Express Yourself: WHS Alumni baseball game is a game for the ages

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A Winters Express Opinion Column

April 30 was Youth Day for everybody in town, but for myself and a handful of WHS (Winters High School) alumni baseball players, it was game day. Senior Matt Moore orchestrated the alumni game as his capstone (senior) project and lacing up the ol’ cleats again was more fun than I could have ever anticipated.

After high school, the relationship with baseball varies from alumnus to alumnus. Some went on to play at the collegiate level, others played Roy Hobbs, slow pitch softball, got into coaching the kiddos in Little League or simply left playing baseball as a fond memory. There’s one thing we all had in common, however, we were all Winters Warriors baseball players — and we hate losing.

The game pitted the odd graduation years versus the even graduation years with either team having fairly equal numbers of gray hairs and booboos of which to be mindful. Trash talk ensued, metal cleats clattered on the dugout concrete, gloves popped and the sun shined on the capacity crowd as the showdown ensued.

Odds put on a hitting clinic in the first two innings, scoring 10 runs in the process against varsity head baseball coach Austin Calvert. Needless to say, neither he nor any pitcher that day was trying to throw the ball as hard as they could. They put the ball over the plate and the game flowed as marvelously as Calvert’s mullet in
the wind.

Confidence boomed in the Odd Years’ dugout, but as the game went on, those red-shirted Even Years started making a comeback. I mean, how could they not? They had three generations of Garcias on the payroll and the GOAT (greatest of all time) of Winters commentary — John Rodriguez — was playing ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ by Journey over the loudspeakers. That, and the Even Year first base coach was rattling the cage of the odd year relief pitcher, Joe McIntire, reminding McIntire of how tired and used up he was. Eventually, the even years made it a 10-8 game by the seventh inning.

By that time, every WHS alumni who’d ever stepped onto the field did so again for a generational photo. Once that was done, the game continued where the odds would put up a few more runs in the eighth inning and eventually win 12-8. We hoisted up the trophy high and let our victory screech be heard all throughout Winters with our starting pitcher, Alex Thompson, winning the MVP.

As I unlaced my cleats and thought about the beer I was going to have after the game, I also thought about what I had just experienced. Trash talking aside, both teams had nothing but love for one another. Hugs were exchanged between players in between pitches, muscles were pulled, smiles were everywhere and politics and negativity were nowhere to be found — it was just the game and the community.

For me, the cherry-on-top was John Rodriguez’s commentary. He knew just enough about everybody to playfully chide — especially his brother, Chris, who was umpiring behind the plate — and keep the crowd laughing for nine innings of fun. He also mentioned every player’s favorite moment from playing baseball at WHS. Whether it was winning section championship or getting chewed-out, nearly all regarded the former head varsity baseball coach Jeff Ingles.

Furthering the good vibes was the fact that all the game’s proceeds went directly to bladder cancer research. Currently kicking bladder cancer in the teeth is John Rodriguez, who threw out the first pitch — a strike by the way — and set the tone for the awesome day to come.

Overall, I felt pride in playing. Warrior pride, if you will. Just seeing multiple generations getting along and getting after it on the baseball field with fans cheering us on all-the-while was something I’ll never forget. It reminded me of my love for the game and why I’m so lucky to be from a town like Winters where sports are simply part of the community.

Yes, the Even Years made a scary comeback, but that’s what Winters Warriors do. Not until the last pitch, for the last out of the last inning is the fight over. And as I look at that photo taken with every Warrior baseball player over multiple generations, I realized how amazing it is to be part of this elite fraternity of ballplayers.

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