It has been over a week since the Mifflin County Babe Ruth 15-year-old all-stars were eliminated in dramitic fashion from the Mid-Atlantic Regional. Since then there have been a few tears shed, some sleepless nights and some 'what ifs'.
Years ago, Mifflin County manager Butch Bender gave me some sound advice: "If you think you're having troubles, there is always someone worse off then you."
With that in mind, the loss can be put into perspective. Young men and women go off to war and some don't come home. In today's economy, jobs are like the wind, here today and gone tomorrow and hospitals are full of sad stories.
But for the 13 players, four coaches, parents and fans of the Mifflin County team, it was not easy to watch. The team had won 14 games in a row and for six innings were in control of the regional final. Then in the span of approximately 10 minutes, everything fell apart.
I have been covering Babe Ruth baseball for the past 40 years. I have been to 664 all-star games since 1970 and the games that I haven't been able to get to have been recorded in the Mifflin County record books.
The only game that I can compare this to came in 1986, in a 13-year-old contest in Warren, Pa. Mifflin County was playing Levittown in the state semifinals. It was the bottom of the fifth inning, Mifflin County was ahead 11-1 and there were two outs. Levittown had the bases loaded and there was a full count on the batter. All Mifflin Couty needed was one strike and the game was over. It never happened. Before the game ended Levittown rallied for 11 runs and won 12-11 and went on to win the state title.
And there was one inning similar to the one that Mifflin County went through in the bottom of the seventh last Sunday (Mifflin County gave up nine runs on three hits and five walks after being one strike from victory). This, too, was in high-profile game.
It was 1992 in Phoenixville in the state finals of the 14-15-year-olds' tournament. Mifflin County was playing the host team for the title and led 4-0 going into the bottom of the fourth. Phoenixville scored eight runs on six walks and three hits and eventually won the game and the state title, 9-8.
I'm sure there are a lot of theories as to what happened last Sunday. Here are a few of mine.
Miracle vs. miracle: In 2007, the nucleus of this team - as 13-year-olds - pulled off an unbeliveable finish against Broomall-Newtown in the state finals. Trailing 2-0, and down to its last strike, Mifflin County rallied for a 4-2 win. Then last Sunday, Mifflin County had to watch South Coloine (Eastern New York) rally for a 13-11 win after trailing going into the seventh, 11-4.
South Colonie was the team of destiny: South Colonie was the Eastern New York runner-up after losing to Saugerties in the state final, 10-0. In an eerie score in pool play South Colonie beat Saugerties, 10-0. In the semifinal game, South Colonie made a coaching mistake that resulted in the team's starting pitcher having to be removed from the game but still prevailed over Hamilton, N.J., 3-1.
Hamilton was one of two undefeated teams left in the tournament. In Mifflin County's 9-2 win over South Colonie in pool play, Mifflin County had three runners picked off and and had three runners thrown out at home plate and made three errors. Until the seventh inning in the championship game, Mifflin County had committed no errors and had outhit the Eastern New York team, 9-4.
Everything has to go right, even until last out: The two teams that Mifflin County had that won against in the regional could do no wrong. In 2002, the Mifflin County 15-year-olds won four games in a row, each in extra-innings, to win the title (it was double elimination back then). In 2004, Mifflin County was the host team, but finished third in the 15-year-olds' state tournament. It got hot at the right time and won five games in a row including three by one run. In fact, Mifflin County was defeated by the state champion that year, Aston Valley, in the state tournament who edged them in Milroy. And on top of that, one of the team's top pitchers decided to end his Babe Ruth career before the state tournament and Mifflin County still prevailed.
Sooner or later, you're bound to lose a close game: This was not the year for any Mifflin County Babe Ruth team to be involved in a one- or two-run game. Mifflin County played nine games in which the winning margin was two or less and won only three. The 13-year-olds were 1-4, the 14-year-olds were 0-1, but the 15-year-olds had won all of their close games (2-0) until the regional final.
This team should not be remembered for one inning. It should be remembered for three years of record-setting baseball. The class of 2009 won two state titles, finished in the Pennsylvania final four three times, won more games than any other class, was second in the Mid-Atlantic Regional and had the longest winning streak in Mifflin County Babe Ruth history at 14 games.
The players' careers are now in the record books and the history of their class will be what other Babe Ruth classes have to work toward. Those 13 players who were in Saugerties were Travis Fisher, Brendon Fultz, Alex Hughes, Tanner Kibe, Levi North, Josh Rosefsky, Brady Specht, Hunter Walker, Cole Welham, Mitch Welham, Chris Wilson, Ted Wilson and Tyler Wilson.
In the past 55 years, the Mifflin County Babe Ruth League has produced some great teams and had some great runs, but this was one for the history books.
Ray Wilde is a Sentinel correspondent who covers Babe Ruth Baseball.