Tonight was the third game of the Eastern League Championship Series. The Trenton Thunder, the AA affiliate of the New York Yankees, took a 2-0 lead over the Harrisburg Senators, the AA affiliant of the Nationals, in the best of five series in the two games in Trenton, and tonight's game in Harrisburg would be a do-or-die game.
I hadn't planned on going to tonight's game. I'd bought tickets for Games 4 and 5 a few days ago, but I unexpectedly needed to take today off (my Beetle needed some brake work done, and today was the earliest I could schedule it), so mid-afternoon I decided to attend the do-or-die game.
And then a hurricane of torrential thunderstorms moved through Pennsylvania.
But the Senators' Twitter feed said that the weather had cleared up and the game was on, and so at about 5:30, once the rain stopped in York, I drove up to Harrisburg.
The ticket I bought was for the same seat I had for Saturday night's game against the Erie seaWolves — Section 303, Row 8, Seat 1.
When I arrived, the tarp was coming off the field, and the Senators were warming up in right field.
There were player introductions with both teams lining up along the baselines. First, the Thunder...
And then the Senators.
The ceremonial first pitch was thrown up by Senators catcher Brian Jeroloman who was injured in a home plate collision in game one of the division series against Erie and who was just released from the hospital.
As you can see from the photos, the crowd at tonight's do-or-die game three was a smaller crowd than Saturday night's division series clincher, just 2,600 people.
There was a decent sized contingent of Thunder fans in the field boxes above the isitors dugout, and some Thunder fans had rented out the field-side suite between the visitor dugout and the visitor bullpen. And the brought cowbells. Lots of cowbells. I don't get the cowbells. I know it's a Yankee Stadium bleacher tradition, but I don't get it. The cowbells are annoying as hell.
The Senators jumped out to an early lead in the first inning, but then in the third the Thunder got to starter Nathan Karns. He got two outs, then gave up three runs, loaded the bases, and was hooked with two outs, whereupon Matt Swynenberg was brought in and walked in two more runs.
It was 5-1. It had been raining since the first inning. The hometown crowd, already small, became quiet and still. Harrisburg tried, they might get one or two men aboard with less than two outs, and then not bring them home.
In the fifth inning, I walked around the stadium. While walking around the stadium, the Thunder tacked on two more runs on a two run homer into the outfield seats.
In the seventh — I think it was the seventh — the Senators' bats came alive. They scored two runs, and had two more men aboard, and the Thunder's manager hooked the pitcher. But the threat of more runs dissipated, and with six outs left for the Senators, the score was 7-3.
Then it became 8-3. And, oh, the triples in the top of the ninth. Oh, all the triples in the top of the ninth! And then it was 11-3.
Down by eight, with three outs, Steven Souza, Jr. led off the bottom of the ninth.
And the Senators actually tried. Souza hit a double. Justin Bloxom flew out. There was a hit and Souza scored. Eventually, the game ended on a flyout to center.
And the Trenton Thunder were the 2013 Eastern League champions.
The Senators quietly walked off the field. The Senators faithful left the stadium. The Thunder fans hooted and hollered and rang their cowbells and stomped on the metal flooring.
I intended to leave, but something told me to stay and watch the presentation of the trophies. By this point, there weren't more than three hundred people in the stands, 95% of them Thunder fans. It was a short ceremony — the Eastern League trophy was given to the manager, and then Ali Castillo was awarded the ELCS MVP trophy.
As I walked toward the boardwalk that would take me out of Metro Bank Park for the last time this season, the Thunder ran off the field and into the visitor dugout. Some of the players threw their caps into the stands, and one hit me. I grabbed it. I thought about handing it to one of the Thunder faithful that were there, and then I thought better of it. It was a souvenir. Not one that I really wanted, true, and maybe someday I'll sell it on eBay. But for now, I have the cap Francisco Rondon wore in the 2013 ELCS clicher. (I know it's his, as his name is written inside of it.)
I walked across the Walnut Street Bridge into Harrisburg one more time, to take one last look at the park from a distance this year. And then I walked back, to the parking lot, and headed for home.
I was sad as I left the stadium. I was sad as I walked across the Walnut Street Bridge. I was sad as I drove home. Not just for the Senators, many of whom I expect won't be back next year, either moving on to Syracase because they have potential or out of baseball because they have nowhere else to go. I was sad for the fans. I was sad for myself. I was sad for the end of summer.
Memorial Day weekend, when I first went to a Senators game, I did it on a lark. I was, frankly, bored and I had nothing to do, no deadlines to hit, no cookouts to go to. I wanted to go to a baseball game, and that weekend, Harrisburg was the closest game at hand. It was luck, not design, that led me to the Nationals' AA franchise that day.
I didn't expect to fall in love with a minor league baseball team. But I did. I enjoyed the heck out of going to Harrisburg, going to City Island, suffering through the mayflies, and watching a baseball game. I got excited everytime I saw Batty (my niece's name for the Senators' mascot Rascal), and I rooted for Steve to win the Monkey Race. The Senators made me a better Nationals fan.
Thank you, Senators.