By: Paul Bennett-September 4, 2006
Today is Monday and I am back home in Charlotte, NC after the greatest summer of my life. This final journal entry will fill everyone in on the last week of my life and offer some reflection on my first summer of professional baseball.
We (the Danville Braves) clinched the Eastern Division during the second to last week of August. That assured us a spot in the championship series against the Elizabethton Twins-the Western division winners. So the last week of the season was very laid back, I think we took BP maybe twice and never took infield. All of us starters took turns getting the day off to make sure we were rested for the championship series. Our final regular season series was in Burlington and I had gotten several days off during the series before so it worked out perfectly! I was able to play two full games in front of the hometown Elon crowd where I had about 30 people on the pass list each night. It was a lot of fun to see my coaches, teammates and friends who came out to support me. The last game of the series (and the regular season) was rained out but no one minded. The Burlington players were eager to go back home and we needed a day off before Game 1 of the championship anyway.
What we didn’t know, though, was that the rain wasn’t supposed to stop-and it didn’t! It rained all day Wednesday (8/30) and didn’t stop for about 50 more hours. Game 1 of the championship was postponed from Thursday night and then postponed again on Friday night. After the second postponement, the GM’s made the decision that the series would start Saturday afternoon and that Game 1 would be played in Danville and Games 2 and 3 would be played on Sunday in Elizabethton as part of a doubleheader. Everyone, including the team, expected us to win and we did-the first game. We played well and won 5-2. I started at second base and went 1-for-4 with an RBI-double. We showered up, got a catered meal and then hit the road for Elizabethton; we wanted to get in early that night to get some good sleep for the games on Sunday.
Unfortunately, after stopping at a rest stop, the Latin guys failed to realize that one of them didn’t make it back on the bus. No one knew until he found a pay phone and called one of his friends about 35 minutes later. We had to turn around and go all the way back to get him. Needless to say, the Skipper was not happy!!
We got in late and were up early for BP at Elizabethton’s field-a nice park but a shorter porch than the one in Danville. We jumped out to an early lead in the first game, scoring four in the second inning. I had a single through the right side in that inning to keep it going, but couldn’t get much else going at the plate that day. Four runs were all we’d get in that seven-inning game and it was not enough. They scored five off our bullpen and evened the series. Game 3 started badly, nothing seemed to go our way; they scored two in the second inning and it seemed like we would never answer. But in the top of the fifth, a seemingly harmless walk to our shortstop turned into a 2-run homer by our first basemen, a 6-6/235 pound Venezuelan monster. We were back in the game with only two innings left. In their half of the fifth a solo homerun put us back in the hole; however, there were plenty more clutch hits left in our bats. Our three-hole hitter returned the solo-shot favor in the top of the sixth and we were tied again. With two outs and no one on in the bottom of the sixth, we went to our closer, no chances were being taken. He struck out the final batter of that inning and we were ready to try to take the lead. With one out in the top of the last inning, Danny Brezeale (from Charleston, SC) launched a first-pitch breaking ball over the wall in left-center and we had our lead! We had the Yankees mentality-take the lead and it’s over.
You have to understand our closer surrendered one earned run in 22 innings of work and had 10 saves this season. He’s a right-handed Billy Wagner (small body, big arm) with three pitches for a painted strike anytime he wants them-including a knee-buckling curveball.
He struck out the side and that was it-the celebration was on. Dogpile, Gatorade showers for the coaches, trophy touch and a faux-Champagne spraying (because not everyone’s of age, it was mostly sparkling cider) we had it all! Once we got back to Danville (after a rowdy bus ride) we got fitted for rings, cleaned out our lockers and said goodbyes.
Just like that, the best summer of my life was over. But with the success we had this year, I’m hoping we’ll all be back together in Rome or Myrtle Beach next year. Now I have two weeks off-look out Isle of Palms, SC here I come!! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my summer as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about it. It has been the best experience of my life and I wish all of you the best of luck in chasing your dreams as I am certainly chasing mine.
PB’s Pro Log: Part I
PB’s Pro Log: Part II
PB’s Pro Log: Part III
To view Bennett’s statistics, click here.