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D.C. all-stars prevail
Adult amateur baseball league helps fill major's void

(Published July 26, 2004)

By MICHAEL HOFFMAN
Staff Writer

If the July 15 baseball game at Shirley Povich Field in Maryland between the District and Virginia league of NABA-DC proved anything, it's that you don’t need to pay Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos to see good baseball, as the District league all-stars defeated the Virginia league all-stars 7-6.

The game, which began at 8 on a beautiful, breezy night featured the all-stars of NABA-DC, a wooden bat league, whose members vary from 30-year-old recreational players to more seasoned players like Tom Bell, who made it as far as AA in the Marlins' farm system.

Nevertheless, Bell was far from the only talented player on the field.

Todd Crawford, the starting pitcher from the District league, who had an ERA of 1.0 going into the game, pitched flawlessly for most of the game. Crawford, who allowed only one hit and no runs in his first three innings of work, constantly confused the Virginia batters with his rising fastball and deceptive curveball. Crawford also wasn’t afraid to mix his pitches up. In the third inning he got two straight batters to strike out after getting them to chase sinking balls, after they had faced his trademark rising fastball for most of the count.

In the fourth inning, though, with the score still tied at zero, the Virginia league all-stars were able to cash in fully on Crawford’s departure from the pitching mound.

George Omeir, a shortstop and pitcher from the Alexandria A's, led off the inning by lacing an off-speed pitch down the left field line and was able to safely dive head first into second base before the throw. Jason Noker would then single to left, allowing Omeir to move to third. This would set up the first run of the game, as the District catcher's low throw to second baseman Paul Beccio would be dropped, giving Omear the brief window of time that he needed to sprint home, making it to the plate before Beccio’s high throw could be received.

The inning would get worse for the District's all-stars, as pitcher Rob Rifken was fooling no one with his slow off-speed pitch. Virginia hitter Tom Bell would smash the ball to left for a double and score Noker, and tiny Japanese shortstop Fumiya Togashi would vivaciously raise his fist up in exaltation after hitting a pitch up the middle of the infield, scoring Bell, for a 3-0 Virginia lead.

Despite the setback, the District's team was far from defeated and struck back in its next at bat for three runs. One could perhaps sense that the District might finally be able to conduct a productive inning after shortstop Togashi threw high to first baseman Jason Wippich, allowing Chad Hinkle to arrive safely at first, and perhaps more importantly reveal a flaw in Virginia’s solid early infield defense.

Jason Noker would get the next batter out on a diving fastball down the middle of the plate, but against Paul Beccio, Noker was far less cautious, heaving a belt-high fastball that Beccio lofted deep to left field, allowing Hinkle to score. Another error by the Virginia infield would allow Brian Coyne to make it safely to first, with Beccio moving to third.

The District's leadoff batter, Jason DaCosta, was able to make it to first and score Beccio. DaCosta hit the ball toward the Virginia first baseman, who leaned down and attempted to make the play, but watched as the ball took a sudden high hop and bounced off his chest. A double steal allowed Coyne to stealthily sprint home, tying the game at 3 at the end of the fourth inning.

Looking hardly like all-stars, Virginia’s infield defense would allow another run in the fifth inning, as a slow roller hit off the bat of Kyle Paulson would inexplicably go through the legs of Togashi, allowing the District to take a 4-3 lead at the end of the sixth.

With Crawford returning to the game in the seventh and striking out Jody Fellows on a 2-2 sinker that dipped near the plate, it appeared that Virginia manager Jason Pasatempo's side would not be able to live up to his promise that "we never lose."

Nevertheless, after Pasatempo’s star pitcher Tom Bell struck out a District batter and broke the bat of the next batter in an eighth inning during which Bell was simply overpowering, it was clear that the Virginia squad still had life. Pasatempo’s team still needed more than powerful pitching; they needed runs, and fast. This is exactly what Pasatempo and his Virginia squad received, as they pounded Crawford for three runs as Omeir, Bell and Nathan Bennett all scored to give Virginia a 6-4 lead going into the ninth.

Like it had all day, the District came back, this time doing it the painful way -- literally. Appearing nothing like the previous inning, Virginia pitcher Bell was sporadic and hit the first two batters, Coyne and DaCosta, to begin the inning. Joe Harris would then successfully sacrifice bunt on a Bell fastball, advancing Coyne to third and Dacosta to second. Timothy Burr, an outfielder from the Washington Grays on the District all-star squad, would then slash a low breaking ball up the right infield and past the glove of the leaping first baseman, scoring Coyne and making the score 6-5 in the Virginia all-stars' favor.

Bell would briefly regain his form from the eighth inning, striking out Crawford on a vicious fastball that curved slightly before reaching the plate and putting some members of the crowd into a frenzy, as the Virginia squad was only one out away from victory.

But the District all-stars came back again, although as Paulson glanced at an infield flare that was bouncing directly to the Virginia shortstop, he couldn’t have had much hope that the game was going to continue much longer.

However, the Virginia team made the most routine groundballs up the infield into a minefield of mistakes, giving up a number of runs to the District squad because of these errors. At this crucial period in the game, the Virginia shortstop would bobble Paulson’s hit, allowing Paulson and pinch runner Tom Fescoe to make it safely to first and second, with DaCosta scoring to tie the game.

The stage would then be set for District catcher Carlos Soto, to become the game's hero and MVP. Tom Bell, trying to shake off the ineptitude of the current inning, missed twice on pitches to the left of the plate, and with Soto sizing up the fastball-slinging pitcher, most likely knew that very soon he had to throw a strike down the middle. Soto would get exactly the pitch he wanted, lacing a low fastball to left field, scoring Festoe and giving the District a 7-6 lead.

Judging from the flow of the game, one may have expected the Virginia squad to go out with a roar, but Jason DaCosta made sure that the Virginia squad would neither bark nor bite. In a bottom of the ninth in which no Virginia batter could get the ball out of the infield, DaCosta recorded outs against the three batters he faced and struck out the last batter on a high fastball.

The District all-star squad had won, and although the game counted for nothing officially in the standings, bravado and bragging rights had surely been won and lost on this crisp summer night.

District manager Richard Huber, while jubilantly praising his players, such as Soto for clutch hitting, and Crawford and DaCosta for pitching excellence, saved his biggest smile when told of Pasatempo’s comment that, "we never lose."

"I think we used their cockiness against them," said Huber contentedly.

Copyright 2004, The Common Denominator