Wie sagt man ‘Raccoon Summer’ auf Deutsch?
Waschbär Sommer. As my time as a Raccoon comes to an end, I wanted to put my experiences in stone (not exactly like in ancient times now with the Internet) while they’re still fresh, unlike how I recounted my baseball experience with the Wolves way after the fact. It’s easy to do when you’re proud of the results you achieved during a season. Goodness, it was fun. The best season results-wise I have ever been a part of.
Before playing baseball overseas, I didn’t have much experience playing for teams with winning records. My senior year team in high school and a couple of travel ball seasons. That’s it. Out of my eight seasons of high school sports between baseball and basketball, my combined record was 45 wins and 109 losses. My combined record in college was 59 wins and 93 losses. Not exactly great success haha. With the Wolves, I got a sizeable taste of winning and those winning ways followed me to Germany. Oh did we win. We absolutely demolished the competition in our regional league. I felt like we could have competed with teams in the 2nd division of the Bundesliga (Germany’s top league), two levels above us, based on what I saw from a game in that league. We were that good. I wish we had gotten a chance to scrimmage one of those teams to see how it would have turned out. Instead, we settled for totally beating up on our competition.
Going into the season as a Raccoon, I was hoping to win the league, but I thought it would be a close fight between us and the other clubs. It wasn’t. We had a couple close games, though that was mainly due to our inability to play up to our potential consistently, rather than a reflection of the other teams’ skill level. Only three out of the 12 games I played in went all nine innings, with us winning by less than 10 runs. What’s extraordinary is how leads and runs are so relative. For us, a single digit lead felt like a one-run lead at times. Not because we were worried about losing the lead (speaking for myself at least), but because we came to expect getting up by double digits on other teams within a few innings. Guys would start tightening up, playing not to lose, without confidence. I believe the biggest contribution I made to the club was showing the guys what confidence, looseness, and enjoyment of the game looks like not matter what the score.
A few games into the Raccoon season I realized what role I should play on the team. Though I have a very serious and introspective side to me (as evidenced by some of the content on the blog lol), I knew I would have to go to the complete opposite extreme to bring the most value to the club. People in Deutschland are more serious on average than anywhere else I’ve been (during the day at least, at night with beer flowing is a whole different story haha). While that does have its place on the baseball field at times, a huge part of baseball is also playing the game like you did as a kid, with enjoyment, freedom, and love. Wearing a huge smile on your face when you make a SportsCenter top 10 play. Chatter with your teammates. High fives. Fist bumps. Flying around the bases like an airplane when you hit a home run in the World Series.
Part of bringing a joyous vibe to games was through music. After a couple of home games of listening to the very European sounding electronic music on the guys’ pregame playlist, I said enough is enough. We needed to make a more baseball appropriate playlist. ASAP. This meant more classic rock. Way more. And some other oldies, some country, some rap, some Spanish music, and of course some German music too. Basically a mix of everything. Our head coach loves Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones so I made a point to include songs like Born in the USA (hilarious to jam out to when you’re an American in a foreign country lol) and Sympathy for the Devil. Summer jams from this year were included too, like Despacito and Galway Girl. A pregame playlist is solely meant to get your spirits up for the game. Get you moving. Get you loose.
Though I did not practice hitting nearly as much as I did in Australia (swinging 1-2 times a week instead of 3-4, with less live BP too), I was still able to find success with the Raccoons using my ability to get on base by any means necessary. I led off every game with an attempt at a base hit bunt. It worked about half the time. The other half of the time I would be down 0-1 or up 1-0, more ready to hit than I otherwise would have been. I was generally very patient at the plate, drawing 14 walks in 12 games. Using my speed I beat out a few infield singles and stole 20 bags. Crazy in only 12 games! Without my speed and patience at the plate, I wouldn’t have been that valuable as a hitter though. For the level of pitching I was facing, I was really disappointed in how infrequently I hit the ball on the barrel. Fortunately, I played to my strengths, which is what skillful players do, and still had a monster stat line.
Some of the best moments of the season included:
-Hitting my first ever home run over a fence a few days after learning that my grandfather passed away (RIP Grandpa, the OG #32). It was a no-doubter way over a short ~320ft center field fence. Death isn’t something I want to touch on in this post, however, my grandfather still inspires me to this day. That home run was solely for him.
-In our fifth game of the year, we played a team near the bottom of the standings, yet found ourselves down by a run going into the top of the 9th, 5-6. I was the lead-off hitter that inning. In an act of bravado, I told our coach that I was going to get on, score, and then come in on the mound and close the door. I squeaked my way on with an infield single to the 2nd baseman. The rest of our offense woke up. We took a comfy four-run lead. I take the mound and sit them down, three up and three down in the bottom half. We win. Massive confidence booster.
-At the end of May, I took a four night trip to Italy to meet up with family. While my journey to Italy turned into an absolute financial loss due to negligent traveling on my part, it was the return journey that really threw me for a loop. I landed in Frankfurt-Hahn airport (which is not in Frankfurt!!!) at about 6 pm on a Friday and upon getting back into the German mobile network, see a message from our coach. Our two normal starting pitchers wouldn’t be at the game the next day so I was starting on the mound. That normally would be great to hear, except I had assumed our game that weekend was on Sunday like all our other ones, not Saturday. I was hoping to get a workout in on Saturday, throw a flat ground, and get a full night of sleep before playing. I hadn’t thrown a baseball at all since the previous Sunday. Long story short, due to Frankfurt-Hahn’s distance from Frankfurt, a Blabla carpool cancellation, and multiple train delays, I didn’t get back to my apartment until 3 am. I felt horrible on the mound the next day but gutted it out to pitch my maximum three innings without giving up a run.
-I was a field umpire for one of our games. The normal umpires who were supposed to show up didn’t. The other club had a fan at the game who is an actual umpire so he manned home plate. I had tweaked my knee two days beforehand and because I was sitting out of the game, I volunteered to be the field umpire. That was the first time I’ve been an umpire in a real game. Ridiculous. What was even more stupid was how I tweaked my knee. I was the only coach working with a group of players on our little league team and I was getting frustrated with the language barrier. In my eyes, they were not giving enough of an effort to field balls, diving, keeping the ball in front of them. I thought that perhaps they didn’t understand what I wanted because my Deutsch wasn’t so good and their English wasn’t good either. So I did the only rational thing. I jumped in as the 3rd baseman and proceed to dive for an imaginary ball. Without warming up and after coming to practice from a weightlifting workout. I felt a little pull on the inside of my right knee and poof, I was out for Sunday as a player and in as an umpire. The game I umped was an absolute mess, walks galore, errors, and took about five hours to play. The highlight for me was making a pivotal double play call to end an inning late in the game. It was a bang-bang play at 1st, could have gone either way, and it got our team out of the inning (may have been a bit subconsciously biased there 😉 ). The biggest goof of the game for me was when I called out our shortstop on a play at 2nd base and it got overturned because the opposing 2nd baseman told us that he missed the tag. That was big time sportsmanship though. I learned that umpiring is difficult when you don’t have much experience with it. Umpiring also gave me a larger appreciation for still being able to play. Playing is what I love.
As the summer continued, we found our flow, and I surpassed my wildest expectations on the mound…to be continued 🙂