It was the kind of early summer afternoon that was made for baseball.
The smell of freshly cut grass blended with that of grilling hots dogs and hamburgers during the Vineyard Little League championships at Veira Park on Saturday, while the dust kicked up by the infielders was quickly cleared away by a swiftly moving ocean breeze.
The two games to decide the major and minor league championships were blessed with flawless weather, as a brilliant blue sky unfettered by clouds provided the perfect canopy for playing baseball. An enthusiastic mix of families and fans lined the sidelines, while a gathering of little leaguers who were dressed in their uniforms (but were not playing in the championships) framed the outfield fence.
During two games that featured strong defense and even stronger pitching, the Cubs defeated the Athletics by a final of 1-0 to win the major league title; while the Blue Jays upended the Twins 10-2 to win the minor league championship in what was considered to be a major upset (the Twins were 15-1 going into the championship game, the Blue Jays were 10-5).
Although the game featured the rarity of Cubs coach Ray Tattersall being thrown out of a game, good sportsmanship seemed to be the order of the day. Prior to the start of the minor league game, the entire Twins lineup gave the Blue Jays a good-luck cheer; and opposing players chatted amiably and helped each other up after slides and dives all day long.
Not that these players didn't want to win - they dug out ground balls and ran down every foul ball - but they seemed to retain an innocence and love of the game rarely seen in the elite players of the major leagues. When these players caught a pop-up or reached on an infield hit, their teammates and families reacted with genuine emotion; when they struck out or committed an error, their disappointment was tangible.
"These kids played their hearts out here today," said Sam Berlow, coach of the Athletics. "They really elevated their games for the championships; they showed a lot of heart."
Cubs coach Ray Tattersall said the major league championship was one of the best little league games he had ever been a part of. His son, Alec Tattersall, struck out 10 batters and fired a complete game one hit shutout, while opposing pitcher Harry West went five innings and gave up only one earned run.
"You rarely, if ever, see a complete game shutout at the little league level; never mind a 1-0 game in which the opposing pitcher goes [five out of the six total] innings. The kids on both teams fielded the ball well and hit the ball all over the park, it was exciting to be a part of," coach Tattersall said.
The Cubs pushed across the game's only run in the first inning when Tyson Araujo scored on a hit by Kyle Stobie. Araujo led off the inning with a double, and moved to third when Alec Tattersall and Chris Mayhew drew walks.
Stobie got tied up on an inside pitch and pushed a slow roller towards West on the mound, who was unable to field the ball cleanly allowing Araujo to score from third. The game then turned into something of a chess match and the score would remain 1-0 through all six innings.
Athletics' Elie Berlow had a double in the second inning and went 1-for-2 in the losing cause.
The Athletics were considered one of the better defensive teams in the majors this season, and lived up to their billing on Saturday. They provided the defensive gem of the game in the third inning, preventing the Cubs from scoring a second run when outfielder Colin Cameron relayed to Mike Mussel who threw to catcher Nick Nelson to throw out a runner at the plate.
"We played well in the field all day, and we even had some nice hits against [Tattersall]. Harry [West] kept us in the game, but we just couldn't get that big hit in the late innings," coach Berlow said.While the minor league championship game that followed was not as tight an affair, it did feature a stellar pitching performance by Blue Jays starter Aksel Cooperrider, who struck out 10 and gave up only one earned run over five and one-third innings.
Cooperrider kept opposing hitters off balance all day with a deceptive change up that had them swinging out of the top of their shoes.
"He really had us guessing all day... he pitched lights-out," said Twins coach Jamie McNeely.
The Twins got off to a rocky start when starter Jason Millen loaded the bases in the top of the first when he hit two batters and allowed another runner to reach on a fielder's choice. He was replaced by Tucker McNeely, who gave up another run on a fielders choice and then loaded the bases again on another hit batter. First baseman Aaron Lowe then knocked in another run to give the Blue Jays a 2-0 lead.
The Twins got a run back in the bottom of the first when McNeely reached on a hit, stole second and then third base, and then scored on an error. It would be the last run the Twins would score until they pushed across a run in the bottom of the sixth.
The Blue Jays blew the game wide open in the fifth inning with six runs. Paul Mayhew started the scoring parade when he laced a single with the bases loaded to send two across the plate. Jeffrey Cimeno later drive in two more with a bases-loaded triple, followed by a bases-clearing double for two RBI by Elijah Larue.
Coach McNeely, whose team outscored opponents by a 196-to-34 run margin during the regular season and defeated the Blue Jays twice, gave credit to the new minor league champs following the game.
"I tip my cap to the whole Blue Jays team," the coach said. "They showed a lot of poise and played well. But you also have to tip your cap to the players on our team; they played well all season and they should be proud of the season they had."