So it's the top of the fifth, zero to zero with one out. Unseasonably cold – temps in the low sixties – mostly cloudy, with a breeze coming in from left field. Four times already runners have made it to third and died there. Bruce Alter is at bat.
Jeremiah Meiners whisks in six pitches: a ball, a strike, a strike, a foul, a foul, and Alter hits a grounder to the shortstop that almost beats him to first base – one man on, with the home team manager disputing the play. Eric Allen behind him takes one-two-three balls and a strike before getting a walk to first. Adam Baker knocks his second pitch off a grounder towards first base for a single, jumping over the first baseman, Tim Park, as the latter tries to recover the ball. Bases loaded, one out. Mark Tracy steps up, fouls, watches a ball go by, and shoots one to the shortstop – it goes to the plate to catch Alter out at home. Bases loaded, two outs, and Beau Brooks comes up to bat.
Steve comments approvingly. He's an old-time baseball fan, was talking about Harold Baines Sr. (father of the left-fielder) a few minutes ago, and he thinks Brooks's got a good name. Dad replies, I'm keeping the score.
Meiners throws the first pitch, a ball. Brooks fouls off the next one, lets a strike by, fouls again. A ball. Another ball. Foul. Foul.
Over the right-field fence.
Pandemonium. The visitors are cheering, the runners are circling the bases. First grand slam we can remember in this stadium, and it's simply beautiful. The runners go into the dugout and the fielders get ready for the next batter when the second base umpire comes running in to talk to the home plate ump.* They retrieve the bat. They talk. They measure it against the plate.
Suddenly, the fielders run in. Someone says it was an out, some sort of illegal play. I'm yelling at the announcer, in the booth behind me, "What happened? What's going on?" No-one off the field knows, as on the field the visiting coach fiercely argues the call, and in the stands an unknown home-teamer taunts him. We hear something about an illegal bat from the umpires before the visitors take the field. Four runs vanish from the scoreboard.
Two innings later, scoreless despite two more runners making third, we learn that the bat had pine tar too far up the handle – halfway, it seems like. Steve talks about major-leaguers who've gotten away with it in the past. We watch to the end, as first the visitors score a run in the seventh and the home team two in the eighth, one on a shortstop's error that's officially counted as a hit. The game ends in the top of the ninth with a nail-biting infield play for the final out at first base while a runner tries to come in from third. The wind has died down as we leave the field, and Dad gives directions to Steve for his trip home. The bout ended at 10:23, almost three-and-a-half hours.
I love this game.
Note: The above was the fifth game of the season for the Silver Spring - Takoma Thunderbolts, playing against the Rockville Express at their home field behind Montgomery Blair High School for the Cal Ripkin, Sr. Collegiate Baseball League.
* Update: According to the official news, Thunderbolts coach John Duffy initiated the check of the bat. The Express protested the decision to the League on the afternoon of June 15.
Update the Second: The appeal was rejected, as it did not come before play resumed.