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Game 1


New faces and a new field furthered the optimism, as old and new arms were stretched and loosened, batting and fielding practice commenced, and a fresh new season began. 
Proper homage was paid to Harvey Schierer, USA’s long-time pitcher and consistent pull-hitter, who passed away January 2006 and, as he wished, had his ashes sprinkled on the mound last season.
Well, enough with the pleasantries and on with the game, as it must go on.  Team USA’s new crop of players blossomed on the overcast day, as a solid pitching performance from newcomer Chris Lee, impressive hitting, run production and fielding from Dan Zabar, an outstanding/momentum-shifting/over-the-shoulder catch a’la’ Willie Mays catch from Dave Bess, and huge and impressive performances by Adam and JJ (detailed names to come) all contributed to the effort.  Of course, the returnee’s from last year clearly contributed strongly to the equally impressive defensive and offensive performance.  Tommy Panas showed up with a solid line drive bat unseen in prior seasons, Chris Haywood showed a strong offense, and Ruben Gonzales behind the plate and at the plate was dominant.
The mixture of new talent and last year’s players proved overwhelming for the Bravos, who unfortunately showed modest but disturbing signs of prior bad behavior.   Yes, the good news is that the Bello’s and company are back, a determined and reliable opponent that keeps the game ongoing, and consistent.  Team Mexico family members continue to show up in force, with ninos getting grande’.  However, just as in season’s past, this team has to be watched.  Captain Juan Bello, upon hitting a foul ball with 2 strikes, tried to ignore (even when confronted!) his strikeout by taking advantage of a new umpire.  Juan knows the rules, having followed them for 3 years, but started the season trying to pull a fast one.  In some respects, it’s like Neal (DL, shoulder injury)….sometimes he angers you, but you gotta love him/them.
Mexico and last season’s team both remember the 2 consecutive World Series victories of 2005 and 2006 by Team USA.  This is a new season, but clearly USA got off to a strong start.
USA 18    Mexico 7
Game 2:
In a rousing return to it’s Hecksher field home after a vagabond existence last year, Team USA showed up amid the promise of Spring on a wintry day to open up the 2007 season.

Off to a good start, Team USA took a 5-3 lead, than extended it to 10-5 on a rousing 3 run homer by Tommy Panas (who’s bat has come alive this season!).  True to form, a few (very mild) errors amid a strong defensive effort, a well placed opposite field home run, and simply a tenacious effort by Mexico ended up tying the game 10-10 in the top of the 7th
Chris Lee, who had another strong outing on the mound, helped his own cause with a 3-run homer of his own, that put USA back ahead in the bottom of 7.  Going into the top of the ninth (yep, we extended the game!), holding a 15-12 lead, Team Mexico rallied AGAIN, tieing the game 15-15.  Heroics prevailed as USA got started with a solid line drive single by Panas, followed by Dan Zabar, and before you know it, the bases were loaded with no one out.  Dave Bess, who made a rousing catch in right field earlier in the game, and who has been overly self-critical of his offense, parked one in right field that ended the game with an exciting and challenging 16-15 victory by Team USA.
Standings:  USA 2   Mexico 0
Game 3:

Fresh from last week’s dominant performance, team USA showed up with confidence ready to play.  This was enhanced by the perception of a somewhat paltry showing among the Bravos, so much so that we actually needed to give them a player or two “just to keep it even”.  Consistent with years past, we continuously under-estimate this bunch, just as we did Wednesday.   

As is common and enjoyable, a different defensive array by the Americans playing different positions indeed altered the tight chemistry seen in games past of this early season.  John Helato pitching, Dan Zabar at first, Anthony at short, Heywood in center are all examples.  But this was a night where the weather was a bit sloppy, matching the only modestly sloppy defensive efforts of both sides.
But ultimately, the game was decided by heroics and returns.  The return of John Helato’s wicked bat, slamming 2 home runs and 6 (?) rbi’s to put the Americans up early.  The return of Zuniga to the mound, in a full Team Mexico uniform recalling glory of years past (admittedly, Mexico is back to being a bit rag-tag lately, meant with no disrespect).  The return of Mike Levine in left, sporting some rust but also some promise both in the field and at the plate.  Net/net, of course as a player and a person, very happy to see his anticipated return.
There was no shortage of heroics, as the game see-sawed between hope and despair.  An early USA first inning lead of 4-0 (Johnny’s 3 run dinger was key), was quickly matched by a 3 run rally with two outs in the bottom of one.  Two more from USA in the top of the second, than tied 6-6 in the bottom of two.  Then the Mexicans took a stunning and worrisome 10-6 lead.  By the time the top of the sixth rolled around, a rousing series of hits (including another Helato homer) ended up tying the game 10-10.  Top of seven lead to an improbable explosion, capped by an eye-popping double with the bases loaded by Tommy Panas to score 3 runs, capping a 4 run rally and leaving the Americans with a good (but never comfortable) 14-10 advantage.
The bottom of the seventh started out gloomy, with a run scored and the bases loaded with only one out, Mexico down by 3 at 14-11.  A hit to right field scored one, but a brilliant play to pick off the over-zealous Mexicano rounding first resulted in out two, while the man on second foolishly that he could scamper home.  All in one swoop, he got trapped between 3rd and home, and was tagged out (was it Zabar or Anthony??) to complete a highly improbable double play and close the game out in a flourish.
USA 14  Mexico 12.   (USA leads standings 3 games to zero).
Game 4:
Soggy but playable conditions prevailed as Team USA returned for another battle with Team Mexico.  Tenacious, quiet, and hard to keep down, Mexico showed its stripes once again as a heck of a team to play.
Amid a bucolic*, dream-like setting in the center of the world’s greatest city, many softballers were apt to note that the park seemed to take on a quiet, surreal state that seemed to emulate a mild drug-induced feeling as the welcome soft sun shone upon us.
One might speculate that this is a metaphor for the mental state of the American team this Wednesday, as the competitive but winless Bravos stormed out of the gates focused, motivated, and fired up.  Eager to avenge an 0-3 start, Mexico came out strong and simply never looked back.  Meanwhile, Team USA’s bats showed up light and when they did come alive they were met with a noticeably sharp Mexican defense that resulted in the gringos going down way too easy.  Conversely, Bello bats came out like cannons, hitting them in many cases where they ain’t. 
Sure, Team USA’s defense was the poorest showing of this still young season, as cutoff men were missed and the outfield was adventurous.  But to be perfectly honest, it didn’t really matter that much.  There was really no sense thoughout any course of the game that USA would really have a chance in this one.  An early Mexican lead of 3-0 in the top of the first quickly became 6-2, and before you knew it they had 11 runs.  An impressive and timely grand slam by Adam Sutker provided a spark and narrowed the deficit to 11-6, but a Bravo barrage in the next frame resulted in a insurmountable 16-6 lead that finished Team USA.
In an exclusive interview afterward, this reporter unveiled many of the secrets behind the mysterious Bravo team and certainly uncovered research pertinent to Team USA’s loss.  First, it seemed clear not only from the obvious result but also from my Bello source that the Mexicans love to dine on the meatballs served up by Eric Hefler in his 2007 debut.  In contrast, they are wary of and admire the skills of one Chris Lee, who came on in late relief after the horses had left the barn.  While certainly no ill will is being directed to Hefler as this clearly was a team loss, and this was only one game, but we may have a healthy competition on the mound to see who can shut down the Latin brothers.
Meanwhile, the secretive Bello clan accounts for no less that SIX players on the Bravo squad.  Juan is captain, mixing time between pitcher and second base.  Salvador, the stocky strong hitter with a mild pony tail, played shortstop.  Rafael, the short, aggressive pull hitter that usually catches everything in left field (was at 3rd base yesterday, nickname “the magnet”) is number 3, Victor is four, Hugo is five, and even Juan’s light-hitting 19 year old son Miguel participated yesterday.  This family from Puebla, Mexico (home of the Poblano’s, where a delicious and famous Poblano sauce originates from) consists of 7 brothers and 2 sisters.  Six of the nine live in New York.
Anyway, off the tangent and on to the conclusion, Mexico 16 USA 6.  Standings now at USA 3  Mexico 1.
I won’t be able to attend next week, but let’s bounce back and try to have a strong attendance.  Most importantly….HOW MUCH FUN ARE WE HAVING?!
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1) - Cite This Source
*  bu·col·ic      byuˈkɒlɪk [byoo-kol-ik] Pronunciation Key
–adjective Also, bu·col·i·cal.


1.of or pertaining to shepherds; pastoral.


2.of, pertaining to, or suggesting an idyllic rural life.
–noun


3.a pastoral poem.


4.Archaic. a farmer; shepherd; rustic.
 Game 5:
Rare is it on such an idyllic New York afternoon, with the sun soothing and the mood so mellow, that fire and desire presents itself in such obvious and direct ways.  Of course we know of Neal’s caffeine problem, but readers here must know of the fire in the belly referred here is for one Eric Heffler.  Even though very softly and subtly shamed by last week’s shellacking and subsequent email, Heffler came out of the gates as a man on a mission.  Heard screaming to no one in particular “MEATBALLS??!....MEATBALLS!!!!”, Team USA’s jewel of an asset and 30 year service wasn’t about to strut into the sunset by any stretch of the imagination.

Instead, Heffler showed as stark a rebound as occurs in sports.  Masterful on the mound, and terrorizing at the plate, Heffler simply took breathes away as he clobbered a grand slam in the first inning.  But to be clear, all the gringos brought their bats today, as a 9 run first inning pulled the rug under the Mexicans in short order and almost pre-determined the outcome.  Strong hitting across the board, from Heffler to Chris Haywood (a dinger himself), to Adam Sutker (grand slam the prior week) and clutch hitting all around quickly extended the lead to 12-3.  Solid Americano defense and the strong combo of Heffler/Chris Lee on the mound didn’t give much hope to the Bello Latins either, and squelched any characteristic Mexican rally.
Sharp American bats, squishy Mexican defense (indeed a give up on a ball hit over Victor Bello’s head) and plain old mo’ translated into the most lopsided short victory in a long time.  Despite Neal’s quixotic altercation, the mood remained optimistic and the memory of a sweet victory was encased.
USA 18  Mexico 3 (Season USA 4  Mexico 1)
Game 6:

Representative of the lower threshold of Team Mexico was the belligerent Connie from Cooba.  While of course we encourage all to play and enjoy, her strange and off-beat antics combined with her completely out of context trash talking made her a quixotic and somewhat unwelcome addition to the Mexican squad.  Michael and Steve from Australia (tourists with cameras, the kind we like to entertain, but not necessarily allow them to experiment with our national pastime) provided notable absence of offense and liabilities in the field.  As Rafael “Magnet” Bello intimated me half-way through the game, “this game doesn’t really count”, and who can argue with him?
Team USA came out swinging, with a consistent lead-off monsterous fly-out by first batter Helato, than a hitting frenzy succession of Sutker, Rabinowitz and Panas.  Runs kept scoring and runners kept advancing.  Newcomer Ken Danseglio hit a timely homer, and Ersin achieved his first hit of his early season with another thunderous homer.  Sutker went 4 for 4, and AJ and Chris Lee’s bats seemed to provide some real pops.
Still, with USA hitting, and the struggling Mexicans being severely disabled, YOU CAN NEVER COUNT THIS BUNCH OUT!!  Going into the final inning, USA only held an 8-5 lead.  A few more runs at the top of the last frame by the Americans and a virtual shutdown at the end sealed the US victory.  Despite a very shaky and inconsistent performance, Chris Lee posted another victory, bringing his record to 4-0 on the year (we don’t speak of ERA’s in this league).  Great job everyone!!
USA 10    Mexico 5
(Standings, USA 5  Mexico 1)
Rainout:

As a beautiful weekend rolled into a spectacular Monday and Tuesday, the Americanos individually savored the thought of returning to Central Park for another week of play.  Despite a weather forecast that called for “80% chance” of rain, most of the day seemed mild, sunny and promising.  Than the man upstairs revealed his true intentions.  Deep, dark clouds rolled into the sky around 3:30, unleashing a torrent of water rarely seen in a New York spring.  Still undeterred, 6 members of Team USA showed up to soldier through the abyss, and even saw promising signs of relief as the rain seemed to moderate. 
The typical High School softball game was slushing onward in the earlier time slot.  You know, the crazy throws, the over-ambitious school teacher/umpire, the macho latin skinny pitcher.  One funny note was the 4 foot 5 inch overly stocky girl who crouched low to coax a walk…and of course it worked the first time even though I thought the ump was unfair.  Her last attempt with the lazy bat on her shoulders caused a called third strike to end her team’s chances at victory (a lesson there, life is meant to be played!!).
All of a sudden, an aggressive verbal fight broke out as often happens with high school urban youth trying to be cool…but something was different here.  The fight, which lead to benches being cleared and people being restrained,  was with some park denizens.  Wait a second, those were OUR park denizens!!!  The fight with the foolish high schooler was with Luis (Team USA ex. shortstop), with one Benny Santos both jumping in the mix and breaking things up.  Boy, I LOVE this game.
With the high schoolers sloshing off the field, we at last took the field for some hope of BP and possibly a game?  This day was indeed not meant for softball, as park officials closed the fields and left us disappointed.  First, no Bravos, even though last year they always seemed to show rain or shine.  Secondly, no field.  Third, the rain started intensifying.
Sorrows were addressed through Presidente’s and Corona’s in Corona, Queens, cooling off delicious and authentic D.R. fare.  A last minute subway run to Shea for the long delayed Mets/Cubs game provided some comfort as Benny and I rolled home off the 7 train at 1:30am.
Our dreams of diamond magic would indeed need to be deferred to an idyllic day like today.  Who can make it tonite?  See you there….

Fresh off a complete trouncing of the Bello bunch 2 weeks ago, Team USA assembled in a confident and cohesive way to take on the Mexicans once again.  Conversely, the Bello gang was very poorly represented and had to make noticeable sacrifices to assemble a team.  With the USA team sporting a mixture of new faces like Ken Danseglio and AJ, combined with old standby’s Johnny Helato and Tommy Panas, the chemistry seemed ripe for victory.  Even guest appearances despite no play from Benny (FROM THE BRONX!) Santos and Sabato Noto seemed to bolster Team USA.
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