I had heard about the newly remodeled Hares team for the past two weeks and while I typically wait until the final week to cover them, which is about when they usually win, the word was the Hares were hot and I had to witness it.
To review, according to the Crested Butte softball rulebook, a man age 60 or older can be counted as a coed player, i.e. a woman, in rec league softball.
In other words, if a team wants to field seven men, and two of them are 60 or older, they can. Hell, if all of the men are 60 or older, a team can play all of them.
That rule, which is new this year, has given the Hares a new lease on life. After spending the past several seasons in the cellar winning, maybe, one game a year, they’ve opened the 2014 season winning three of their first four games.
Now, in defense of the Hares, they’re good, always have been. It’s just that they’re not as young as the other teams. Not even close, except for maybe the Avalanche.
Back in their athletic heyday, there was no blood doping, no triple walled aluminum bats, heck I think they probably even played barehanded.
And that’s exactly why they are so good… technically. But speed, or lack thereof, and power have always held them back, until now.
But it’s not just the new rule that’s made all of the difference. Granted on Tuesday night, thanks to the new rule, they had eight men, three of whom counted as coeds, and two women playing.
They also have made some key moves over the past several years to bolster their roster. Drew Stichter was a key acquisition a couple years ago and now they’ve added Frank Pakov and Dave McGuire. Pakov is rumored to have quarterbacked the Ohio state champion football team and appears to have aged quite well since that feat some 40-plus years ago bringing additional power to the Hares roster. And McGuire, well McGuire is as solid a local softball player as you’re going to find. Hits for placement, knows the right play at the right time, etc. etc.
Furthermore, the Hares are all of a sudden aggressive on the base path stretching singles for doubles, doubles for triples and even triples for inside the park home runs.
All of those factors, the new rule, the new players, and the new attitude were on full display against the Talk of the Town at Tommy V Field.
The Talk jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first but the Hares responded immediately as Dave Clement, playing coed, led off with a single. McGuire followed with another single and Pakov, playing as a coed, crushed a two RBI base hit to right center only to get thrown out at home stretching for an inside the park home run.
The Talk took back the lead on a RBI base hit by Matt Hart and then held the Hares in the bottom of the second turning a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
But Sam Lumb worked his magic on the mound picking corners with his pitches and forcing the Talk hitters to stretch to make contact and letting his defense do the rest.
The hares then erupted in the bottom of the third inning knocking seven base hits and scoring five runs.
Clement started the rally with a single, McGuire followed suit and the two stretched for extra bases to put runners on second and third for Pakov. Pakov delivered once again knocking two runs in, Lumb tacked on another with an RBI double and Stichter capped the rally scoring two more before getting tossed out at home stretching for an inside the park home run.
Like I said, this is a totally new team.
The Talk cut into the Hares’ lead in the top of the fourth paced by an RBI double by Spencer Farrington down the left field line and another RBI base hit by Kricket Brigham but when Stichter chased down a line drive in center and gunned out a Talk runner tagging up, the Talk was done, for the time being.
The Talk gathered its collective wits in the top of the fifth sparked by a lead off single by Ali Sunter. Brice Harrell drove Sunter home with a towering triple to the fence in left field, Ashlee Reimer tapped an RBI sac hit and Brendan Waldron pulled the Talk to within one run with an RBI single.
The two teams continued to trade off runs and after Kent Fulton smacked an RBI triple the Hares were sitting precariously on an 11-9 lead heading into the top of the seventh.
The Talk wanted nothing to do with this renewed spirit of the Hares as the Talk bats turned hot once again. Dave Seymour, in his first game after spending the winter leagues on the injured reserves, led off with a single. Reimer singled, an uncharacteristic walk by Lumb loaded the bases and Nate Akell delivered a two RBI double to left field. Berry then stepped up to crush a two RBI triple and the Talk was finally in the lead 13-11 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning.
This would be the true test of the Hares resolve. They were coming off a 12-11 loss to KBUT and while a win could turn the tides back in their favor, a late inning loss could send them into a season-long tailspin.
Well, it appears the Hares got some resolve, lots of it in fact. A powerbunt RBI single by Michael Baim and a sac fly RBI by Steve Lawlor tied the game 13-13 sending into extra innings.
Extra innings separates the men from the boys as teams start with a runner on second base and hitters step to the plate with a full count. One pitch is all you get in extra innings.
Brent Dolph kicked things off for the Talk with a double, a walk loaded the bases and Jake Sunter pushed two runs home as the Hares suffered a collective senior moment on defense. Lumb brought the team back into focus as he struck out the next hitter and the Hares stepped to the plate one last time, down 15-13.
This time they combined brawn with balls, literally. Pakov opened with a RBI single and the next three batters walked to score their next two runs and come away with the 16-15 win.