Battle Royale – Hawaii vs NorCal

The late morning air in Vancouver, Washington felt heavy on the skin, as the pressure for Pleasanton’s 14 year-olds to advance in the Western Regional came down to one game against Ewa Beach, Hawaii. The sting of Friday’s fiasco against Idaho was still fresh in everyone’s mind, and no one was quite sure how the team would respond to their first adversity of the summer.

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Ptown Blue would bat first, and it was obvious from the start that this game would be different that the previous day’s contest. An error, two hit batsmen, and singles by Jimmy Kaufman and Quinn Brinnon gave Pleasanton a quick 2-0 lead and knocked their starting pitcher out of the game. With Mitch Benson on the hill, the team felt confidence about their chances. A quick bottom of the first proved to the young Ptowners that they could play with the white-uniformed team from Ewa Beach.

Despite the incessant tribal chants from the kids and parents from Hawaii, Pleasanton kept the pressure on in the second inning, with the big blow being a 2-run rocket to left-center that left Mitch Benson standing on third base, and the dugout of blue clad boys whooping and smiling at their early success. Nate Lau followed with a sharp single to center, and suddenly the boys were up 5-0.

No one expected the Hawaii team to fold their beach towels and head home from the beach early, particularly their boisterous parents and fans. They came back to score four in the bottom of the second, and another in the third, and the game was tied after three complete innings. The teams traded single runs in the fourth, and the game took on the feel of a heavy weight title fight, except the only swings were coming from these still-developing 14 year old boys (with a couple extra swings thrown in by the Hawaii team).

Breakthrough came in the sixth inning for the powder blue wearing Ptowners. The rally started with lead-off hitter Max Lander lining a ball back through the pitcher and into centerfield for a base hit. Justin Lavell’s two-strike, chopping single to right just over the glove of Hawaii’s beamoth first baseman set up Trevor Wallace’s single to plate Lander and give the team the lead. An intentional walk to Mitch Benson with runners on first and second, a tactic usually reserved for Barry Bonds, loaded the bases for Nate Lau. This brought the Hawaii infielders in tight, their spikes firmly set on green grass of the Columbia River infield. Nate Lau made them pay, as he got a ball through the infield plating another run. Another hit batsman (Hawaii plunked four Ptown players on Saturday), would push across another, and the score stood at 9-6, with Pleasanton needing six more outs for the win.

The final outs of a baseball game can often be difficult to find, as players find themselves griping the ball a little tighter, and accumulating a bit more sweat in their finger tips. Special players can calm those nerves, and preserve through difficult and harrowing times. Two such players stepped up for Ptown on Saturday, with Trevor Wallace coming in for relief of Mitch Benson, and defensive leader Cal O’Loughlin deftly scooping up balls at shortstop. In the end, Wallace allowed only one base runner, and O’Loughlin accounted for five of the last six outs, including the turn of an amazing 4-6-3 double play to end the game and end the chorus of chants from the highly competitive Hawaii team.

There’s no doubt that we will likely face this Hawaii team again, as they are talented and spirited. All those in attendance on Saturday were exhausted, drained, and thoroughly entertained by the young men on the field. People often throw out terms like “The best I’ve ever seen,” so I’ll avoid such hyperbole, but I know that the trek to Vancouver, Washington to watch 14-year old boys play baseball and represent Pleasanton was all made worth it by the way our team carried themselves on Saturday. Congrats to the players and coaches, and thank you for making the summer of 2014 so memorable for all that are involved and rooting for you, for playing the game the right way, and for reminding us all how to have fun while succeeding at the highest level of competition.

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Disappointment on the Columbia River for the Pleasanton Juniors

Dubbed the “Columbia River Meltdown” by many of the local baseball aficionados, Ptown’s 8-3 loss to the underdog potato farmers from the Pacific Northwest was a shock to everyone but the kids from Idaho. The boys quickly felt the weight of this potentially costly defeat, as they faced the specter of not making it out of pool play, with a lone game left on their four-game slate against an undefeated Hawaii team.

The Western Region Junior tournament of 2014 was proving to be a grouping of “Have” and “Have Nots” as there were six teams with one or less loss after four days of play, and five other teams largely eliminated from the tournament. With 2 days remaining of pool play, six teams were fighting for 4 playoff spots. While the Friday loss didn’t eliminate Ptown, it certainly tested their resolve as the reality for these 14-year old boys that they weren’t invincible was a big blow to their young egos.

However, their coaches, led by Dave Lander, Bob. Kaufman, and Eric Benson, used the loss as a teaching moment, and found light where there seemed so little. A Saturday win against the team from Ewa Beach, Hawaii had to be expected by the boys, and the coaches worked furiously into the early Saturday morning watching game film and playing with different lineup and pitching scenarios. The foundations of confidence can disturbed by the slightest erosion at the base, but come Saturday morning, it was obvious that this team wouldn’t allow a random bump in the soil to affect how firmly their feet would bury into the Columbia River shoreline field.

A loss to Hawaii would include a one-way ticket back to Pleasanton, and a heavy feeling of unfulfilled promise. A win, and all prior transgressions could be erased. It would be a tough battle, and one not to be miss. You’ll learn in my next post what happened on that Saturday afternoon against Hawaii.

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The Battle for Oxford Suites Supremacy (non-fiction)

20140722-230143-82903156.jpgIt was an eerily cool and breezy summer night in the far northern reaches of California on Tuesday evening. Interstate 5 has been a well worn path of anxious families and fans to the teams playing in this talent rich youth baseball tournament, although most of the teams young ballplayers are lodging in Redding for the week. Tonight marked the culmination of a long weekend of baseball for the sturdiest teams playing through the winners bracket – Pleasanton and Rocklin.

After five days of sharing the beautiful confines of the Redding Oxford Suites (a fine stop for those traveling through Northern California to the annual Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon) these two titans of Northern California youth baseball were able to square off in the baseball equivalent of a UFC cage-match at Foothill High School outside of Redding.

The Pleasanton team started quickly with Jimmy Kaufman dominating the first inning, shutting down the Rocklin hitters with his poison filled darts of pitches, while whipping a fierce double to score Mitch Benson to take a 1-0 lead after the first inning.

The starting pitching for both teams cruised through the second, but it was the Rocklin pitcher that blinked in the third inning, giving up a sharp hit to center to Justin Lavell, and walked two to load the bases. A confident Nate Lau stepped into the batters box next, and after getting down in the count 1-2, found some open greenery for the baseball in right field. The right fielder made a valiant diving effort for the sinking liner, but after the dust settled, Lau was standing on third base and the boys from Ptown had a 4-0 lead. Insurance came shortly after, as another walk, a failed pick-off attempt, and two errors, led to two more runs and a 6-0 lead after three innings complete.

That would be all the boys from Pleasanton would need, as Jimmy Kaufman pitched a complete game, and the Ptown Blue crew held on for a stirring 6-4 win over the game team from Rocklin.

Their next game will be Thursday, with the winners of Wednesday night’s consolation game needing to beat Pleasanton twice on Thursday to claim the Northern California crown. A tall order for any team against the gritty Pleasanton boys. The stands should be packed for Thursday’s finals, so get there early to secure good seats. There’s free hot dogs and Coach Lander bobble head to the first 5 fans who mention this article at the snack shack.

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Pleasanton Advance to Winner’s Bracket Final of Nor Cal Juniors Tournament

The 14-year old boys from Pleasanton kept on their winning ways at the Northern California Division tournament this weekend in Redding, California.

The winner of the Division tournament represents Northern California in the Western Regional in Vancouver, WA.  Teams from the seven sections in Northern California were represented in Redding: Pleasanton, Oakland, Porterville, Gridley, San Jose, Manteca, and Rocklin.

The Ptown Blue team jumped out quick in the sweltering Redding heat to beat Manteca (Spreckles Park) 6-1 in the opening game. Behind a strong pitching performance by fireballer Jimmy Kaufman, and big hitting from Kaufman and Quinn Brinnon, the team took the early lead and never looked back. The big hit came in the third inning, with the bases load when Trevor Bergman laced a sharp single to left that scored two, and gave the team a comforting 5-0 cushion. The team from Manteca wouldn’t go down without a fight though, as it took some spectacular defensive plays by John Harrington at second base in the fifth inning with the bases loaded, a diving catch on a low liner by Colin Dixon in left field, and a laser throw by catcher Quinn Brinnon to pick off a runner in the final inning to secure the win.

Sunday’s game against the team from San Jose, Branham Hills, was a nail biter.  The Branham Hills pitcher had many of the boys off-balance, but Pleasanton was again able to score first, taking the lead in the third inning on strong hitting from Justin Lavell and Mitch Benson.  Defense really ruled the day for Pleasanton on Sunday, as their pitchers (Trevor Wallace and Benson) were helped by four double plays in the game, including the game ender as Branham Hills was rallying in the 7th.

The team advances to the winners bracket final on Tuesday, where they’ll face a tough Rocklin team (Tri City).  Game time is set for 5pm on Tuesday, with the winner advancing the championship game on Thursday, while the loser moves down the finals of the loser’s bracket.

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Pleasanton 14YO Boys Baseball Qualify for Northern California Little League Tournament

After representing the Tri-Valley in the inaugural Intermediate Little league World Series (LLWS) last year for 13-year olds, the boys from Pleasanton are back at it, as they look to qualify for the Junior level LLWS for 14-year olds in Troy, Michigan this year.

Getting through their District, the team from Pleasanton relied on great pitching from Mitch Benson, Anthony Steller-Harter, and Trevor Wallace to shut down their opponents in their three District level games. In the finals, they were able to hold off a tough San Ramon team on the strength of five home runs from five different players (Justin Lavell, Anthony Steller-Harter, Jack Sanderson, Nate Lau, and Mitch Benson) and qualify for the Sectional tournament.

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Getting through the tournament is no easy feat, as District 57 is widely considered one of the toughest Little League Districts in the country, comprised of teams from San Ramon, Danville, Pleasanton, Dublin, and Livermore. Winning this level sent them the the four-team Sectional tournament, comprised of District winners from Half Moon Bay, Fremont, and Hayward.

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Once agin, the Ptown Blue team was able to rely on strong pitching, as well as timely hitting from Trevor Wallace, Jimmy Kaufman, Nate Lau, and Mitch Benson to take home another banner for Pleasanton. Winning Sectionals puts them in the Northern California Divisional finals tournament in Redding, California July 19-24. Being crowned Northern California champs would advance the team into the Western Regionals in Vancouver, Washington, where they would face-off in a field of 8 teams from the Western US that includes perennial powers Hawaii and Southern California.

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You can follow the team here on GameChanger.

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2014 Phoenix Open in pictures

The Waste Management Phoenix Open golf tournament is unlike any other spot on the PGA tour. Played Super Bowl week each year, the tournament drew a PGA tour record 563,008 patrons this year (compared to 82,529 for the Super Bowl on Sunday), and is the craziest tournament on the tour. The focal point of the tournament is the par-3 16th, where they erect a stadium around the hole, and patrons actively boo the golfers that miss the green with their tee shots. For the avid golfer, this tournament can be a little shocking, but if golf wants to attract more people to the sport, they may look to loosen up and have more tournaments like this to change people’s perception of golf as a stuffy sport for old men.

1. Walking In

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2. Our Seats At The Famous 16th

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3. Our View All Week

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4. Thursday Night Birds Nest – Jake Owen Concert

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5. Crowds Walking Up To 16th Stadium

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6. Everyone Standing For Phil Mickelson On The Tee

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7. Friendly Wagering Among Friends

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8. Stay Hydrated

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9. You’ve Got To Own The Outfit

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10. The scene on 18

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11. The Aftermath – trouble finding cabs/Uber

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1/5/2014: Cusco, Peru The Last Few Days, In Pictures

While we’re about halfway through our trip and my posts have been mainly narrative, I’ll try to focus this post more on pictures from the last couple days of our trip. I hope you enjoy.

I feel like these first pictures capture the central essence of why a home stay on a trip like this is so great. It’s like we have a family here in Cusco, with the “family time” centered around meals usually lasting at least two hours. The discussions are varied and random, and can be heated, but always with a lot of laughing. The mostly Spanish discussions have included topics like Peru politics, 80′s music, drug trafficking, rotten mangoes, and mineral baths. There’s a great article by Megan Garber of The Atlantic about the fading art of conversation that seemed appropriate to include here as we had these daily meal rituals. It’s a great read if you have the time.

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These pictures are from our 45 minute hike up the mountains behind Plaza de Armas to the ruins of Sacsayhuaman (pronounced “sexy-woman”), where there’s some incredible natural rock slides (at least I think they’re natural) and incredible caves. It’s been overcast and rainy, so a lot of the pictures are darker than I’d like. The last picture is on our way back down at Plaza San Cristobal, where it’s raining pretty good on us, but I thought was a cool picture of Nate with Cusco in the background.

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As we were going to dinner the other night, there was a wedding just letting out of the church at Plaza de Armas (Templo de la Compañia de Jesús) and I got this great shot of the bride and grooms first public kiss. Wish I had found out their names.

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Here’s a great picture of us at the Yanapay restaurant with Laura (the volunteer coordinator from Germany) and Miguel (a volunteer from northern Peru, that Yuri hopes will be the restaurant manager soon). As I’m sure you can tell, Miguel is an incredibly entertaining guy.

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Finally, here’s a picture of the Haydee’s house, where we’re staying. It’s been painted and remodeled a bit since Cade and I stayed here two years ago, but still has the same great warmth and charm. I wouldn’t want to stay anywhere else in Cusco.

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