Added Pages

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Falcon's Nest Notes: R-E-S-P-E-C-T; Day 2 of the Columbus Baseball Invitational Tournament

Waking up after a long night of activity is perhaps a high school student’s least favorite activity. It is definitely right up there with mid-terms and finals. But there is no way to know what opportunities each day brings until you rise to face a new one. By early afternoon, the members of the Flatbush Baseball team took advantage of two such opportunities, both resulting in the earning of one of the most under-valued and highly appreciated of commodities: respect.

Earning One’s Tallit Stripes
After finally recognizing the time for Kriyat Sh’ma was at hand (and rapidly moving on!), the Falcon baseballers dragged themselves, along with their tallitot and t’filin, across the Capital university campus to the home of the communities largest Orthodox congregation. Expecting to be lone in the late arrival category, and looking to daven as a singular community, the boys exited the brisk morning air to find they were not alone. While a number of teams had already prayed and moved on (they had earlier games), Flatbush entered with two other teams having just begun. They immediately looked to wait until the shul would be their alone, but it was clear this would not meet with the timetable of the day. With trepidation, they took open seats in and amongst their competitors from Atlanta and Riverdale, wrapped themselves in tallit and t’filin, and prayed alongside their competitors – albeit with their own Sephardi siddurim – as members of one larger Jewish community. This willingness to step gingerly outside the comfort zone was appreciated and noted by their fellow congregants, earning the first tally of respect on the day for the Boys from Flatbush.

After breakfast, it was on to the ball fields of the Columbus JCC for the semifinal match-up with Ida Crown Torah Academy of Chicago, Illinois. It was a tale of three games – all in one seven-inning stretch. The boys looked ready to play, but it was clear from the first pitch that something was off from last night. Under the light of day, the Falcons reverted to elements of their old form; elements that they had thought were left behind.

Things looked bright enough at the start, with Michael Haddad getting things moving in the right direction with a one-out 1st inning RBI Single driving in his brother Nathan with the game’s first run. Back-to-back walks to Moe Maleh and Ralph Navarro gave the Falcons the bases loaded with only one out. Flatbush was threatening to blow the game open before the Aces of Ida Crown came to the plate for the first time. But neither of the next two batters were able to put the ball in play, both going down on strikes, generating a slight momentum swing back to the home Aces.

What should have been a big boost for the Falcons proved to be exactly the opposite. Rather that feel the positive energy of a lead, the players appeared to be slightly deflated at not pushing more runs across the plate. It showed from the start, as Joey Dayon, normally steady on the mound walked the lead-off batter. What followed was a connection of miscues, errors and solid hits by the Aces that set the Falcons reeling. Before even one out was recorded, Ida Crown had zoomed past Flatbush. And when the dust of the first inning finally settled, the Aces had chased Dayon and stood solidly astride a 7-1 lead. The effort left the Falcons and the crowd on hand that were hoping for a close contest severely deflated.
But rather than pack up the tent, Flatbush came right back. The first baby steps came in the top of the second, with Sam Laniado working the count full then drawing a walk. Speed and timing let to consecutive steals by Laniado. A walk to Dayon behind him put runners on the corners. A one-out sacrifice grounder plated Laniado for the second Falcon run of the game, showing a flicker of life in the Falcon flames. Moe Maleh had come on in the first, and set the Aces down in the second. But in the third, miscues and errors returned, yielding three more runs, and bringing thoughts of a mercy rule shortening of the game with the 10-2 deficit now facing Flatbush.

The fans at the baseball complex of the JCC of Greater Columbus thought they were looking at a team that was done. But no one told that to the Falcons. In the fourth inning, Elliot Zakay drew a lead-off walk, then advanced to second on a passed ball. This led to the turning point of the game. With Zakay leading of second, the Aces pitcher looked to have sent a pick-off attempt sailing into center field, and all the defenders reacted by dashing off after the presumed errant throw. Only, there was no errant throw. It was ruse, designed to trick the runner on second base to think the ball was loose in centerfield and head for third; a version of the hidden ball trick often tried to fool a runner on first base to stray off and be tagged by a first baseman holding the “hidden” ball in his glove. While this is a move often considered one of gamesmanship, used to gain an advantage over an opponent in a highly competitive situation, it is also one that in a game displaying a huge discrepancy in team score is considered bordering on unsportsmanlike (like keeping starters in in a 25-point blowout in basketball, or stealing when up a large amount in baseball). It leaves a really bad taste in an opponent’s mouth. And in this case, it also backfired! Zakay was fooled, and headed for third. But the Aces third baseman was out of position, and the pitcher overthrew him as he was trying to recover. Zakay scored, the Falcons’ ire was up, and the momentum swing was underway.

With one out, Dayon walked, and promptly stole his way to third. A Michael Shalom sacrifice drove him home with run number four. The Falcons then went on a demoralizing tear for Ida Crown – the dreaded two-out rally. With all bases open, Nathan Haddad opened a string of five consecutive base hits with Michael Haddad, Moe Maleh, Ralph Navarro and Michael Tawil following suit. When the dust had lifted – literally – the Falcons had closed the gap to just two runs!
In the bottom of the fourth, Maleh looked in danger of giving back the cushion, as he looked to be running his tank low. In would come yesterday’s dominant man, left-hander Ralph Navarro. By virtue of facing only 22 batters in yesterday’s game, Navarro assured he was good to go for a few more today. Entering the game with runners on second and third and no outs, Navarro coolly froze the next two batters on called third strike curves and set down the last batter of the inning swinging; three batters, three strikeouts and no Ida Crown runs to show either!

Keeping the momentum going, The Falcons put Laniado and Shalom on base. With two outs, again Nathan Haddad came through with the big hit, scoring both runners. The Falcons had come all the way back! Michael Haddad followed with a double, putting runners on second and third with two outs for Moe Maleh. But Maleh could not connect for the lead hit, and the game would move on knotted at 10 runs apiece. Battling through exhaustion, Navarro picked off a base runner via lead-off walk in the 5th, then stranded another walked runner by inducing a fly ball to left and a grounder to short. In the 6th, Navarro induced to ground balls back to him on the mound (the first deftly scooped by Maleh to secure the out), and then set down his final batter by strikeout – his fourth in his three innings of work.
But the offense could not capitalize. In the 6th and 7th, the Falcons sputtered, with Navarro getting picked off first in the 6th followed by a pair of strikeouts and the team adding two more whiffs in the next inning before a lazy comebacker to the mound ended the Flatbush 7th. Hoping to prolong the game, the Falcons again turned to Maleh on the mound. But he just did not have it. Walking the lead-off batter, he allowed the runner to move to second. He induced a nice grounder to short, whom Nathan Haddad retired. But even though he expertly looked the runner back to second, the runner’s speed let him take advantage and still advance to third on the throw. Maleh walked the next batter, putting runners on the corners, and setting the stage for what would be the game’s final play. With the ball in Catcher Michael Haddad’s hands, the runner from first took off for second, looking to draw a throw that would allow the runner from third to score. Rather than throw, Haddad ran at the runner. When the runner from third broke for home, he turned and looked to move in that runner’s direction. He next should have run directly towards that runner, to run him back towards third where he could toss the ball to the third baseman for the tag. But Haddad threw to third too soon. The runner was able to change direction. He took off for home, crossing the plate before a relay could get there in time.
In an instant, the game was over. The valiant comeback effort of the Falcons fell short. But, at the same time, that effort earned something of great value for this Flatbush squad – respect; respect from their opponents for never stopping to come at them, respect from the spectators for never believing the game was out of reach, respect of self for knowing that no matter how bleak the outlook is they can always look for strength from each other and support in pushing forward. It is a most valuable, and well-deserved, commodity – and it has no expiration date.
Lessons from The Ohio State University
In the afternoon, the option was given to tour the campus of The Ohio State University, but the drama and length of the game left the Falcons a little weary, and those who did not elect to spend time on their studies elected for the extra rest time. The late hours of the afternoon would bring dinner, and the promise of a special guest speaker. The attending teams heard the life experiences and unique path of Calvin Murray, former Ohio State Football All-American and former NFL Philadelphia Eagle Wide Receiver, to Torah Judaism. When asked of what stood out most of his experience under the tutelage and guidance under one of the most respected and revered college football coaches of all time, the great Ohio State Head Football Coach Woody Hayes, Murray shared this surprising tale that of all Hayes’s actions had made the most lasting impression on him. One day, Coach Hayes brought back one of his former players to speak to Calvin Murray’s team about what makes a player and a team great – and that player was one who never played even one down of football for Hayes as an OSU Buckeye. Murray recognized that the lesson here is that everyone, no matter what their role on the team, is a key element to that team’s success. It is a lesson important for every player o every team, from the starter who plays every minute of the game to the pinch hitter or pinch runner who gets one fleeting moment to impact the outcome, but whose efforts can be the difference between a win or a loss. Everyone is an important cog in the machine, and invaluable member of the team.

Rising Stars
Rounding out the day’s events was a new event for the Columbus baseball Tournament – The “Future Stars” Game. This was an opportunity for those members on each team’s roster that are freshman who presently get little or no playing time in big game situations, but hope to one day, in the future, be ready to step up in the big moment. Flatbush put forth five players for the game, who along with players from Atlanta, Cleveland and Livingston, NJ would challenge a team of players from Los Angeles, Chicago and Teaneck, NJ. In creating this new event, the organizers may have accidently hit on something that captures the essence of what this Tournament’s competition is really all about. In pre-game infield-outfield warm-ups, all game participants took the field together in a rainbow of uniforms across the baseball diamond; Shalhevet Red, Ida Crown Royal, Flatbush Maroon, Cleveland Gray, Atlanta Navy and Gold, Kushner White and TABC Navy and Gold. And the capstone – Raymond Betesh sharing that it was great out there, as he was “chillin’ with his new buddy from Shalhevet out at shortstop.” That is the true mark of success. Chazak U’Baruch to the Columbus Baseball Invitational Tournament Committee!

Nest Notes:
Five Flatbush Freshmen took part in the Future Stars Game: Raymond Betesh, Victor Allaham, Teddy Beyda, Kevin Haddad and Jackie Mishaan. They led their team of select plays to an 8-0 victory in a game where the score mattered little, and the effort mattered much. The stellar defensive play of the game was turned in by Victor Allaham at third base, who charged a slow-rolling grounder, scooped the ball and made the smooth throw on the run for a strike to first base for the out. Offensively, Jackie Mishaan outshone all hitters with a blast to deep right-centerfield that allowed him to circle the bases, knocking in three runs at the same time.