Today, we’re going Out of the Box for a special reason.
For those that have been following me for quite awhile, you know that my main hockey offseason activity revolves around the Tri-City ValleyCats, the local New York Penn League franchise.
And on a chilly Sunday night in Dutchess County, the Cats would finish off a two game sweep of the Hudson Valley Renegades with a nerve wracking extra inning win, taking home their third NYPL title since joining the league in 2002.
For the first time in my life, I got to experience in person my team winning a championship on the field (or on the ice, for that matter). Sure, I got to watch on TV when the Yankees and the Devils won their respective championships. I watched on TV when the River Rats won their only Calder Cup in 1995. I had to rely on phone calls from friends when the Cats won their titles in 2010 and 2013.
I was at the park when the Cats lost the championship to Mahoning Valley in 2004, and again to State College in 2014.
But Sunday…I experienced it live. And it felt AMAZING. Euphoric, awesome…you get the idea.
As I watched the Cats first baseman, Alex Holderbach, get a go ahead two run single in the 12th inning, the feeling of anticipation began.
When the bottom of the inning arrived, I moved from my seat above the Cats dugout to the front row down the third base line. I had to see the moment up close.
Two of the Cats pitchers, Austin Hansen and Brett Conine, had also moved to that row from behind home plate, where they had been charting their teammates for most of the night. They were ready to jump onto the field. Brett’s hand was visibly shaking, he was so anxious.
Manny Ramirez (no not THAT Manny) got the first two outs by strikeout. ONE MORE OUT!
Then, the walks began. Three of them in a row to load the bases. One swing by the Renegades batter could mean game over or an epic battle in extras would continue on. Manny came out of the game in favor of Jacob Billingsley. Three pitches later…
(Disclaimer: yes that would be me screaming my head off. You might want to adjust your volume.)
After the initial celebration, it was time for the trophy presentation at home plate.
Now it’s time to pop some bottles!
Afterwards, after the celebrating finished and the boys packed up the bus to head back to Troy for the last time this season, those that hung out by the bus got to see the NYPL trophy up close.
To me, the win not only gave me my first live celebration, it also avenged some past deeds. Back in 2012, the Renegades beat the Cats in the NYPL Championship Series. That Cats team was probably the best team I have seen at Bruno Stadium. Not only were they a great group on the field, they were off as well. I made quite a few friendships that summer, and my favorite player that year, Preston Tucker, eventually made it to the bigs with Houston before he was traded to Atlanta. The 2012 squad also coined the phrase Vamos Gatos–Let’s Go Cats in Spanish, a battle cry started by the team’s Latin American contingent. It’s become the team’s identity ever since.
Every time I made the hour and a half trip south to Dutchess Stadium, I would constantly be reminded every time I went through the gate, seeing the 2012 NYPL Champion banner by the main entrance.
I saw that banner again Sunday, with the feeling that I wouldn’t be bothered by it that much longer. And I was right.
Not a bad way to finish off my baseball season and start the transition to hockey season, I guess.
Once more with feeling…VAMOS GATOS! (clap clap clap)