As we close the book on 2016 and welcome in a New Year, let’s pause and reflect on the Top 10 Renegades moments of 2016. Each year this team takes steps at improving and 2016 was no exception. On and off the field we had a lot of fun and a lot of success. As we have done in previous years, Let’s review the top 10 moments of the season through the eyes of Coach, Rob Weissman. We will post one post a day for the next 10-12 days…so please check back to remember some of the top moments of the year.
#10 Soto finds his Rhythm
Often times, the things that are memorable happen off the field. What is great as a coach of the Boston Renegades is seeing hard work off the field pay dividends on the field. Luis Soto entered the year as a third year player. With his blindness comes problems with his memory which is all due to how he lost his sight as a kid. When the season started, we took a team stance of the importance on learning the mechanics of hitting. We asked all the players to explain to the coaches the key mechanics we were focusing on. From day one, Soto was frustrated and went into a shell. He was frustrated he could not recall things and was concerned he would not be able to contribute. I spent many hours on the phone with him in the spring trying to coach him up and show him that athletically he is quick and has raw power. We talked about the fact, he was in better shape than many guys on the team. We talked about the main thing holding him back was his confidence. Coming into the season, soto was a career .056 hitter with just one run in 18 at-bats. In our first tournament of the year in long island Soto had a great game against the New Jersey Titans. In his 2nd trip to the plate he hit a ball into the ground which did not go very far but his speed beat the defense and he scored. The team erupted. Later, in the same game, he hit a laser into the deep outfield and cruised into the base for his first career multi run game. He scored more runs in this game than he did in his whole career! What was so memorable for me here as a coach was two things. First, it was amazing to see his confidence turn so quickly in that game and to see a smile return to his face where it had not been all year. Secondly, Lisa Andrews captured a moment on camera that I loved (see the above picture). First year coach, Ben Coiner was so pumped for Soto that he lifted him into the air. I was a proud coach at that moment. Proud of Soto and super proud of the culture on this team to see a first year coach so excited at that moment. It was priceless and a top 10 moment of my 2016 season.
#9 The Knock out Punch
Not every moment we have is memorable for a good reason. Some of the most painful things tend to stay with us, especially in sports. That happened in our bracket game against the Indy Thunder. In this game, we had one of the worst injuries in team history. We entered this game undefeated on the year. We were facing off against the only other undefeated team at the World Series. The winner of this game went to the title game while the loser went to the semi finals. The score was 6-4 and the Indy Thunder was leading going into the top of the 5th inning. Gerald Dycus hit a laser into left center field that was most likely going to be a run with his blazing speed. As the ball sailed past Third Baseman, Than Huynh, he turned his back and chased after it. Joe McCormick was taking an angle to the ball from his left field spot and before anyone could react, the two collided in a loud bang. Both players went down. At first, it looked like these two tough guys would shake it off as it looked like Thanh may have gotten the worst of it since he is literally half the size of Joe McCormick. There was no blood which was a good sign. When we got to them, Thanh was a little shell shocked but Joe was dizzy. As Mike Marciello assessed the situation, we saw Joe’s face begin to swell and swell quickly. His game was over as Mike pulled him. Thanh on the other hand remained in the game as he was playing on pure adrenaline. A short time later, we called for an ambulance and Joe was taken to the hospital. Thanh was later pulled from the game and was limping very badly the rest of the tournament. Thankfully, these two players would eventually heal and be ok. In the 15 years of playing ball, this went down as the worst in-game injury, and one of the worst injuries we have seen in team history. In the end, Joe had fractures in his face and sinus cavities. Thanh had bone bruises to his leg and foot. This collision changed the outlook of the World Series and helped the Thunder win this game. Boston showed its resolve by digging deep and winning the semi final game against Colorado without these two players. The team truly supported each other. You can be sure that moment will be discussed and a lesson taken from it as the Renegades look to improve in 2017.
#8 Feeling after the San Antonio Game
Before the season started, we spoke about the fact it could be a very special year. The excitement was there from pre season through the entire year. As the World Series brackets were getting created, it became apparent that we could be the recipient of some poor seeding. Because the league had a lot of turnover, two new teams were formed with many talented veteran players. These teams were seeded at the bottom of the brackets. We were supposed to be playing the 19th seed as our first game at the World Series. A game in which the strategy would have been to rest some of the starters and get some valuable playing time for the rest of the team. Instead, we got the upstart San Antonio Jets and one of the top pitchers in the history of the sport. We had two ways to look at this. We could have complained at how unfair the system was or shut up and prove to the world what we can do. We chose the later. As the league discussed on social media which teams were going to get beat, The consensus claimed the Jets would beat the Renegades. What happened? We decided this was a great opportunity. If we lost, who cares, it had no effect on the rest of the World Series. If we won, the confidence would help us all week. What happened, We came out and played well. We put up huge numbers and won 20-9. When the game was over, I overheard a few of the Jets players and coaches saying wow, Boston is for real. Looking around the Renegade team you could see the confidence in the squad. It was a special feeling and we knew right there, it looked good to set the team up for an amazing run. Playing a team who we predicted would finish top 5 in the league and beating them set this season up to be the most special in our 15 year team history. By the way, the Jets did finish in 5th place!
#7 Eight inning win vs Philly Earns 6th Beast of East Title
With 5 teams in the Beast of the East for the first time, the format had changed a little bit. We adjusted things so we would only play each team once and the top three teams would play each other a second time. We entered the day 3-0 and needed to get a win against Philly. A win here would surely secure another Beast of the East run as it would help us with many tie breakers. One major hurdle was they recruited one of the game’s best pitchers, Johnny Walker from Colorado. Walker has owned the Renegades through history including a walk off win in the 2015 World Series with the Colorado Storm. To make things worse, the fields were lightning fast. Almost like a putting green, we knew that putting a ball into play would result in a run the majority of the time. On the bump for the Renegades was Jamie Dickerson in only his 2nd year as a pitcher. The game started slow as both teams went scoreless. The runs would soon come After three innings, Boston held a 5-3 lead but in the 4th, Philly tied it at six. Boston pulled ahead in the 5th 9-7 but could not hold the lead as Philly scored in the bottom of the 6th to tie the game and force extra innings. Both teams scored a pair in the 7th but in the 8th inning Dickerson connected with Christian Thaxton, Rob Dias and Shawn Devenish and the defense held in the bottom of the inning as Boston held on to win 17-15. It would be 1st of 3 times the Renegades would come back and beat a Johnny Walker team in the 2016 season. The team was fired up. This team did all of this while Joe McCormick went through an epc struggle with 6 strike outs in 7 trips to the plate. He was left in the game because of his power potential and the fact he led both teams in defensive stops with 5. This win gave the Renegade squad confidence it could play in a tight game, it could win with conributions from players up and down the line-up and it was a huge step for Jamie Dickerson as a pitcher. We were on his back this weekend as he grows in this league. For the first time since 2006, we went on a trip relying soley on a 2nd year pitcher. He delivered big time.
#6 Lucas Lectures the team About Hard Work
Before every practice, the team huddles to discuss a few things. Before one of our practices we had a discussion about walking the talk. The team had been talking a lot about winning world title. There was a buzz from the start of the season. I had challenged the players early in the season to see if they were truly working toward that goal. At this point, the message was i felt they could do way more. We went around taking turns talking about what players were doing off the field. There was not enough work going on. At some point during the talk, 2nd year coach Lucas Schwallie had something to say. This 17 year old had earned the respect of many of the players with his work in the cages with them. After being mostly quiet in his rookie campaign, Lucas felt more comfortable this year. He had the floor and firmly said “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work”. He then told us this was from Kevin Durant. As a coach, I was totally fired up hearing this. Here was a High school junior telling these guys to work harder and most importantly, they listened. I was just loving the culture of this team. Though Lucas did not travel with the team, he was one of the unsung heroes of the season. He was a steady presence at practice and was our primary hitting instructor for most of the year because of his ability to be at Wednesday practices. He watched videos, he analyzed swings and gave feedback. But this moment stood out to me. Not only did I love the moment, I recognized how special Lucas is and that he will go anywhere he wants to in this world as he gets ready to go to College in the fall of 2017. We are lucky he found us one day in the streets of Boston when he asked one of our players how a blind guy with a cane was holding a bat. Just a tremendous, accountable outgoing young man!
#5 – Put it Behind You Rook, We Need You
It’s the 12th game of the season. Boston has 11 wins vs zero losses and facing the Colorado Storm. The same team that knocked the Renegades into the losers bracket in 2015. The team that wins this game is guaranteed a top 3 finish in the World Series and will be one of just 2 teams still alive without a loss in the winners bracket. Colorado had just scored 2 runs to take a 6-5 lead heading into the bottom of the 4th inning to retake the lead in a dog fight. Joe McCormick led off the bottom of the 4th to tie the game. With one out, Shawn Devenish came to the plate representing the go-ahead run. On the 3rd pitch, he grounded a ball up the middle deep into left center field and raced to third base. It looked like a sure run. But in beepball, nothing is certain. Devenish raced to the base and threw his right arm out to tag it…and he missed. As panic struck, he put the brakes on, stumbled and tried to reverse direction. Colorado’s Rocky Zamora had the ball in the air and Shawn Devenish was out. He was now 0-3 in this game. Things felt worse when Guy Zuccarello struck out to end the inning and the game was now 6-6 and we failed to turn over the line up to our top hitter, Christian Thaxton. Shawn was visibly very upset at his misfortune. As the team took the field, I took the opportunity to make sure he was looking at things differently. I calmly approached him (historically, not my strength), put my arm around him and we talked. We talked about the play. We talked about how he needed to be more aggressive at hitting the base dead on when it was harder to hear. We talked about the wrist injury he suffered earlier in the year which he hurt going over third base in Long Island. We talked about mental toughness and focusing on the moment. We then talked about how important he was to the team. We talked about the fact his presence in the lineup was a big reason we were 11-0. We talked about the most important play in the game being the next one. Shawn’s body language changed. It was a good talk, possibly one of my best ever. With anticipation, he came to the plate in the 5th inning and struck out on 4 pitches. It did not phase him. I was excited to see that. We entered the bottom of the 6th inning down 13-9 and staring at the losers bracket. but the Renegades don’t ever quit. With one out, Rob Dias, Joe McCormick and Larry Haile plated runs to make it 13-12. Shawn Devenish came to the plate representing the tying run. With three strikes, he hit a laser into right center. As he ran to the base, I watched closely. He ran with confidence. This time there would be no hand tag. He tackled the base. Game Tied! He went from feeling like crap to pure joy. His smile was as big as they get. The team was fired up and screaming for joy. Colorado was slumped over in the field and their body language showed that momentum had shifted. This game was not over. More importantly, Shawn showed everyone just how coachable he was and that he is a ball player who is able to learn from his mistakes and make his game better.
#4 The student finally beat the Teacher
The biggest influence on our Renegade coaching style from outside our organization has been JT Herzog of the Chicago Comets. When I first started coaching in 2003, JT told me he would be willing to share some ideas with me. He spent a few hours on the phone with me that off season and in-season after this. He was always willing to share his ideas on drills, coaching, game management and ways to make the league better. I soaked up everything he said. Not only did I know he was a great coach, but he had won a World title in 2003 and he had built the largest program in the country. Chicago was a model to try and achieve. Every year, JT would always have kind words for the improvement we had made and encouragement for the players that things were moving in the right direction. Though the team was having success, it had never beaten Chicago. Most everyone who follows the Renegades is aware the Long Island Bombers used to own us. They had a 7 game winning streak before we ever beat them. What most don’t know is two teams have done more damage to us. The Kansas All-stars and the Chicago Comets. The Comets had beaten us 10 straight times including three times in 2013.
As we entered our game against them on Thursday morning, I felt good this game could be different. We were clicking and confident. This was our 11th game of the year and we were 10-0 on the season. For the first time, I looked at their bench and they looked thin. The days of them having 20 players were over. The Comets won the coin toss which made me a little nervous and reminded me of a 2009 game which we lost to them in extra innings. The game started as a dog fight. The first two innings saw one of their best players go down with a hand injury, another one of their players almost run into our bench and a long friendly debate on how that play should have been called. After two innings despite this drama, Chicago clung to a 5-4 lead. Our bats woke up. Boston scored 7 runs in the 3rd and 4th and after 4 innings Boston was ahead 11-6 and the general feeling was this was going to be our game. Then we struggled in the 5th as Thaxton struck out for the first time all game. Cochran struggled over the final two innings and we scored just once against 4 strike outs. To make things worse, Chicago is well coached and showed no quit. They battled back. With just one out in the 6th inning they had pulled the game to a one run deficit. Mike “Hoodlum” McGlashon would have the first chance to tie it. I was calmly pacing the sidelines and talking to the defense. I spoke to them calmly and tried to keep them focused. He grounded out to Justen Proctor. That brought up Juan Gonzalez who had scored three times in this contest and was killing us. I’m not going to lie. I had a hard time watching him hit….but when contact was made..I knew it was not solid. Rob Dias raced to make the stop and we held on to win. The celebration on the field was like we won the Series. It would be a huge victory this week..and this confidence would carry over in our other games. I will never forget Guy Zuccarello telling me after this game…that he was shocked that I actually helped keep the team calm during the Comet’s comeback. Though JT is no longer the head coach on the squad, his influence is still heavily soaked in on that team. He approached me with a smile and a big congratulations. We had finally beaten them. I had finally beaten my mentor. It only took us 14 years to make it happen!
#3 Dias Gets His 2nd Career Walk-Off
Our first match against Colorado is going to make the top 10 list again. This time, I need to focus on another moment. In the 5th top moment of the 2016 season, I spoke of the talk with Shawn Devenish. We spoke about how big it was to see him tie the game. As the game went extra innings, we took the field for the 7th inning. The beepball gods must have smiled on us at that moment. Chad Sumner led off the inning with a strike out. Then Richie Krussel who had scored 4 times in the contest also struck out. This marked their 8th whiff of the game. More amazingly, five of those 8 whiffs came in the last two innings. Colorado was struggling. Demtrious Morrow would end the inning with a ball hit up the gut of the defense. As he lugged his pulled hamstring to the base, Guy Zuccarello made the stop. The Renegades floated back to the bench they were so high.
Christian Thaxton had an up and down game. He had scored three huge runs but came up empty in the 5th and 6th as he was trying too hard. Rob Dias started the game 0-4 but had scored to start the 6th inning rally. He was so pumped to lead off this inning that he told me he was going to end this game. One pitch and he launched it by everyone into left field. If he could have seen that hit, he may have done some sort of bat flip and walked to the base. This is beepball..and as we saw with Shawn, running the base can be hard at times. Dias sped to first and hit it with ease. Walk off! We were off to play Indy. We were just one of two teams still alive and undefeated. The sense of accomplishment was amazing. Sadly we did not have a ton of time to revel in the victory as Indy awaited us. Seeing Rob’s confidence and watching him hit that blast was awesome. The team mobbed him at first base. It was just a magical day. First holding off the Comets (that moment was #4 on my list…and Rob made the final clinching defensive stop in that match) and now he comes back with the big hit. In just 3 years of play Rob has 2 walk-off hits (no-one in team history has more). Dias will go down as one of the biggest clutch hitters in Renegade history. It’s just too bad it took an encounter with Bryan Grillo in a department store before he came down. So many lost years he could have been racking up stats and helping this ball club grow.
#2 We Made the Show and We Did It Our Way
The night before the Championship game I took some time to reflect. I did a lot of thinking about how we could win the title game. But I also got caught up in thoughts about how happy I was to have made the final game. I thought about all the hard work every past Renegade coach and player had put in. I thought about how happy they would be for us and themselves to be involved in what we have built. I truly felt torn about calling everyone to let them know we made it and doing what it takes to prepare to make sure the guys were ready for the big game. Clearly, I picked the later, but I was equally as excited to make sure every person who had ever supported us or played for us knew we had achieved a goal. For many of us, this was a goal we had never truly thought about. Every season, I was quoted as saying, we are not going to the world series with the goal of winning a title. Most of the league knew this when we booked flights to leave during the title game. A few times, I even said, I would personally pay for the flights if we ever had to actually play in that title game. It was not meant as disrespect to the league, it was a way to save the team thousands of dollars. The first few years of this message, it was often greeted with anger from a few players whose heads were in the clouds about the true reality of how stacked things are against a home grown team. 2016 was the first year in 14 seasons, I told the team, we would take a true shot at the title if people worked hard.
Our team is unique in this league. We do a lot of stuff differently. We do a lot of stuff our own way. Part of it is the culture we have built, part of it is the style we bring to our team as coaches. At times in recent years, I had always wondered, would we ever get a shot at the big game and what would that feel like. For me personally, getting there was confirmation that what we have built….though different is very effective. A we stood in front of the crowd for this game, when they announced our team…I took great pride in what we had built. My only regret at the time was we just didn’t have enough time to celebrate the success. Since there is no history book on beep baseball, the game’s stats can be hard to come by. I know for a fact since 2003 the Renegades were the first team to play in a title game where EVERY player and coach on the roster played 100% of their career in our uniform. That should be a goal of more teams. That is the definition of a team. Though we lost the game, we got there as a team and I believe we did something that may not have happened since the 1970’s. A rare feat…for a rare team that I was so proud of that week. This day was validation that the hard work of every coach and player to ever wear the Renegade colors helped us grow to the team we have become today. It was a very proud moment to be a Renegade.
#1 The Amazing Comeback
We are playing on the championship field in the semi-finals against Colorado. Joe McCormick is in the hospital with coach Mike Marciello and Thanh has been relegated to the bench by Mike and Yuki. We are in the top of the 6th inning and I’m sitting on the bench with Ron looking at the situation. we are down 8-6 and they have their 6-1-2 hitters up. If we can hold them, we still have a lot of work to do. We have our 4-5-6 hitters coming up in the last inning and they are a combined 1-9 with 5 strike outs (though one of them was on me due to a gigantic mistake in the first inning). Somehow we needed to shut them down…and then score just one run from the bottom of our line up to turn the line up over for Christian Thaxton. Justen made the first defensive out, Guy made the next defensive out and then one of the best two way players, Ethan Johnston who had scored 4 straight times in this game miraculously struck out. We were still breathing. Larry Haile represented our best chance for a run and he went down swinging. We had decided that we were going to hit for Joe Yee who had gone 0-3 with three strike outs. Joe Quintanilla was the choice. We just felt he was not going to let the moment get to him and had hopes he could get a knock to right field. With three strikes on him he tagged a line drive up the middle and scored. It was the only run he had scored all week. We were pumped. And we achieved our goal of making sure the line-up turned over, After Guy was put out on a close play, our lead-off hitter, Christian Thaxton then gave everyone more drama. On the 6th pitch he saw, he hit a line drive and tied the game. Our season was still alive.
In the 7th as Ron and I sat on the bench celebrating Quintanilla’s hit we again assessed the situation. Due up for us was our 3-4-5 hitters. We knew it would get hard if Colorado scored. While they batted, I was looking at video and I saw why we had been struggling with Larry. I showed Ron and we decided to try something different when we pitched to him. Colorado plated 2 runs. We now needed 3 runs to win in a game where we had only scored 8 runs in 6 innings. With one out, Larry came to the plate. The adjustment was on. On the first pitch, he hit a pop fly to left and scored. I was pumped that the analysis we did worked. It gave us life! That brought one of the heroes of the 6th inning up. If either he or Guy could score we could get it back to Thaxton. Again with three strikes, Quintanilla then hit a grounder up the first base line. I watched him get out of the box with a horrific line. He was running in fair territory. I was just waiting for the umpire to yell “stop”….but then something amazing happened. The first baseman ran into foul ground looking for the ball. Q ran by him in fair territory. The umps said nothing, there was no collision other than Q hitting the base and tying the game. Holy crap, he tied the game on what sure looked like a play that would be called dead! Q had scored twice in two at bats. He had only scored three runs in the entire season before this game! Thaxton would get his chance to be the hero with two outs and on the 5th pitch he hit a weak pop fly to the right side and jetted down the 3rd baseline and was SAFE! We came back…again! We made the title game! We did it with Joe McCormick in the hospital and Thanh sidelined. Mac was in our hearts and for the last few innings of that game we changed every player’s calling card to “Joe Mac” …”Way back”. As a way to honor our fallen teammate…and in hopes he was listening to the game on facebook. The fun thing was that no matter how little sight a player had…they all found their way to Thaxton at thirdbase and celebrated. It was the biggest win in team history. It was a thrill, it was a surprise, it was a total team effort and it was an honor. To see the moment right after Thaxton scored, Sara Cochran caught it on a facebook video here:
Thank you for taking time to read these posts and relive some of these moments with us. These are the things that drive the passion. These are the moments we work for. These are the things that keep our volunteers and players coming back for more each year. These are things that make us an Exciting team to be a part of! To relive some of the top 10 moments of the past you can see them here dating back to the 2013 season when we started this tradition: