Adventures in Pittsburgh and beyond
The Niagara Falls Falcons U-18 squad had a great time at a tournament in Pittsburgh. Photos by: CHARLIE MARTIN.
The Niagara Falls Falcons U-18 squad just returned from the Louisville Slugger Wood Bat Classic in Pittsburgh, and it’s hard to know where to begin.
The Falcons managed to play six games on some of the nicest turf fields they have ever seen, battle searing and unrelenting heat, face top-notch competition, and also encounter some of the strangest rules and the most unreasonable opponent they have ever come across.
As an assistant coach on this year’s squad, I was given a heads-up by head coach Mike Paolone the tournament was not to be missed. Mike was able to go last season and came back with rave reviews.
Before we even got to the tournament, we were inundated with countless e-mails from tourney organizers who were doing their best to keep all updated on park locations, schedules and tournament rules.
Did I mention rules?
There were so many variations on standard baseball rules it was hard to keep up or know where to start. One thing was certain, however. No sunflower seeds or gum was permitted on the turf fields under penalty of death. Clearly, there had been issues in the past and organizers took great pains to explain the atrocities that would occur should a seed be found on the field.
We arrived at our first game located at a nice turf field used by the Washington and Jefferson College team and before we even took the field were informed our catcher could not wear his mask and protective helmet and needed to use the goalie-style helmet or he would not be allowed to participate.
This in a state where it is legal to drive a motorcycle without any kind of helmet.
We then looked down in front of our dugout and noticed all kinds of seeds on the field. Someone obviously was living dangerously and ignored the memo.
It gets better.
Another rule clearly stated no metal spikes were to be worn. Only rubber cleats or turf shoes would be allowed.
The metal cleats were left in our bags and we proceed to slip and slide on the turf and in the dirt on the mound and in the batter’s box.
At one point, a sympathetic umpire finally told us to go ahead and use the metal cleats since he had worked many games at the field and metal cleats were never a problem.
We took his word for it and a handful of players used the metal cleats in our next game versus Kitchener.
What a mistake that was. After building a 6-2 lead versus the Panthers, Kitchener coach Jeff Pietraszko, by all accounts a stand-up guy, for some reason decided to make a big deal about our footwear.
What ensued was beyond ridiculous.
Following several calls to a tournament convenor, it was decided the game was to be stopped. Officials suggested to Kitchener we simply change our shoes and proceed but Kitchener made it known they had no interest in playing and left the field.
Finally, the following morning, saner heads prevailed and we were awarded the game based on the fact we were led to believe the metal cleats were fine to wear and the fact the Panthers refused to continue the game, despite the opportunity to do so.
Clearly, the Panthers had hoped to win by a loophole, rather than attempting to let the game be decided between the white lines.
What goes around . . .
We then ventured to Bethany College in West Virginia for our next two games. I strongly suggest to anyone fortunate enough to head to that part of the world to have a GPS, Google Earth, maps, apps, compasses and a weather vain handy in order to try and make sense of the roads to the park.
At one point we passed a road aptly named, “Middle of Nowhere” Street.
When we finally did arrive I honestly thought Boss Hogg was going to show at some point. This was hardcore hillbilly territory and a bit of culture shock to some of us.
While warming up every song ever recorded to mention hot women, cold beer, jeans, guns and the good, old USA was played.
Off the field, coach Mike went above and beyond to ensure the team spent as much time together as possible and organized several team meals.
Perhaps that was the best part of the trip, seeing 16 teenagers, their parents and families, all come together off the field and enjoy some social time.
Some of the boys even staged a high-stake poker game while others relaxed and hung out. What was evident was the fact that despite all of the rules, all of the nonsense, all of the scary back roads in took to get to the park, everyone was glad to be there.
When all was said and done, the Falcons finished with a 2-4 record and lost in the consolation final.
Somehow, the wins and losses took a backseat to the overall experience, which was a home run.
Members of the team who attended the tournament were: Dylan Paolone, James Egan, Landon Mccracken, Cole Ross, Corey Stewart, William Jones, Jordan Clinch, Carson Criddle, Bryce DesRoches, Anthony Stranges, Connor Theal, David Shelton, Peter Rigas, Ryan Potrecz, Brock Pellow and Kyle Fortuna.
Assistant coaches George Ross and Rob Jones were also along for the fun.