They’re a bunch of kids at heart and always will be, whether they are the Tillicum Crushers or the Seattle Mariners.
That’s the game of baseball.
The game against the Chicago White Sox July 18 was Crusher baseball at its most glorious best, only being played by the Mariners.
Simply because the Mariners had registered their worst performance, most sloppy game of the season the night before in an 8-1 error-filled loss to the Houston Astros was no cause for alarm. Coming from behind, with everything on the line, every player approaching the plate for the last time knowing each swing of their bat mattered, that’s not only Mariner baseball, that’s Tillicum Crusher baseball.
Crusher Head Coach Mike Barr observed of the Mariner/White Sox game he and his players attended, “We think it was in Crusher fashion to come from behind but have an incredible finish!”
Seeded fourth in a field of five teams in the playoffs last year, the Crushers’ first pitch of their last game, the championship game, appropriately enough, was thrown at high noon on that hot and final day. Like in a mid-western street shootout, the Crushers were down early but came roaring back such that when the dust settled the Crushers were still standing. Their opponent then was the Mariners.
The team they were rooting for from high up in the stands this night was the grown-up version.
That the Mariners had but one hit through eight innings against Chris Sale of the Sox and came into the bottom of the ninth down 0-3, was no reason to panic.
This night would be different. The Tillicum Crushers had arrived.
And the 9-and-10-year-olds, all from Tillicum Elementary School, and siblings and parents and coaches, had arrived by virtue of a gift of 25 tickets thanks to Jonah Ssebaggala, Director of the Tillicum Youth and Family Center, and Tacoma Youth for Christ.
It was that improbable comeback in the bottom of the ninth by virtue of a three-run blast out of the park by Adam Lind that got Assistant Crusher Coach Will Simon to his feet.
“I kept my voice intact until that homerun,” Simon recalled, “but now I can barely speak. I looked at the Crushers high-fiving each other and those smiles and the joy there will keep me with the Crushers until they go to the majors!”
The Crusher players, on the other hand, had reason long since to have lost their voices.
It wasn’t the drama of the Mariners having faced “one of the nastiest pitchers in the game,” as Crusher Coach Simon said of starting Sox pitcher Chris Sale, only to be replaced by Chicago closer David Robertson – “22 saves in 24 previous opportunities” – that got the Crusher kids hands-clasped and standing in nervous-time hope.
It wasn’t the frenzy of the crowd and the Mariners swarming out of the dugout as Lind’s two-out, three-run winning walk-off homerun barely cleared the wall in deep right-center field that brought the Crusher kids to their feet the first time.
Rather it was the fact that their pick to win had sputtered, run erratically, and appeared out-of-gas from nearly start to finish that made that dramatic down-to-the-wire come-back just all the more stand-up-and-cheer worthy. It was that, pictured here, for which the Crushers threw their hands high.
They’d picked correctly the big screen winning hydroplane.
They’re kids. That’s baseball. Mariner and Crusher baseball.
In the clubhouse, after the game, Lind gestured toward his young son and said, “That’s why you play the game.”
Designated hitter Nelson Cruz said, “This is one to remember.”
A grandmother to one of the Crusher players said of the game “It’s a lesson that when things look hopeless keep on going and things can turn out great.”
From the winning boat to the final at bat, for the Tillicum Crushers it was all of that – a game to remember, an opportunity of a life-time, a lesson for all of life: ‘it ain’t over till it’s over.’ Keep going.
It’s why we play baseball.