Top 10 Moments of the 2019 Season

As we approach the 2020 season, I always find it important to look back at the top moments of the season.  Many of our fans are unable to see our games because they are often played on the road.  This is a way for me to share some of the incredible events of the year.  It’s also a great way to document our team history which believe it or not completed its 18th season of competitive play!  As always, we can take a look back at previous years Top 10 moments

For past top 10 moments articles see these posts

#10 Crook gets on the Board

We never had any doubt he would be able to score.  Heck, we even challenged him to become just the third official Renegade to score in his first game with Aqil Sajjad (2010) and Sanchez in 2018.  It’s important to also call out that Rob Dias has an asterisk next to his name here.  He accomplished this feat in 2014 but his run was taken off the board due to a fear of a possible collision between Dias and a Renegade volunteer on the third baseline.

Yes, Drew felt some pressure.  We joked about it.  We had been talking about his first at bat since he went to the cages in February.  Drew had developed some of the best bat speed on the team and his power was also near tops on the team, in batting practice.  We joked and prepared him for how to be ready for that first at bat.  He got the call against the NJ Lightning in the third game of the Beast of the East in Long Island after he sat on the bench watching two straight walk off games (one win and one loss).   This would be his first start and he was slotted into the 6th spot in the lineup playing first base on defense.  He decided that he wanted his pitcher to be Peter who he had faced more than Ron all season in practice.  Peter helped David Sanchez get his first run of his career the previous season.   In the first inning with his team ahead 3-0 with two outs Drew came to the plate.  On the first pitch he laced a hard grounder past the third baseman and raced to first for the score.  He became the 2nd Renegade to ever score on the first pitch joining David Sanchez who accomplished this in 2018.  We always celebrate a player’s first run and this was no exception.  You can see this hit at 19:00 minutes into this video

 

and afterwards, Drew talks about his experience after that hit with Hunter Weissman:

 

#9 Soto makes his first ever stop in his 6 year career

Luis Soto and Drew Crook after the Lightning game in which Drew scored his first run and Soto made his first stop on defense

The 2014 rookie class is still the best class we have ever had.  Three of the 5 players from that class are still part of the 2019 team.  Four of them had played more than three seasons.  Three had scored runs and three had made stops on defense.  Against the New Jersey Lightning on Long Island, Luis Soto had his best game ever.  Not only did he lead the team with three runs in this contest but he had a milestone moment.

Soto entered the game in the bottom of the second inning with the Renegades ahead of the Lightning 4-0.  He would score three times to pace the offense in a game the team would win 12-1.  In just three innings, the Renegades put the game in the 12 run rule which forced the Lightning to only hit until they could tie it up or run out of outs.

Before we get to the moment, lets give a little back story.  Luis Soto is one if the most athletic players on the team but he has been fighting bad health for years.  After he joined the Renegades he has been in a constant fight with dizziness.  Whenever he lowers his head, things spin on him.  We have worked hard with him to keep him on the field and adapt things for him.  Over time, he has had ups and downs and has struggled to play defense because going to the ground can be difficult for his spacial awareness.  He works hard.  He has worked to fight through it.  That fight has gotten him better and better and moved him up the depth chart defensively….now to the moment…

With one out in the third inning in a 5-0 game, Luis Soto was playing third base.  The Lightning sent Dan Johnson, their #2 hitter to the plate with one out in the inning.  Johnson hit a grounder down the line.  Luis who had shown marked improvement in practice shuffled to his left while Johnson took steps to first base when 3rd was buzzing.  Soto hit the deck and the ball bounced off him.  With the extra time due to the bad base running and despite some dizziness, Soto moved back and made his first stop on defense in his career.  It’s always great to see players get confidence and smile.  It may have taken almost six seasons, but he made his first stop on defense and it will be something that many will never forget.  Knowing all he has been through, it was a moment to make the coaches and his teammates all proud.  You can see this at 42:03 and listen to the reaction from the bench!

#8 Joe McCormick walks off against the Titans in an epic 22-21 win

The ball leaves Joe Mac's bat for what would be a Renegade walk off VictoryThe Renegades had dropped their first loss of the year to the Philly Fire and were locked in a battle with the NJ Titans.  The Titans were a much improved team and posed a serious threat to give the Renegades their second Beast of the East loss in one season which has not happened since the format was started in 2010.

The Titans started hot and scored five times in the first.  Boston tied it with five of their own.  The Titans put up three more in the second and Boston only put up a lonely, single run.  Boston saw its first lead after four innings when they led 14-10.  The Titans scored 7 times in the 5th but in the bottom of the fifth Boston scored four and led 18-17 heading into the sixth inning.  The Titans then pushed four more runs across and led 21-18 as Boston came in for their last at bat.  The 21 runs allowed were the most to an East Coast team since Long Island scored 23 runs in the 2008 World Series? This game was all about offense as both teams struggled to make plays on the bouncy hard turf.

Boston would have it’s 4-5-6 hitters up in the 6th. L-train would lead off and after getting a late base call, would lace a liner into right to go a perfect 4-4 in the game.  21-19.  After a third Devenish strike out, Buizon would score his 5th run (and the first time he had a 5 run game since 2006 against columbus) on a high pop that Lamont Bordley could not find in time. 21-20 with Thaxton due up.  He would hit the first pitch in the air about 70 feet with a ton of English on it making it near impossible to find with Thaxton’s speed to tie the game.  Joe McCormick took the first pitch to calm down and then hit the second pitch foul hard down the third base line.  With thunder rumbling in the area, he hit a fly ball up the middle, raced down the first base line and Mac had his first ever walk of victory.  Boston got its 1st win of the season in walk off fashion.

This was an amazing game for a few reasons.  When this game ended, the 22 runs scored set a team record for the most runs scored ever.  Also, the Renegade defense had never let up 20 or more runs in a game and won.  The 21 runs were the most allowed in a team victory.  Most importantly, Boston needed this win in their quest for a 9th Beast of the East title.  After dropping a heart breaking loss to the Philly Fire in the previous game this game was an absolute battle.  The Renegades showed a lot of mental toughness to fight back.  McCormick was not having his best day, but he dug in deep and picked up his team when it needed him the most.  McCormick is one if the Renegade “energy” guys and his walk off energy lit a fire for this team and this win helped prepare the team for the slug-fests that would soon come when the team would go to Tulsa.  You can watch this hit at 2 hours and 43 minutes into this video below.

#7 What other team in this league can win like us?

Thaxton plated 5 runs. McCormick plated 4 and had 5 stops on defense. Jamie pitched his best game ever and Joe B called only his 3rd game of his career

Heading to New Jersey in July we were 2-1 and not in first place the first time in the beast of the East.  We were coming to this tournament without our top pitcher (Ron), two of the leagues best defensive players who have four combined all star awards between them (Justen and Guy) and our number four caller in Joe Bourque who had just 3 games experience calling and had not called in a game since 2017.  We were ripe for a let down.  

I knew Jamie would have his game face on.  He had been pitching some great batting practices.  I loved the air of confidence amongst the team.  But we had a target on our back.  If we lost this game to Long Island, we had no chance to win the Beast of the East.  We lost the coin flip.  Long Island was not ready for us, literally.  They only had 4 players and we delayed the start of the game for the rest of their team who were stuck in traffic.  When they arrived, they ran on to the field without warm ups.

What happened? Eight runs in the first inning!  Yes, Jamie was on and it was one of the best games he had ever pitched in his career.  The team energy was high and the team played very well.  Everyone stepped up when called upon and played their role.  Very few teams in this league could win games without some of their best personal, but the Renegades focus on depth paid off again!  You can see that first inning at about 14 minutes into this video below

#6 The big Bounce back against Philly

We had lost out first game of the season 13-12 to a much improved Philly Fire team.  They beat us.  We played horrible defense, we lost three runs to bad base running, there was some bad calls.  In the end, there was no excuse.  We lost.  Later that day, Tony Gallante, a coach from Long Island came over to me and said, “boy do teams like to beat you”.  We have a target on our backs for sure.  It has not always been that way.  Heck, it took us 5.5 years before we beat Long Island.  Regardless, that loss was felt by every player and coach.  We felt it as Philly celebrated.  More importantly, many of the players took it personally.  They brought it to practice.  

As a coach, I loved this.  Grumblings of how we were going to get them back were heard often.  We were prepared to go to New Jersey without Ron, our number one pitcher.  Without star defensive players, Justen Proctor and Guy Zuccarello.  The confidence never wavered.  When we took the field against them on the last game of the day needing a win by more than a run.  They looked tired.  We did not.  I remember Larry Haile telling me what was going to happen.  He was right.  There was some grumblings from Philly about the tie breaker rules that were agreed upon for years and how they wanted to protest them if it came to be.  We scored 7 runs in the first.  There was nothing to even discuss.  Boston was the better team on this day by far.  The hard work was there and the team was focused!  Being able to win in this manner showed what this team was made of and the mental toughness was improving.  You can see the energy right from the beginning of this clip: 

#5 Going… Going… Gone

I have been coaching this sport at the worldwide level since 2003 and the home run has always been a rule that just has no impact on the sport.  Hit a ball 180 feet and get two runs.  That was the rule when I got into the game.  I never saw it happen.  If it did happen, nobody would have seen it.  Why?  180 feet is a long ways away from where the umpires stand.  There is little chance they can see where a ball lands standing at home plate.  It’s not like sighted baseball where there is a fence and the ball goes over the fence.  We have a line and that line is on the ground.  Sometimes, we don’t even paint the line.  Then a few years back, the players in the league voted to move the line into 170 feet with the hopes that they would be able to swing for the “fences”.  It was still something I was unsure I’d ever see done.  I had heard about maybe 3 players doing it.  It’s more of a nice thing than a game changer.

When Christian Thaxton joined our team in 2015, I knew if anyone on our team was going to hit one, it would be him.  Pretty much everyone who saw him swing knew this.  Umpires would even be on the look out waiting for it to happen on occasion.  Well, this year, playing against the BCS Outlaws, he made it happen.  He crushed a bomb to left field toward the line and I could see it land beyond the line from my stool at home plate.  I was not the only one who saw it, Jason Price, the umpire saw it as well.  Later people would question it as if we were talking about a ghost sighting.  Funny thing is we caught it on video and you can see it land on video!

What made this moment so great for me was that Christian was playing in front of his fiancee and his family, and they saw it.  They saw the ball land beyond the line and got very excited.  To this day, I’m still not sure of how rare a feat they witnessed.  I also loved the reaction from John Stark, the coach of BCS who asked the umpire to give Thaxton the ball.   What was also a pleasure for me was that Thaxton hit this bomb with a 28 ounce bat.  This bat was a lot of hard work that Rick Myers and I put in throughout the season working directly with an engineer from Easton.  We were searching for a bat Christian could swing and not bend as he bent three bats in the 2018 season. Below is a compressed video of the action

#4 The student Passes the Teacher

One of the things I love about having Christian Thaxton on the team is his ability to help others get better.  He takes great joy in helping others succeed.  When we set out at the beginning of the year, Christian and I wanted to help Shawn Devenish have a break out year.  We knew he had the most upside to get us to the next level. Shawn joined the team in 2016 and had little experience swinging the bat.  We taught him a very rotational way to hit the ball and he was a big reason we made the championship game in Iowa.  He hit .367 that year and .353 at the series which was a great rookie year.  However, we wanted to improve his strike out rate which was at 25% for the year.

Heading into the 2017 season, we overhauled his rotational swing and tried to teach him to use his hands better with the goal of leveling out his bat and reducing his strike out rate.  We succeeded and got his K rate down to 18% but he struggled at the World Series that year hitting just .316, though it was .420 on the season.  We were able to identify the problem but did not have time to fix it.  Through 2018, we kept fighting to get his swing in the right direction but he had his worst year as a Renegade hitting just .317 and a strike out rate at 29%.

As we headed to the cages in the winter, we had a plan to help Shawn.  Our plan was to have his shoulders more involved in the swing.  As indoor cage sessions moved forward, the plan was also to only have one person coach Shawn to help with a consistent message.  That person was not me and it became a joke in the cages when I asked what was going on.  Shawn was putting in a ton of work on his own but he was clearly frustrated.  He was having a very hard time putting it all together.  He was doing great with his upper body but his balance was a mess.  At this point, I stepped in and suggested he go back to the way his lower body was in his rookie campaign.  It took some getting used to.

In Long Island, Shawn went out and hit .364 and struggled to a 36% K rate.  We saw signs of progress for sure.  In New Jersey he hit .500 with a 33% K rate but when he was making contact, he was crushing it.  It was starting to come together.  We could see it at practice.  When we got to Tulsa, Shawn was turning into a machine.  He went out and hit .717 , struck out just 8.7% of the time.  Many of his at bats were just 1 or 2 pitches.   Again, he was a huge reason this team got to third place.  He worked harder than any other player on the roster on his swing and it paid off.

The league does not have an easy way to look up it’s stats, but what Shawn accomplished may not have been matched in league history.  He was a .380 lifetime hitter entering the World Series and all he did was finish 4th in the league with a .717 average hitting .337 points higher than his career average.  that was an 89% improvement in his batting average! I’d be willing to bet that Shawn Devenish is the first player to  ever make a league all-star team for the first time while increasing his batting average by .330 points or more.  It’s just unheard of because the league does not have many people who coach the finer points of hitting like we try to do.

Christian was so excited for Shawn, we all were.  He put in the work, Christian helped get his upper body right, I helped get his lower body right.  So many people helped him over the years to learn many of the finer points of the swing. Seeing Shawn on the podium with his teammate and having two bashers on the League All-star team was a treat.  Knowing that Thaxton had such a big influence on Shawn made it even sweeter!  Teamwork at its finest!

#3  Taking it to the Edge

Ron really locked in on these batters and was a big contributor to all 15 of of those runs. Shawn went 5 for 5 during the contest

Ignore the noise.  That’s the motto of the New England Patriots.  Any true Pats fan knows this.  They also know the Pats love being the underdog and they love to feel disrespected.  We talked a lot about the Edge this year.  They 100% crushed our hopes and dreams in the 2018 season.  They 12-runned in just 4 innings and took us down 23-8 in Wisconsin.  It was one of the biggest beatings we had taken in years.  The Edge crushed it but to make things worse, a few of them would not stop talking about it on social media.  We had a bad game, it happens.  We were better than what we showed.  The social media banter made me sick.  Publicly, we ignored the noise. Privately, we used it.

I talked to the team about what we needed to do to beat them.  It was in our grasp.  We had to be mentally tough.  We had to fight when things got hard.  We needed to believe in our game and our game plan.  As predicted, they would get on our schedule.  We were getting ready to face them in an elimination game on Friday morning.  I had told the team we would be better off facing them on Friday than on Thursday morning.  They had a team full of former all-stars and their starting lineup was full of players from other cities as they were searching for a ring.  They were not as fresh as they were on Thursday morning.  Neither were we, but we had both Dias and Buizon back on the field and they had been babied all week with injuries.  I had hopes this would give us a lift.

Before the game started, I caught wind the Edge were requiring all of our players with usable vision to wear different blindfolds.  Mental Toughness.  It was going to be a test for me first.  I was screaming mad inside. I spoke to the ump about how this is not even a rule!  We did not have to meet their request.  I felt they were playing head games before the game even started.  What the heck were they worried about?  All year on social media they said we were the most over rated team in the league and did not deserve the one seed we were awarded.  When we lost to Austin on day one, I could just feel their laughter running down my spine. After my talk with the umpire, we decided we were better off wearing the new blindfolds than wearing patches..which I was sure they were going to do if I complained.

We had a rain delay and we discussed the blindfolds.  The team was warming up to them. When it came time to finally play ball after a long rain delay, all the players told me they actually liked them.  Mental toughness!

We went out and won the first three innings of the game and led 9-7.  In the fourth, the Edge tied it up.  We had a big 5th inning and were able to win this game by stopping them in the 6th inning without using our last “ups”.  The final score was 15-10.  There were many reasons this was a special victory.  First and foremost, it kept us alive and eliminated them.  Secondly, as a coach, I was proud our team stayed calm and together and demonstrated our mental toughness through the blindfold accusations.  Thirdly, We ignored the noise and nobody on our team spoke on social media through the year.  Instead, we let our game do the talking.  This win guaranteed us our 2nd best finish in World Series history and it was an amazing accomplishment..but we were NOT done

#2 Giving it everything we had

Huddling the team up to talk about their health against the Jets

To the average sports fan a win means you win the game.  But we can define winning in many ways.  In Tulsa, moment #2 is all about a game in Which the final score had us losing, but as a coach, it was a win.

Some would call me crazy, if we were the real winner of this game, we had a shot at the title the next day.  To that, I would say, “very true”.  However, as a coach of this team, watching every practice, seeing what the guys did all year, my expectations were different.  Let me set the scene.

We came to this series with some injury concerns.  Joey Buizon could not even walk without crutches just a week prior.  Rob Dias had been battling a disc problem in his back due to the long travel and was not 100% for most of the games this year.  Drew Crook and Joe Quintanilla got hurt on day one of the series. guy Zuccarello did not make the trip.  Were were pretty thin.  And as we stepped on to the field after 6:00 at night to take on the San Antonio Jets in a meaningful night game that would be played under the lights. We were the only team in the league playing its 10th game of the World Series.

We were playing our third game of the day, The jets were just playing their second game as they got to sleep in and miss all of the rain delay fun we had in the morning while we were dealing with the “indy Edge blindfold request.  To say we were tired was an understatement.  Every player, short of Justen Proctor was banged up and nursing pain and tight muscles.  We were playing a team that crushed us on Thursday morning.  It was less than 36 hours ago, but we had played 4 games since that loss, and the Jets just two.  It seemed like a week ago to be honest as that game was a distant memory.

With some of this background in hand now, the game started and we all knew this Jets team was a top team in the league.  They had so much more depth than us as they had taken on players from a Colorado team which did not attend.  We had a small lead after two innings in this game.  We scored six runs in the fourth to knot the game at 14-14.

Every time a Renegade hit the ground, they were slow getting up.  There was no quit in this group.  They battled.  They gave it everything they had and they were in this game.  They wanted to win so badly and their mental toughness and fortitude was unlike anything i had seen in my 17 years of coaching.    They were flying around the field.  Screaming down the bases.  The adrenaline took over and they were in their beep ball glory.  I sat on the side lines and behind home plate in awe of how hard they played.  I loved how badly they wanted this.  I loved how much they pulled for each other.  We were running on the fumes of our energy, desire, competitiveness and hard work.

Ron was the first to see that things could get ugly. He mentioned it to me in the third inning.  He was concerned that someone was going to get seriously hurt with the level of fatigue setting in.  We started to talk to the players about it in the 5th inning.  During these talks, I looked them all in the eyes and saw the love of the game.  I told them, they had nothing else to prove and it was their decision on how we proceeded.  From there, Joey Buizon told us his calf muscle was not well and with him holding back tears, he took himself out.  We battled, but in the end, the Jets bats and legs were fresher.  

The final score of this game was 26-17 and we lost by a touchdown and a field goal.  Though if you watched this game, it was a very different story.  We just ran out of gas and our road was the longest road of any team at the series.  I was so proud of what the team did.  We finished with a trophy for just the second time in team history.  It was close to 10:00 at night and each and every Renegade was spent.  It will go down as the most memorable loss in team history….but in some ways, it felt like a coaching win!  The guys were getting over the mental toughness hump I had been preaching for years.

#1 Walking off on the Heat and clinching a top 3 seed!

Devenish lofts a fly ball

The top moment of the 2019 season is a no brained for all who were involved. It was the win over the Bayou City Heat that launched us into a top three finish for just the second time in team history.

It goes deeper than this. Let’s get some history and perspective first

Since the Renegades started going to the Series in 2002, only a few teams have had a longer run of consecutive years at the series. Those include the Chicago Comets, the Austin Blackhawks and the Bayou City Heat. One would think we have a long history against the Heat.  We don’t.  Coming into this game we had only played five  games against them and had lost all five

However, we had some big moments against them and they always came back to beat us. In 2006, we had a lead heading into the last inning. Our defense could not make a single stop and we lost 17-16.  In 2014, we had an 8-2 lead after three but a real bad fifth inning cost us the match and we lost 12-11.

The Bayou City Heat were in the title game in 2018 and even managed to do something rare in this league, get a win against the dynasty Indy thunder.  The Renegades were coming off an emotional win vs the Edge and the Heat had just beaten the New Jersey Titans.  The winner of this game would be one of three teams alive with title hopes.  Much like the Edge, this team is made up of players from around the world.  Their starting line up had players with home addresses in Kansas, Arizona and even Taiwan.  Players who have won titles for The Taiwan home run and Kansas All-stars.  That is not how Boston rolls, every player on the roster has only played for the Renegades.

The game started badly and Bayou City poured 5 runs on in the first inning.  After three Boston scratched closer and was still down 8-5.  The Renegades showed no quit and demonstrated extreme mental toughness and after 5 innings led 15-14.  The game was far from over and the Heat put up 4 runs in the top of the 6th inning to take a three run lead.  Boston needed to score 4 runs to win.

When the team came off the field in the 6th inning and before they prepared to bat, I huddled the team up.  We all knew we were capable of winning this game, but we really needed to play our game and not get too excited.  We needed to stay level.  I took the team through a breathing practice that we had discussed to help calm people down.

Joey Buizon led off and in an intense at-bat scored on a ball that Tanner Gers could not find.  Thaxton hit a laser but stumbled out of the box, recovered and scored to make it 18-17.  Joe McCormick tied the game with a fly ball run and the games was tied with nobody up and Larry Haile to the plate.  Larry was stopped by Gers on a very nice defensive play.  This bring us to the Biggest moment of the 2019 season, shawn Devenish’s at-bat.  It was crazy!

Devenish had seen just 6 pitches in this game, made contact on all of them and 5 of them were fair.  He was 4-5.  On cue, he fouled off the first two pitches. His consistency with Cochran was stuff beep ball dreams were made of.  On the third pitch, he hit a rocket into deep left and took off toward first.  Half way down the line, the base quit and died.  The Heat made a nice play on the ball, but Devenish would have been safe.  This was the only mal-functioning base of the game and it was an awful time to happen.  Devenish and I chatted at the plate like we had all week.  I joked about how much Devenish hated base running drills without the speaker on and reminded Shawn how much that would have helped at that moment.  Nerves of steel and having fun.  That’s how Shawn was approaching it.  Keep in mind, the count was 0-2.  Devenish hit another pitch up in the air, this time short and near the third base line and the arc.  It went foul as he raced 100 feet again to the base.  He needed to collect himself and his lungs.  He had not swung and missed all game.  The Heat called for a new ball, playing games with Cochran by making him throw an unfamiliar ball.  Ron and I looked at each other knowing they were trying to play head games with us.  That just pissed Ron off and made him dig deeper.   A bush league move that the Heat pulled and the we ignored.  Mental toughness!  As Shawn dug into the box, with his wide stride.  He hit another pop fly to the left side and took off toward first again.  This time it hopped fair with some spin.  Devenish and his mental toughness beat it out as Minor was a hair late in getting the ball up.  We got this last at bat on video below:  This moment will go down as one of the biggest moments in the team’s long history.  It was a pure joy to coach!

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