Baseball: A meaningless game? Not to players, managers

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07/27/2013 8:08 PM |

AVIATORS 6, TOMCATS 4

Consider the meaning of  “meaningless,” as in “meaningless game.”

What would happen if two baseball teams were assembled to play a meaningless game? Well, for one thing, a debate about the terminology might ensue, and one could conclude that “meaningless” is in the eye of the beholder.

While some observers may have attached little to no importance to the Riverhead Tomcats-Westhampton Aviators game on Saturday, it didn’t appear that any players or managers were among them. Because the game didn’t have any affect on the Hampton Collegiate Baseball League’s final standings or the playoffs, some may have regarded the final regular-season game between the two teams as meaningless, but “meaningless” is apparently not in the vocabulary of either club.

Although there was a light mood surrounding the contest, neither side played as if it was meaningless. The Aviators produced a meaningful five-run burst in the seventh inning and walked away with a 6-4 win at Aviator Field in Westhampton. The rally featured a leadoff home run by Joey Havrilak and a two-run, pinch-hit single by Dan Parisi.

“I don’t think the game was meaningless,” John Melville, the Tomcats’ starting pitcher, said. “Like I said, you’re out here just trying to make yourself better. Guys are getting at-bats, guys are getting innings. You play the game to win.”

By virtue of their 4-2 loss to the Sag Harbor Whalers on the same field earlier in the day, the Aviators (24-16) were locked into second place. The Whalers clinched first place with that win, leaving them with a 24-15 record heading into their final regular-season game Saturday night against the North Fork Ospreys.

Earlier in the day in Riverhead, the Tomcats had dropped a 4-3 loss to the playoff-bound Ospreys. A win by the Center Moriches Battlecats the night before had already eliminated the Tomcats (18-22) from playoff contention, though. (Ironically, it was a loss by the Battlecats in their final regular-season game last year that brought the Tomcats a playoff spot.) That took an awful lot of meaning out of Riverhead’s final two games on Saturday.

Regardless, Tomcats Randy Caden dismissed the notion of that meaningless thing. “The kids that come here, they’re competitive,” he said. “There’s no meaningless game.”

The 2013 season had started so promisingly for the Tomcats, who can pinpoint their downfall. After starting the season with a 13-8 record, they lost two of possibly their best players, catcher Charley Gould and shortstop Mike Brosseau, to injuries. The impact was immediate. With those two players out, the Tomcats dropped 13 of their next 15 games.

Ouch!

“Other teams got hot at the right time,” Caden said. “There were a lot of games that we should have won but didn’t, but that’s life, that’s baseball.”

And so the Tomcats finished in fifth place while the top four teams in the seven-team league move on to the postseason.

“It was the end of a short but long season, I guess,” Tomcats center fielder Jack Sundberg said. “It’s always sad, the last game, a lot of good guys on the team, but I guess it’s got to come to an end sometime.”

Against the Aviators, the Tomcats received three hits from their leadoff hitter, Sundberg, and a two-run homer by Jason Gordon. But it wasn’t enough as the Aviators cranked out 12 hits, including two apiece by J. C. Brandmaier, Mitch Montaldo and Brian Lee.

Both starting pitchers did well. Each gave up one run over five innings. Melville was touched for five hits and one walk, with no strikeouts. Westhampton’s starter, Nick Garcia, allowed three hits. He did not issue a walk and struck out three.

“It wasn’t any different really,” Melville said of his final outing of the summer. “It was another game, I guess.”
Another “meaningless game”?

The participants might take issue with that characterization. Whenever they are wearing uniforms, the score is being kept and statistics are being recorded, they are inclined to compete. That’s their nature.

After the game, Caden was still coming to grips with the finality of a season that had just ended.

“It goes by real quick,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s over already.”

bliepa@timesreview.com

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