Thursday, Sept. 13—Champions! Yes, champions! For the first time since 1999!
The Renegades defeated the Tri-City ValleyCats, 8-3, at Dutchess Stadium in the deciding Game 3 of the New York-Penn League Championship Series to win the crown for the second time in the history of the franchise, which dates to 1994. My son, Dave, was there with me, making the occasion even more enjoyable.
Tri-City won the first game of the best-of-three series 5-4 Tuesday in Troy but the Gades evened the series Wednesday with a 5-2 victory at The Dutch, setting the stage for tonight.
The Renegades exploded early with four runs as they batted around in the bottom of the first and never looked back, adding two runs each in the sixth and eighth innings while the Cats managed only single tallies in the second, third and seventh. Ryan Dunn and Marty Gantt, with two RBIs each, and Leonardo Reginatto, with two singles, led the way for the Renegades. Please click here to read the game story on the Gades’ Web site.
The Dutch was noisier than usual as a vocal contingent of Cats fans stimulated sustained cheering for the Gades. The noise level intensified as the Cats loaded the bases in the ninth and Hudson Valley defused the threat without allowing a run, encouraged by the “10th man,” their screaming fans, many of them on their feet.
The final out, a grounder to third that Richie Shaffer fired to Dunn at first, ignited a wild celebration on the field with champagne spraying in all directions, whipped-cream pies in the face and liquid showers for selected Renegades. The championship trophy, which I had last seen at the opening of the 2011 season at Bruno Stadium in Troy (after the Cats won the 2010 championship), was presented by league President Ben Hayes. Adding to the enjoyment was the announcement that the Tampa Bay Rays had signed a new two-year Player Development Contract with the Renegades for 2013-14.
While much of the celebration was centered in front of the Renegades’ dugout, they eventually sprinted for the left-field corner and then ran back around the warning track so all of us around the stadium could see the trophy up close and slap hands as they passed. Dave and I were able to slip a few fingers through the net for mini-slaps, and Manager Jared Sandberg, all smiles, shared a mini-handshake with me.
Dave, who sat next to me in an empty Interstate Battery seat, noted that it had been 4,789 days since he and I saw our first game at Dutchess Stadium, Aug. 4, 1999, with the Gades playing the Utica, NY, Blue Sox (who in 2002 relocated to Aberdeen, MD, to become the IronBirds).
The game was followed by a nice display of fireworks, with many boomers.
The corral, the parking lot and the area around the clubhouse were more crowded than usual, filled with the bittersweet combination of the joy of victory and the sadness of saying goodbye to the 2012 Renegades and their families, people who have become friends as well as ballpark acquaintances, most of whom many of us will not see again. Sad but true, life in minor-league baseball, especially at this level, is about moving up through the ranks or moving on in life. At most, a handful of 2012 players may wear a Renegades uniform in 2013; most, we hope, will move up to the long-season Class A Bowling Green, KY, Hot Rods, but others may be traded or released. Meanwhile, as they await spring training, the players will spend the offseason back in school, running instructional programs, playing winter ball, staying in shape, getting in better shape, fishing and spending at least a little time with their families, among other options.
Bob Gantt, Marty’s father, flew up from South Carolina for the final game, followed by a nice reunion with host parents and friends during which I thanked him for his son. While waiting for Marty we reminisced about the Animal Planet show Call of the Wildman, whose distinctive shout has joined the repertoire of Bob Hand, me and a few other folks at The Dutch. Marty eventually emerged with a full box of bats and a couple of extras and, to my surprise, graciously gave a couple of cracked ones to selected fans, including Bob and me, and signed them. Wow! What a great memento of a great season from one of my favorite players! I gave Marty, who is going back to school for the credits he needs to complete his degree, and his dad big hugs and wished them well.
Geoff Rowan’s Uncle Darrell hung with us for a while and I was pleased to give him an extra yearbook I had. I had nice chats with Luke Maile and Ryan Dunn and finally had Ryan sign his card. I told Charles Epperson that I expected great things from him in the field of chemistry when his baseball career was past. Leonardo Reginatto told us he hopes to play for his native Brazil in an upcoming international baseball competition. Dolores and Brian Finneran, parents of pitcher Rob, were up from Long Island, along with Rob’s girlfriend, Kim. Jared Sandberg and Coach Dan DeMent told us they plan to operate instructional baseball programs over the winter while awaiting their assignments for next season in the Rays organization. Bob, Paul, Dave and I had a nice chat with the umpires and thanked them for their efforts. Sam Vogt, who handled first base tonight, asked if I was the fan writing a blog; I told him about it and gave him the link to Patch. All in all, players, staffers and fans mixed and remixed in an ever-changing kaleidoscope with people coming, going and often returning to a celebratory gathering that lasted several hours. In some instances, players opted to stay up and prolong their time with each other until airport-bound buses began arriving as early as 4 a.m.
In anticipation of more celebrants and celebration than usual, Bob had wisely removed his cooler of beverages from the back seat of his car to the ground, where it was more easily accessible. Solid food included pizza and an assortment of fresh and leftover pretzels and chips.
A personal highlight in the midst of all this was a nice catch with Dave in the roadway between the corral and the parking lot—our first in a long (too long) time—before he left around 12:30 to work an overnight shift at Stop & Shop.
The gathering around Bob’s car and cooler eventually dwindled to him, Paul, Hal, Grant and me. We were on the verge of calling it a night several times but each time somebody emerged from the clubhouse or returned from some other celebration venue with fresh stories and the evening continued.
One of the foxes even joined the celebration briefly, nibbling at some morsel in the parking lot not far from us before scampering away. Once again, no sign of the skunks.
Happy, emotionally drained and physically exhausted, I finally headed home around 2:30.
Thus ends the 2012 season of the Hudson Valley Renegades. There is no game tomorrow. We have gone all the way to the end. We have finished the race. We are the last team standing. We have won it all. We are the champions.
Until June 2013.