The result was familiar for fans of the toughest softball game around, with the Master Batters picking up its fifth title in six years in a one-run win over the Cape May River Rats.
While the chirping and ball flattening define the game, it is more than rounding bases for the competitors. Win or lose, though usually the former, the Batters come back year after year for the quality time with their teammates.
“It’s really not so much about the winning as it is about the guys in the dugout,” said Rick Byers “It can be one or two or three years between seeing each other. This brings everyone in from all over the country. Winning is nice, but it if we didn’t we would still have a good time.”
While there are softball tournaments and matchups all over the country, none hold the significance of Grand Haven’s. The vibrancy of the festival and draw of Coast Guard Personnel from all over the country make it a must-play tournament.
“It’s very hard to get everyone together with people on boats and in aviation and deployed all over,” Byers said. “It’s pretty hard to get a whole city that loves us an takes care of us like this.
“We’re treated like kings for a week,” added Tony Cella.
As for the challenge from the River Rats, it was dramatic.
The Batters got off to a hot start at the plate, living up to their name with three runs in the first inning.
Early pitching struggles hampered their progress, though, as a wealth of early walks allow the Rats to hang around.
A solo home run and a two-RBI single brought the Rats within two runs in the third inning before a quick inning of solid play in the infield brought the tight game into the fourth.
There, a couple of singles and a long shot to the fence gave the Rats a one-run lead, 8-7, and another three-up, three-down side for the Batters held the score into the fifth.
The Rats couldn’t find their bats in the fifth and the Batters got back to business, jacking a three-run home run and capitalizing on an error for an RBI triple to eventually claim a 13-8 lead headed to the sixth inning.
Neither team scored in the sixth, setting up a pivotal seventh and final inning.
With five runs to make up in the top, the Rats took two quick outs as they swung for the fences. The third was hard to come by, as pitching struggles reared again. Back-to-back walks and a single loaded the bases before an RBI single got the rally going. A second RBI single closed the gap to two before a costly fielding error let another run by to close the gap to 13-12. There, the Batters finished the game off with a caught fly to the outfield.
“Our bats got us the win today,” Cella said. “For the most part we had them, but there were a few innings where we really needed a hit. They are a good team and played some good defense. It could have easily gone the other way there in the end.”
“I wouldn’t say worried,” Byers said of the final inning. “I would have liked to bat one more time, but then the pressure is on.”
With the tournament win squared away, the Batters and Rats will enjoy their final days as Kings at the Coast Guard Festival before returning to work Monday.