Time Machine back to 2012
The year 2012 was pivotal for the Renegades. We started the season with 16 players but knew that would not be the case come July. Life was getting in the way for some of the players and many would not be able to travel. We were very close to not going to the World Series for the first time in team history. Things got real bad for us with less than two weeks before the series and we put the league on alert that we may have to drop out. Enter Ames, Iowa and their amazing tournament staff led by Seann DeMaris. This was the first city to ever decide to have host families for each of the teams. That saved us!
We never had a host family in the existence of the team. John was our host and a savior for our team at a time of need in so many ways. John Crawford absolutely blew us away with his kindness, generosity, interest, friendship, baseball ability, coaching skills, sense of humor and so much more. But before we can talk about John, let’s set the table for how desperate we were for this savior to come to our rescue.
Entering the season, we had 16 players on the roster. That’s good enough for a team…but we knew many of the players were not going to travel. Heading into the season we lost Justen Proctor who moved back to Hawaii for a job….right on the heels of making the league All-star team in Indianapolis for the 2011 World Series where he set team records for stops in a season (77 a record that still holds). We also lost rookie and former Marine, Ben Rubenstein who showed a lot of promise to be a big bat but was unable to participate in the 2012 season.
Four long time veterans would be unavailable to travel to the series. Darren Black, Dino Vasile, Sengil Inkiala and Joey Buizon all practiced with us during the year. They even played regionally, but they were unable to travel because of work and family responsibilities. We knew this before the season began. We also found out early on that Melissa Hoyt was likely out all year. She was struggling with health issues and in and out of the hospital. After two late summer practices with the team, her decision was made for her when her doctor’s suggested “no” due to the extreme heat expected that summer.
In the middle of May, we also lost Shayne Cantan who moved back to Hawaii as well. He stopped practicing with the team by Memorial day. This left us with ten players eligible to travel.
What are we doing with Coaches?
On the coaching side, we had a much smaller staff then in present day. We had just 12 coaches that season (we had more than 20 in 2019) who made 10 or more practices. Matt Nippins who was a constant presence at the World Series from 2008-2010 needed to have some dad time for his first born. Raphael Ferry left the team to move to Europe for grad school in late May. Rick Myers and Jeff Paladino made a combined total of one practice all year as their young families were starting to demand time from them. By the time the summer rolled around,Jason Lenicheck withdrew his eligibility to travel, leaving us with just four coaches who could travel
Are we going?
Things got worse. Two weeks before the Series, Joey Duggan decided to hang it up and this left us with 9 players for the series. Many beepballers would argue that’s a good number. However, we really had just seven healthy players . Joe O’neill was limited with his mobility, his heart issues and was recovering from a head injury from a collision at practice leaving his ears ringing (he was probably concussed). Rob Thayer was also battling his diabetes and blood sugar and recovering from a broken foot in 2011. With about 2 weeks before the dance, we held a team meeting to decide if we could form a roster with this group. All nine players who could travel wanted to go. They did not know what they were getting into.
At this point, we spoke to the league to get some help as we were hamstrung, we needed a host family who could help us on the field. That was critical to our survival. We needed someone to help us warm up in the morning, someone to handle a bat and someone who wanted to feel like they were part of the team. Enter John Crawford.
John will be our Host
We got his contact information just before we left and called him. Unknown to us at this time, John had already done a lot for the city of Ames to help run this tournament. He created a lot of banners that hung around the city. He helped print shirts and so much more. We are not sure he knew what he was getting into with the Renegades , but we knew from the very first contact he was going to become a great friend of this team.
With just 4 volunteers, we needed a lot of help as soon as we got to Ames to allow us to get to bed as fast as we could. John answered that call before we got there. We asked for some cases of water and gatorade to help keep the team hydrated for the first day of the series. That was critical, because Ames was in a draught and we had temps exceeding 95 degrees every day. John did not hesitate and even refused our money to pay for the drinks. All this for a bunch of Bostonians he had never met and had spoken to just once.
Ames or Bust!
Our travel plans were tough. We flew from Boston to Minneapolis and then drove roughly 3 1/2 hours to Ames, Iowa. At that point, the team checked into the hotel, unpacked, registered with the league, got bats inspected and ran to the fields to prepare the team for the early morning start.
The renegades have landed in Minneapolis. We are awaiting the rental vans for our ride to Iowa.
When we finally got into town and got settled, we reached out to John. He met up with us and took the team to dinner. Imagine this for a moment: here is Big John Crawford surrounded by 13 people he never met and he knew their names! He actually did homework and spent time on our web site reading biographies of his new teammates. He got an A on this homework and was able to put names to faces. Of course, he got a big laugh when 4 of our 9 players were named Joe (O’Neill, McCormick, Ward and Quintanilla). He parked himself right in the middle of the team dinner and instantly fit in.
Team dinner tonight was BBQ and we met our host, John Crawford. John will be helping us all week and has already learned…
John knew his role and that fact we needed him the most in the morning with warm ups and setting up the bench. We briefed him on his specific duties but we were unprepared and shocked when he told us on Tuesday morning that he was planning to take the entire week off from his business to help us. We only asked for a few hours a day and instead he gave 8-10 hours a day. Holy moly, this blew us away. He was insistent on being a part of the team and wanted to do whatever the team needed.
We were so excited. This took pressure off the 4 volunteers and allowed Weissman, Cochran, Manjourides and Grillo more time to truly coach and less time with non-game related needs. John was amazing. Pre-game, he helped set up the canopy and bench. When that was done, John picked up the bat and ball and helped our defense warm up. Crawford wielded a pretty good fungo and blasted grounders while Grillo & Manjourides were calling the defense. Weissman & Cochran were off throwing BP getting the bats ready.
During the game, John manned the on-deck circle. He quickly learned every player’s bat and got real comfortable giving players a boost of confidence before they went to the plate. This may seem trivial, but in beepball, it’s not. Beyond the ability to help calm a players nerves when they were excited or amp a player up when every muscle hurt there is a rule he needed to learn. Players have to have their blindfold on when they enter the on-deck circle or the hitter is penalized with a strike. The other added benefit of this was it allowed Grillo and Manjourides the chance to coach defense and base running and it kept all of our players in the shade during the game.
Heat and Health
Did we mention how hot it was? The additional challenge was Ames had not seen rain in a while. The fields were scorched. In beep baseball, if the grass is burned out, the weakest of hits can roll 100 feet or more. This leads to high scores and long games. The best example was a loss to the Chicago Comets 31-21, the highest scoring game ever played in our existence to date! Some of our games took more than 4 hours to play. John spent all that time in this heat and never complained. A few times he was called upon to help our players as the heat took a toll on a small roster.
Rob Thayer had an incident where his blood sugar dropped and he was left trying to test his blood sugar when he was supposed to be at the plate. Evan Silver sprained his wrist and was limited all week with his new found wrist brace. Eventually, Joe Quintanilla came down with heat stroke and was seen by the the tournament’s medical team. Evan Silver, Aqil Sajjad, JJ Ward, Larry Haile, Joe McCormick and Guy Zuccarello were pretty much playing every inning of every game in these conditions and only McCormick was in his twenties.
All in all – we played seven games in four days. Right out of the gate, John got a taste of this team’s passion and culture. Our first game was a walk-off loss to the New Jersey Lightning that did not sit well with us. We had beaten the Lightning five straight but in Ames, they stocked up on players and a pitcher from other teams. We take great pride in being home grown and never considered this in our discussions about coming to Iowa. That loss ate all of us because they added three key players from California and North Carolina. We next lost to the Taiwan Home run in a game where we tried to get people as much rest possible. Taiwan invoked the 12 run rule on us in three innings (that’s a mercy rule in beepball).
The next day, John had seen what he needed. He knew we did not have a championship caliber team but he wanted to give the team a pep talk. John addressed the team and talked about hope and his values and how they could help. He talked about his background and told us some very personal stories. John was a Renegade for sure!
Meet our newest Renegade, John Crawford. John is a local resident of Ames who has been a huge help to us both on and…
Every day got harder. Day two started with a loss to Chicago 31-21. That looked bad but there was a lot of fight in this team. Boston then got its first win of the week against Cleveland 17-11.
7 hours later we finish this nightmare day with a 17-11 win. More to come later. Joe McCormick 5-6 with 3 stops
Colorado pulled away late in the match to win 22-11 on Day 3 of the Series.
Boston hung tough. It could not finish as we fell to Colorado 22-11. We were down just 6 going into the 5th.
Here is a picture of joe O’Neill on defense against Colorado.
Boston finished out the week with wins over Lone Star 8-4 (the low score was due to a challenging pitchers mound that was much higher than home plate)
Aqil is excited as the renegades beat Lonestar 8-4. Great team defense for the first time all tourney.
and Minnesota 18-8.
Renegades take 9th place with an 18-8 win over Minnesota. Let’s hear it for the coaching staff this week! Amazing job. Bryan, Justin Manjourides, John Crawford, Ron Cochran and Rob Weissman
Back to John
But this story is not about the Renegades performance. It’s about John Crawford. This man did
so much for this team that week. He exceeded all expectations and helped each and every person on the team in so many ways. His efforts on the field helped coaches get a breather. He constantly helped players find their drinks, bats, blindfolds, batting gloves, snacks. John even learned how to guide visually impaired people for too many bathroom runs to count.
He gave us all pep talks, he learned the game strategy. He came to eat with the team multiple times and was excited to take the team to get frozen yogurt. John loved talking about Iowa and brought us into the corn fields where we all had a laugh when Joe McCormick took an ear of corn right off the stalk and started eating it raw.
Possibly the most disgusting act he took on was our dirty laundry. The only other person who did the team’s laundry was Mrs O’Neill. He brought this filth home to his wife, Becky. His washing machine would never be the same again. Heck, this act of faith probably took a few years of his washer’s life! John and Becky had them had them all back in time for the players to get into them before the next day’s game (to this day, we are unsure if Becky signed up for this mess).
When the week was over, the Renegades took 9th place. Based on the roster turn-over, we were very pleased with this finish. Guy Zuccarello was named the tournament MVP on defense for the whole league. Joe McCormick had a break out rookie year and came close to making the all-star team on offense as well. All of these guys showed passion for the sport and their team. But the real win here was getting a chance to meet John Crawford.
HOW DO YOU SPELL MVP? GUY ZUCCARELLO! Guy was named the defensive MVP of the 2012 NBBA World Series making 5.14 stops…
Late in the week we spoke with Seann DeMaris who ran the tournament and expressed how important John was to us. We would not have survived without him. Seann helped get John an award for his volunteerism and commitment to the community that we presented to him on the last day of the World Series. In typical John Crawford style – he acted surprised.
Moving beyond 2012
John took to the sport. From afar, John’s interest grew and he asked how he could help. Big John created some marketing literature, printed it and sent it to Boston. We still use this literature Eight years later! It was more than just printing it. He edited the copy and designed it to help convey our message. We still use these at every conference we attend. It’s a key helping to recruit volunteers and donors. He always offered to help get new uniform shirts but we never wanted to have him go this extra mile with all he did for us (on the field and off). The man just oozed with compassion and a desire to help.
Another Gift from an amazing man, John Crawford of Alpha Copies! He donated these wonderful brochures to the Renegades…
The Iowa Reapers recruited John to coach with them in 2013, but John told us we were still his favorite team. He is truly a Renegade!
We got a chance to catch up with John in 2014. He drove up to Rochester, MN when we were at the 2014 World Series as he was volunteering with Iowa at that time. We grabbed him to coach with us for one of the greatest games we ever played when we placed 6th at the World Series that year – our highest finish ever. He got right back to work and manned our on-deck circle during a heated game with the Bayou City Heat. It was just so cool to have him back.
Fast forward to 2016 and the Series came back to Ames. Sadly, for us, he was not as available to us for the week (after all, he had a business and a family to take care of). This time, we had a full staff and team and did not need the help we did in the past. John increased his donations and contribution to the league from his store by making much more than he did four years prior. This included larger than life posters of many of the players and coaches in the league that hung around the fields.
During the week, John kept tabs on our games and kept in touch with us by text every day. We surprised him with a trip to the championship game. He made sure he was there for that game and even though the roster was different. He still had Weissman, Cochran, Grillo, L-Train, Hot Tub, Guy, Q, and Joe Mac from his 2012 roster. We asked him to be part of this and to lead our players on to the field for the pre game ceremonies. This was the first time we ever had pre-game intros and it was special to have John lead us.
We left Iowa in 2016 as the 2nd best team in the world. We also left with the larger than life posters (made by the one and only John Crawford, of course!) of Guy Zucarello that sit in the homes of Guy and Ron Cochran. John was pretty stoked with how we performed but he really wanted us to win it all.
COVID Robs us
The 2020 World Series was supposed to be back in Ames. Back in 2018, we sent John some love when he was diagnosed with Cancer. We cheered him on and told him we would see him in 2020. Sadly, Covid stole that from us. Not seeing him after all he had been through since 2018 was one of the hardest parts of losing beepball in 2020. Many of us were wearing his wrist bands. Bryan Grillo never took it off since the day he put it on! That means, the wrist band has been on his body longer than his long locks of hair!
John is entering hospice care this week due to his battle with cancer. We are heart broken. Heart broken we could not see him this year. Heart broken for his family and heart broken because we will miss him.
The Renegades and every other beep ball team are nothing without volunteers. Teams with a strong volunteer foundation are teams who have success and last. 2012 was a pivotal time in our history. Who knows what would have happened to the Renegades if John Crawford did not answer that call. There is always the chance the team could have folded or struggled. Instead it got stronger, larger and better. John played a role in making sure that happened.
We will never ever be able to thank you enough, John!
John Crawford was an angel to us for years. He is the type of person you wish to spend more time with. He has an amazing outlook, is such a generous man, wants to support his community and is always willing to help and mentor others.
This post was written with hopes he will read it or have it read to him in hospice. We hope it brings him some fond memories. We will never ever be able to thank him enough for what he has done for us. He was our savior. He is an angel on earth and will surely become a stronger angel in heaven. This is only a goodbye for now. John now has a front row seat for all our games. We know john will always be with as an angel in our outfield. We love you John and we will look up to see you watching us in 2021 and beyond!