Team has few wins, many sparkling moments Randi Henderson

DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH

May 14, 1991|By Randi Henderson

A baseball season is full of moments to treasure, moments that embarrass and moments that slip by fleetingly, noted only perhaps by a parent and a child.

For the Lutherville-Timonium Braves -- in the fifth week of their season with a 2-4-1 record -- disappointment is something they have learned to live with, but it is not the losses that linger in anyone's mind. Rather, it is the growing sense of teamwork, the friendships that will abide, and the moments -- of triumph and disillusion and something in between.

1% Some of these mid-season moments:

*

The bases are loaded, the score is close and Travis Mulkay, impatiently dancing around on third base, wants nothing more than to cross the plate. When the ball gets past the catcher, he sees his chance and takes off for home.

But the ball doesn't get too far and suddenly Travis is barreling toward the catcher, who waits, ball in hand, to make the tag.

Advice from the stands is hardly encouraging. "Go back, go back," everyone is yelling. And more simply, "No, no, no!"

Travis scurries back to third as the catcher throws to the third baseman. The ball is off the mark, gets past the third baseman, trickles into left field. Suddenly the crowd has changed its tune and Travis heads for home, scoring triumphantly.

High-fiving it with teammates on the bench, Travis receives this admonition from one of the boys: "It's a good thing you scored,

or your dad would have killed you!"

*

Bench chatter: "Who brought the gum?" "I think Ben brought the gum." "Where is the gum?" "You're kidding! The gum is all gone?" "How many pieces do you have?" "He must have three pieces in his mouth." "I sure wish I had some gum."

*

Christian Miller, just turned 11, is one of the youngest boys on the Braves. On an April evening, with the team on its way to a 16-6 loss, he gets something he hadn't expected -- a chance to pitch.

He gets two outs before going to a full count on the next batter. "All right, Chris, this is it, you can do it," his teammates yell. Chris wipes his brow, squints at the catcher, bears down and throws -- a ball, walking in the go-ahead run.

The next batter hits the first pitch through the pitcher's legs, scoring another run. Coach John Maciolek decides it's time for a chat with his inexperienced pitcher. The dialogue is short and simple: "How's your arm?" "Fine." "You want to keep pitching?" "Yes." "All right. You can do it.

"I'm not going to pull him," Mr. Maciolek says determinedly. "He can work through it."

Chris walks in another run before he gets a batter to ground out. "It's OK," he says a few minutes later, sitting on the bench. "I'm not really a pitcher, you know."

*

How does a family manage dinner on the two evenings a week that the Braves play, with practice beginning at 5:15, games starting at 6?

Kate Rhodes -- who has two sons in youth baseball and attends every game with her husband Dave -- laughs at the question.

"We eat before the game, we eat after the game. They sure work up

tTC an appetite. Sometimes after a game whole pizzas have been known to disappear in a blink of an eye."

*

Dave Rhodes stands with an anxious look on his face as his son Ben comes to bat with the score tied 6-6. It's the top of the sixth inning and darkness is encroaching; this will probably be the last inning played. There are two outs.

"Every time he's been up this game there have been two outs," Mr. Rhodes worries. "It's a tough spot. It's all riding on him."

The count goes to 3-2 and Ben draws a walk. "Whew," says his dad. "I feel better now."

*

After a disastrous half-inning, Braves pitcher Steve Tucker is happy to give up the mound. "It doesn't feel that bad getting taken out," Steve muses after the inning. "You know if you keep on pitching you'll keep on giving up runs, so you're helping the team by not pitching."

MA He speaks from the heart: "You know, I really hate to pitch."

*

Here are two plays you hope you'll never see at Memorial Stadium.

First, the Braves make an out -- and two errors -- on the same pitch. The catcher misses the ball. He then throws the passed ball to third to try to get a runner out. The ball zips by the third baseman -- allowing the lead runner to score -- but is picked up by an outfielder and thrown home in time to nail a second runner.

Now the other team has a runner on second. The batter swings and misses. The catcher throws to second and catches the runner off the bag. The Braves come running in from the field, whooping and high-fiving over their double play.

But wait. "Get back in the field!" the adults on the sideline are yelling, as the umpire points out that the inning's not over. The batter didn't strike out -- the count was only two balls and one strike.

No harm done. The Braves scurry for position and all it takes is one more pitch. Pitcher Matt Streyle smokes it by the batter for a swinging strike three.

A difficult job

It was a tough call but someone had to make it.

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