (three in a starting role), going 0-1 with an ERA of 2.57. He showed a lot of promise as a high school hurler (7-2, 1.40 ERA, 86 strikeouts in 63 innings as a senior), but prior to Thursday, Bremer had never thrown a no-hitter at any level of baseball.
Bremer’s night vs. the Battle Creek Bombers started interestingly enough, with six straight balls. He went on to walk two hitters in the first inning, before recording the third out via a strikeout. After that, Bremer found his groove, retiring the next eighteen hitters before plunking the leadoff hitter in the 8th, but he got out of that inning unscathed.
When Bremer took the mound for the ninth, the fans that remained in the grandstand and general admission seats rose to their feet (fan deck patrons can be excused for not knowing the situation, given the difficulty of seeing the scoreboard from that vantage point…but if you left the stadium early, even for a “good reason,” sorry, you are NOT excused–you had a chance to witness history, and you missed it).
Bremer saved his best for last, striking out the side to finish off the no-hitter, fanning the top three hitters in the Bombers order in the process. The crowd roared its approval, as Express players mobbed Bremer at the mound in celebration. Afterward, while being interviewed by the local media, the pitcher received the obligatory shaving cream pie in the face, but to his credit, continued his interview after toweling off, despite a fair amount of Barbasol foam remaining on his face, cap, and jersey.
I was very happy to be one of the media members on hand to talk with Bremer and his teammates after the game. Originally, I had planned to only stay at Carson Park for about 3-4 innings before returning to the station. Upon arrival in the pressbox in the bottom of the 4th, I noticed the zero on the scoreboard in the visitors hit column, but as I was beginning to mention the stat to News 18′s Stephen Kelley, who had been shooting the game from the beginning, he quickly responded, “We’re not talking about that up here.”
That’s because of a long-standing baseball superstition: you don’t talk about a no-hitter while it’s in progress. It’s why Express teammates began avoiding Bremer in the dugout during his masterpiece…it’s also why I didn’t relieve Stephen shooting the highlights, because we didn’t want to “change anything up.” Silly? Sure…but we had plenty of company…radio announcer Scott Montesano paced non-stop in his pressbox booth, while taking great pains to not say that Bremer was working on a no-hitter. News 18′s Lee DeJarlais literally knocked on the wood frame of the pressbox window each time he was about to say that Bremer had yet to allow a hit.
While we were on the field for our postgame interviews, I told Stephen that it was the first no-hitter that I’d witnessed in person. Hours later, I realized I was mistaken…it was my second. I’d been on the receiving end of one many years ago, back when I was a high school junior. Allow me to reminisce….
The Chisholm (MN) Bluestreaks were starting the postseason with zero fan expectations and the #9 seed among the nine teams in Class A, District 28, following a dismal 1-13 regular season. But, as head coach Jerry Nevanen was fond of pointing out to the team (and anyone else who would listen), that record was rather misleading–we’d been in a lot of winnable games, but one bad inning would cost us. After the regular season, Nevanen tried to convince us that we were capable of playing good baseball and pulling a few upsets. After sweating out a opening-round road win in the playoffs against the #8 seed, the Bluestreaks began believing him.
That victory sent us on the road again for a District 28 quarterfinal game, in which we made full use of an extremely short right-field fence, slugging four home runs (one, a surprising opposite-field poke by a third baseman named Bob Bradovich that cleared the short fence by inches, and three more legitimate bombs by left-handed hitting first baseman Jeff Quirk) in a one-sided win. With Chisholm being the predetermined host site for the District semi’s and final, we now had home field advantage to go with a whole lot of unexpected mojo. The magical run continued, as the Bluestreaks beat Deer River in the semifinals, then followed that with a win over Hill City in the final. Chisholm had its first District baseball title in years, sending the Bluestreaks to the regional. Two more wins there and the team with the 1-13 regular season record would be playing in the state tournament.
Hermantown was so intimidated by the prospect of facing this Bluestreaks team in a regional semi (in Chisholm, no less), the Hawks threw their number two pitcher, preferring to save their ace for a regional final two days later. Whether or not we were miffed by this slight was not relevant…we found out rather quickly that we couldn’t hit their number two guy.
Still, somehow, while being no-hit, we clung to a 1-0 lead, having scored the lone run in the top of the 3rd. I had coaxed a leadoff walk, but the next hitter grounded into an apparent double play–apparent to everyone except the base umpire. Having seen the second baseman step on the base while making the turn, I assumed I was out, and began jogging back to our third base dugout, until Coach Nevanen began screaming at me: “RUN!!!” I didn’t always listen to authority figures back then, but at that moment I did, and I slid into third before the tag was applied.
I looked up at Nevanen in utter disbelief. “Did he say I was safe at second?”
The coached chuckled, shaking his head. “Yeah, he said he missed the bag on the turn.”
“Well, that’s a terrible call,” I said, climbing to my feet and shaking the dust off my uniform.
“I know. But now you’re on third. There’s one out. Make sure a grounder gets through before you go. Freeze on a line drive. You’re tagging on a fly ball.”
The next hitter stroked a routine fly ball to center, and just as the coach told me to do, I tagged and scored.
That run held up until the bottom of the sixth. We were in a jam, as we’d been in every previous inning, but had somehow managed to get out of trouble up to that point. Hermantown had runners on first and second with two outs, and those runners were in motion on a 3-2 pitch…a pitch that was popped up to right field.
Unfortunately for the Bluestreaks on that day, right field was manned by our designated hitter, who was solid as a DH but a liability in the field. Our normal right fielder was in left, because our usual left fielder was on vacation with his family (I am not making this up). To make matters worse, that regular left fielder (let’s call him “Rollie”) had told me on the phone the previous night that he was not only missing the game, but also, he wanted me to deliver the news to the head coach (I am not making this up either).
You can probably guess what happened…the DH playing right field never saw the routine popup, so instead of making the catch for the third out, the ball fell to the grass some ten feet away from him…the two runners in motion both scored easily.
Whatever mojo we’d built up over the previous couple of weeks was gone as quickly as “Rollie” had skipped town with his family on vacation. There was no confidence left as we came to the plate in the top of the 7th against a pitcher who was throwing a no-hitter against us, and we went down quietly, 1-2-3, ending our postseason run.
So, where am I going with all of this? Right back to the beginning of this blog post.
You never know what you’re going to see when you go to the ballpark.
You may see something that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
But you have to show up to see it…isn’t that right, “Rollie”?
Posted under Hometown Sports
This post was written by bbradovich on July 17, 2009