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Monday, May 19, 2014

Falcon's Nest Notes: On the Road to Columbus, Ohio; Day 1 of the Columbus Baseball Invitational Tournament

Whether you call it late, late night or early, early morning, either way it was in the deep recesses of the night that 16 members of the Yeshivah of Flatbush Varsity Baseball team (one more would join later in the early afternoon in Central Ohio) and two staff members boarded the bus in front of the High School to depart for the school’s first-ever national baseball tournament experience. With Zalman behind the wheel, The Flatbush Falcons were off to take part in the Columbus Baseball Invitational (CBI) Tournament, the self-proclaimed “Jewish World Series” where Brooklyn’s best would have the opportunity to challenge themselves against some of the best yeshiva competition the country has to offer. For three days, nine schools from as far east as New York and as far west as Los Angeles would gather near the country’s heartland in Columbus, Ohio for competition, camaraderie and Torah learning.

With the best Monsey Tours has to offer, the ride was smooth, relaxing and relatively quick (if you can consider a 10+ hour bus ride quick). The Falcons arrived at Capital University the first from out-of-town as the hosts were in the early stages of setting up. With our riders ravenous, after setting the boys up with space for shacharit minyan, the hosts assembled and impromptu breakfast – not originally part of the schedule – demonstrating both the open, welcoming heart of the Columbus Jewish community and the care with which all attending teams would be treated. After settling in, a small excursion by foot took many of the team members to “Graeter’s hand Crafted ice Cream,” the only Kosher dining place in walking distance of our Columbus home. The owners were very outgoing and most hospitable, and the fare was equally tasty. With sun warm and the belles full, the walk back to the dorms was most satisfying.
A few hours later, the team was back on the bus, headed to the campus of Columbus Torah Academy for “Spring Fling,” the Columbus’s Community-Wide Lag B’Omer Celebration. There were rides and food and music and games and food of which the players took part in varying levels. This celebration at the school was followed up shortly with dinner at the JCC pavilion, site of the tournament ball fields, and a traditional Lag B’Omer bonfire – replete with the requisite wooden pallets that are the staple of any true Israeli Lag B’Omer celebration! All this while the fist games of the tournament were underway. With the food ingested, the sights of the nearby games began to get the competitive juices flowing. It was time to return to the dorms, and to suit up!

As a further example of the commitment of the community to the success of this event, and its investment in a positive experience for all participants, Flatbush’s players were not left to walk from the dorm back to their opening game. In a demonstration of “kol yisrael areivim zeh l’zeh,” one of the families from the host community of Columbus showed great kindness, offering their family transportation to the Boys from Flatbush; the Falcons rode in style (a full-size van) from the Capital dorms to the JCC ball fields for their first round match-up at CBI 2014. First Round – 3rd seeded Flatbush Falcons taking on 6th seeded Yeshiva Atlanta Lions. One of two late-night games on the opening day of the tournament, and the winners would face off in one of tomorrow morning’s semi-final games.

In what appears to be a recurring formula, the Falcons looked to score early, then let the defense take over. It is a formula that relies on solid defense and dominant pitching. On this opening night, it is exactly what the Falcons would put forth. With Ace Ralph Navarro chomping at the bit to get back on the mound (he did not pitch in Wednesday’s game, and the ensuing match-up with North Shore slated for Friday was a washout – to be made up on Thursday, 5/22), the main question would be if he could keep from getting overly excited to be back in action. The question was given at the outset, and it was a resounding YES! Taking the green hill (set up in middle of the dirt infield), Navarro expertly set the Lions of Atlanta down in order – all by strikeout! The next part of the formula was put in place by the Falcon offense. With one out, Michael Shalom unsettled the pitcher enough to make him lose control of an inside pitch, striking him in the foot and earning a free pass to first base. Shalom promptly stole second, and continued to pull at the pitcher’s focus. While batter Nathan Haddad was fooled by strike three, the pitch was low and in, and the catcher missed it! Shalom went to third, and Nathan Haddad scooted down to first, both advancing on the passed ball. Another miscue by the pitcher-catcher battery allowed Shalom to score the first run of the game for Flatbush, and to allow Nathan Haddad to move up to Third Base. With the Atlanta pitcher now on his heels, he made his first mistake pitch of the game, and Michael Haddad made him pay. Haddad laced a solid single to left field, plating his brother Nathan with the second Falcon run. At the end of one inning, the Falcons had a 2-0 advantage.
It was then back to Navarro, and to see if the defense was equal to the task. Through four innings, it was clear that it was. Each batter that came to the plate was sent back to the dugout. Most were by strikeout, but some also resulted from big plays in the field. Two came from a pair of big scoops of the glove by First Baseman Moe Maleh, one of which was the digging out an errant Navarro throw from the dirt. Another came from the sure glove of Sam Laniado in Right Field, who never lost sight of a towering pop fly that danced in and out of the array of lights in the outfield that played tricks with multiple shadows as the ball first went up through the path of light, and then back again on its way back down.
In the top for the fifth, the Lions finally put a chink in the Navarro armor. Perfect through four and 1/3 innings, he let a pitch get a little high up, and the number 5 hitter made him pay, lacing a solid drive into the right-centerfield gap for a double. Centerfielder Joey Dayon was on it quickly and tried to catch the runner going into second, but the throw was not in time. Atlanta had its first base runner, and its first scoring threat of the night! Navarro refocused, and sat the next batter down on strikes. And with two out, the runner tried to make something happen, got a seed from catcher Michael Haddad to Third base and a waiting tag from Third Baseman Teddy Beyda for his troubles! The bottom half of the inning saw the Falcons threaten as well. Michael Tawil connected for a deep double. And when pinch-runner Morris Bijou slid safely under the tag of the Lion Third Baseman, it looked like the Falcons had something brewing. The Falcons had a man on third and nobody out. But the Atlanta hurler showed he was no slouch, and set down the next three batters in order, the threat ending with a meek groundout from the Falcons lead-off hitter.

Again, the defense would have to shoulder the burden. Again, a Lion batter looked to start a threat. But this time, a defensive gem from Second Baseman Kevin Haddad stole the spotlight for a moment. Looping off the bat, the ball looked headed for a soft landing in very shallow center. Kevin Haddad had other ideas. Sprinting towards second base, he reached high and far back towards centerfield to make a leaping snag of the looping liner, bringing the Flatbush bench to its feet! And though the next ball, which was hit very sharply in the Second Basemen’s direction, was bobbled and tossed wide of first for an error (on the bobble, not on the throw). Kevin Haddad quickly recovered, as a good fielder must, and calmly made the play on the ensuing grounder to him, relaying the throw to Maleh to record out number three.
With the Falcons again unable to get any more insurance runs, all eyes turned toward Navarro. Was there still anything left in the tank, or would the Lions have at him enough that in the third time through the line-up, with heart of the order coming to bat, they might solve him? Navarro would allow no such thoughts to linger. The number two batter went down on strikes for out number one. The number three batter went down on strikes for out number two, with the called strike two curve ball generating an exclamation from at least one spectator in the crowd, “that was NASTY!”, that drew emphatic head nods from those nearby. And finally, the number four batter followed suit, going down swinging with a foul tip that was snared by Michael Haddad and secured for the final out of the game.

One was in the books, a Falcon victory in their first-ever game outside of the New York metropolitan area, and with a late morning date with Ida Crown Jewish Academy of Chicago, Illinois, the Falcons are hungry for more!

Nest Notes:
Ralph Navarro was dominant in his performance against Atlanta, pitching four perfect innings before yielding a double with one out in the fifth inning. He would face only one more that the minimum 21 batters in the seven innings played. In earning his second complete game shutout of the season, Navarro recorded 15 outs by strikeout. As a team, the Falcons put forth a solid game across the board, registering no mental errors on offense or defense, and recording only one physical error all night.