They couldn’t help themselves.
Like kids on the sandlot, a few Sight & Sound players schemed and giggled when discussing how they would “get” Derek McKinnon and decided the best way would be by pouring a Gatorade jug filled with cold water over their manager.
While Harvey Flamand was preparing to strikeout Rainy River’s Jim Chorney to wrap up Sight & Sound’s 8-5 victory in last Thursday’s Rainy River District Fastball League championship game, it was decided by Paul Visser and Gary Noga that they would take a team picture and then a picture on the bench, which is where McKinnon would get his cold shower.
The tradition was started by Harry Carson of the New York Giants in their 1986 playoff run that ended with a Super Bowl victory over the Denver Broncos, and many have taken place since. Sight & Sound lived up to the custom and McKinnon’s expression was simply priceless.
“When it goes down your neck, you get frozen, and I couldn’t even move after that,” said McKinnon, who, like Chief Wiggum of The Simpsons, had no clue what was about to happen to him.
“I thought it was kind of weird that we were taking pictures at two spots, and I didn’t realize anything,” he added.
And though McKinnon cursed his teammates afterwards, it was done in jest, as he laughed with the others and then proceeded to crack open a few beverages and toast their victory.
And the victory gave them something that is a rarity in sports—a “three-peat”—and it happened under the idyllic lights at VanJura Stadium with close to a hundred pairs of eyes focused on every play.
“I was in the outfield and I says to Marcel [Pagee], ‘There ain’t nothing better than being in the championship game with the lights on and people in the stands’,” said Ed Vold of Sight & Sound.
“It was just awesome and it put goose bumps on my skin—it was like Field of Dreams,” Vold added.
And this is what they saw:
They saw Flamand start out well by striking out Rainy River’s first three batters, even though his hands were trembling like an 80-year-old stricken with rheumatoid arthritis.
“Holy shit—I was surprised with how big the crowd was,” said Flamand. “I think it pumped us all up.”
It also pumped up Armstrong, who is the starting pitcher for Rainy River, as he was able to retire the top of the order for Sight & Sound by striking out Grant Swire and “Beeker” Watson after Vold had grounded out.
But things were not all well for Rainy River when their all-star catcher in Donnie Gall and reserve catcher in Matt Ashworth couldn’t make the game because of work.
“We were down to our third-string catcher,” said Armstrong of Mitch Gouliquer, who overall played well, but it was apparent from the number of pitches that got by him, that he is not yet comfortable with the position.
“When Donnie’s in, he calls the game and when somebody else is behind there, then I usually call it,” Armstrong noted.
Added Vold: “Donnie and Murray are a great tandem.”
But Rainy River strode on even though they were down 1-0—Flamand crossed the plate in the bottom of the second from a Pagee triple—but Sight & Sound were soon able to provide clarity to an outcome that was about as clear as pea soup.
Flamand, after allowing a single, retired three straight Rainy River batters, and in the bottom of the third inning, Vold scored from third base from a Watson groundout. Then, Grant Swire crossed the plate due to a pitching throw that made the score 3-0.
That score would quickly change the next inning when Noga cleared the fences, which also brought in Pagee, who once again reached base by way of a triple.
The homerun was surprising in that Noga is not known as a power hitter; but he is a clever hitter.
“I squared for the bunt and Murray threw it to the outside, and Murray had it in his head that I was going to bunt, and I thought, ‘It’s not to often that I get into Murray’s head,’” recalled Noga, who actually played for Rainy River when they won the title 10 years ago before moving to Fort Frances.
“I’ve been bouncing off the walls waiting to play these guys—any time we play Rainy, I’m jacked,” said Noga.
Despite the 5-0 scoreline heading into the fifth, there was still plenty of baseball left to be played. Cam Hanson would single and be moved over from a walk to Matt Bartlett, and the bases would then be loaded for Wes Blight after a Boutique single.
Blight would be hit by a wild pitch from Flamand that made the score 5-1 and kept the bases loaded for Chorney, who was 0-2 with a strikeout and a pop-fly. That didn’t matter as he was able to have a solid base hit, but it was a hit that didn’t result in any scoring.
Why, you ask?
Well, Duane Carlson provided the answer when he was able to trap the sharply-hit ball down the third base line and then rotate his mammoth physique and throw a missile to Swire, who was covering homeplate.
The play looked so smart and so quick that it bordered on a kind of grand illusion, as though both benches, and those in attendance, had suddenly seen Carlson wave a cape and make an elephant appear in the infield, as the crowd’s jaws had dropped to their knees.
Rainy River did manage to get another tally when Gouliquer was brought in from another Flamand pitching error. But things could’ve been a lot worse for Sight & Sound, who had entered the championship final undefeated in three playoff games, while Rainy River had lost once against—who else?—Sight & Sound.
That created an interesting scenario in that the league observes a double-knockout format, so in turn, even if Sight & Sound would’ve lost they would’ve had another crack at the championship.
But Sight & Sound didn’t want to play another game. They wanted to end it that night. Under the lights. In front of the home crowd.
“I personally wanted to see it end on a good note and at home,” said Carlson.
So the bottom of the fifth was up and so was Vold, who made it to third base. But this was only after a mishandle from Gouliquer, who dropped the ball after a strikeout swing from Vold, who ran for single and ended up reaching third from a throwing error.
That mistake ended up being costly, as Watson would put up a sacrifice pop-up to right field, which Vold was able to tag up on and then stepped Carlson to the plate.
Having already notched two dingers in the playoffs, Armstrong knew that Carlson is a threat whenever he’s up to bat, but had a lapse in concentration when he threw an offering right down the pipe and Carlson simply “crunched it.”
And this ball had eyes, as its trajectory coincided with that of a passing car and the crowd watched and held its breathe in anticipation that the two might meet.
They did meet and the crowd let out a roar when the ball struck the car right in the middle of the driver’s side door—the car belonged to Roger Whitehead, who has played occasionally on the team, and was sitting in the stands when the ball struck his car, as his wife was driving.
“I got a bigger cheer out of hitting the car than I did from hitting the homerun,” said Carlson, who played for two seasons as a pitcher for the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire in the late 80s.
But there was still one more homerun to record from Sight & Sound and that was from McKinnon, who gave Sight & Sound their eighth run in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“I didn’t feel too bad other than a couple of homers—that gets a guy down,” laughed Armstrong, who led his team to an undefeated record in the regular season. “But I should be used to that with these guys by now.”
Rainy River would make things interesting by scoring three runs in the seventh inning, but it was too little too late, as Flamand was able to overcome from an injury he sustained to his thumb at an at-bat in the fourth inning, and finish with a strikeout, which gave him his 12th of the night (Armstrong had four) and put an end to a highlighted 26-year career.
“It’s been a great career, but I’ve had enough. You get to a certain point and you know it’s time,” the 42-year-old said.
And he won’t be the only one hanging up his glove—or so it seemed.
Are you still hanging it up? Vold was queried, as he has stated this was his final season.
“Tonight is a bad night to ask me,” said Vold, who has played for 25 years of his 39-year life.
“Everybody likes to go out on the high side, and I was talking to [Derek] and after this do you actually think we can pull the pin?” said Vold.
McKinnon, who has been in the league for 22 years, will be stepping down as manager, but will be partially playing next season he says.
For the past three years, Sight & Sound has become as flexible as a promise from Paul Martin. They were able to overcome losing the best player in the league in Don Copenace, last year’s most valuable player and homerun king, as he left the team due to school.
They were able to overcome a horrendous start to the season where at one point they were below .500. And they were able to gain a “three-peat” even though every other team in the league hoped to prevent that.
They do not beat you over the head with excellence or beat their chests in triumph, but they are great in the way that a chocolate mike shake is great, as poised and proficient as the Beach Boys’ doing background harmonies onstage.
“I love this game too much just to leave,” added Vold, as a sparkle flickered in his eyes and a smile creased his lips.
And who can blame him?
They couldn’t help themselves.