Kickball tournament an instant classic
BEACON FALLS — All of you who hoped to read a story of how Kyle Brennan and his team embarrassed themselves in last weekend’s Susie’s Kickball Classic are about to be sorely disappointed.
Yes, my team played well — damn well, if I do say so. I couldn’t be prouder.
Background: We told you about the Susie Foundation’s first annual kickball tournament, which happened Saturday at the Beacon Falls Recreation Complex to raise money for ALS research. The organization’s founder, Ryan Matthews, lost his mother Susan to the illness, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, about two years ago.
Ryan’s a friend of mine, so I would have played in his tournament regardless. But I always enjoy doing my part in publicizing good causes, and I enjoy grabbing some friends and setting ourselves up for a comedy of errors even more. So it was: This guy’s posse was in.
While Ryan had lots of work to organize the tournament (15 teams and more than 200 players participated), I had a good bit of work to come up with a co-ed roster, name and uniforms.
Roster: Me, your captain; Steve Knapik, famous for three self-eliminations in a dodgeball tournament; Ant DelMoro, formerly of Tony’s Takes in the Overtime column; Craig Genz, less than one day removed from basic training in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; Jon Uhl, former Southern Connecticut State University chemistry professor; Chris McLean, longtime sidekick and future engineer; Kevin Brennan, younger brother and All-Naugatuck Valley League Copper Division football player; Katie Alfiere, Quinnipiac softball pitcher and former prom date of this author; Kelsey Deegan, former longtime softball first baseman; and a rotating cast of girls including Jon’s friend Hillary and cousin Kelly, as well as NVL Female Athlete of the Year Tayler Boncal (on loan from an eliminated team).
Take in that crew for a moment, especially those who know some of them.
Name: Steve did a good bit of the work in figuring out our name over a buffalo chicken pie at the Beacon Falls Pizza Palace a few weeks ago. We decided to take “Beacon Falls” and “Dreamy Kickers” and switch the first letters of each word in the phrase. We got quite colorful. So colorful in fact, that we shall henceforth be referred to in this piece as Team FBKD.
Uniforms: Our jerseys included our four-word team name placed around a can of whipped cream kicking a ball. Our team’s catchphrase, “Get Whipped,” adorned the can.
I go all out for these things, so I smeared eye black on my cheeks, fashioned a headband out of my torn-off sleeves and tried my best to become an intimidating force. Half the battle is looking the part, and I looked equal parts exaggerated jock, incompetent wannabe and ax murderer.
To make the semifinals, we had to win our pool (three games against three teams). We got our schedule and saw our first matchup: Beacon Hose Company No. 1. Our mouths watered faster than they pump out fried dough as the carnival.
Game 1: The last time we met Beacon Hose on the field of play was in the Naugatuck firefighters’ dodgeball tournament a year and a half ago. We didn’t care if that was the only game we won that day, as long as we won it. We took the same attitude into our opener.
I hadn’t played any game on a diamond since a coaches softball game about six years ago. I also hadn’t been the head coach of a team in about four years, so I expected rust in both regards. I was mistaken.
The top of our lineup was sick. A speedy top of DelMoro, my brother and Genz led to this guy in the No. 4 hole (when you make the lineup, you put yourself in a good spot). We plated three runs in the top of the first — two coming on my single — and took a commanding lead in the face of smack talking by the likes of Shane Henion and Jim Trzaski. NO MERCY.
One of the things that most impressed me on this day was the sincere effort put forth by Knapik, who I doubted and nearly kicked off the team in the days leading up to the tournament. He played far above expectations — even though he overran second base in his first appearance and was erroneously called out by umpire Sean Deegan, prompting me to argue for two innings and probably earn an ejection that did not come.
We pulled away with a 4-1 win, which was much lower scoring than I figured games would be. It was due in part to a partially deflated ball that killed all flies and made infield defense the game’s focus. It was only marred by my error at third base that allowed Martha Berge to reach base. Alfiere pitched a gem, as she used to do all the time in town.
Game 2: We weren’t nearly as sure of ourselves for our matchup with the Wing It On! team, which boasted strong-looking men and shirts that weren’t drawn on with markers.
Early in this game, though, our team started to believe and heeded my message to take this tournament seriously. WE MIGHT ACTUALLY BE GOOD.
We scored one in the first before exploding in a six-run third. During that inning, I went totally nuts as a base coach in a true flashback to my previous championship glory days. I didn’t see any other teams using base coaches and instructions until it became obvious that I was stretching runs out of our team with great baserunning decisions.
Again, Knapik deserves credit for following all directions and putting forth total effort in staying safe. When he fell in the baseline, he crawled back to second and narrowly avoided a tag. DEDICATION.
Our defense preserved Alfiere’s shutout, with the defensive middle of DelMoro and my brother snagging all sorts of outs and my lockdown defense playing 30 feet in at third base helping us escape a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the fourth.
Game 3: The pool championship came down to us and the One Kick Wonders, who we later discovered were from all over southern New England. A few of our girls had work obligations that precluded them from participating — thanks for ditching us, bartender Katie — so we picked up Boncal and forged ahead.
Halfway through the game, we found ourselves with a 3-1 lead, on the doorstep of an improbable semifinal berth. THERE WAS NO WAY. This ragtag group with semi-offensive shirts and little substantial competitive recent athletic experience making noise in kickball? Yes, but not for long.
Soon, though, our opponents started bunting very well and scratched out a few runs to pull away with a 5-3 win. (Hey, Ryan: Time to instate monkey ball next year to help curtail the bunting epidemic. Ant pushed down a girl on a tag, anyway, so it couldn’t be any more violent.) We wished them good luck the rest of the way, pleading them to take the championship so we could say we lost to the tournament victors. They did, but we stood as their closest game of the day.
Conclusion: Last Saturday was one of the biggest win-win days in the history of my life. Not only did I help the Susie Foundation raise more than $5,000 to help fight ALS, but my group of local clowns proved ourselves as serious kickball contenders for the future. (And I had six RBI.)
Kudos also to the group of Woodland faculty who made a great showing (I heard Lisa Olivere made a few defensive gems), the Beacon Beavers team of recent Woodland grads who advanced further than any team from town and turned a triple play, and everyone else who joined us on what will hopefully become a staple of Valley summers.
Next year, I’m after the gold kickball.
Kyle Brennan is a contributing writer to the Citizen’s News.