When these two teams met last year, it was a thrilling one-run game that even required extra innings. There were so many positive adjectives used to describe last year’s game. That’s what happens in this historical league with over a half-century of history, especially when two solid teams like this meet on the field. However, that recap wasn’t written with a 100% positive tone, something the writer had established as his writing style from 2005 to 2014. Last year’s recap, it was the second to last sentence that made the summary 99% positive, saying “Unfortunately, the playoff game between these two teams from 2015 still stings and lingers”. So, there was no preview written for this game, but if there was, then the two questions entering this 2017 game would be “whether or not we saw another thrilling one run game between two quality teams and if the 2015 playoff game still lingers”, and the answers to both these questions turned out to be Yes and Yes.
The weather forecast for this game, it never looked good. It said 90% chance of Thunderstorms. The local radar showed storms all around the area. North Jersey weather issued a Storm Watch for the evening. Even the Yankees, who had a home game at 7pm, they experienced a 90-minute rain delay. In Wyckoff, the sun was out briefly during pre-game warm-ups. However, the dark clouds covered the sky throughout this contest. It rained on and off periodically, but somehow these two teams managed to get their game in. Both teams are tough and would likely play in anything they are allowed to play in. Coach Scott Botbyl said, “ironically, it was like the weather was a parallel that represented these two teams current state and their feelings towards one another”. For Botbyl, it was his 166th consecutive game for the Green&White. If you add in his time before 2005 with UnityOne, it’s easily over 200 games in 17 years. As for Preakness, it depends on your perspective. Botbyl likes to compare their history to that of the Cleveland Browns in the NFL. In 1996, the Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens. Then, in 1999, the Cleveland Browns were back in the NFL again, but they were a completely brand new team, as it’s really the Ravens that were tied to the old Browns team. Translation: Difficult to lump together in the same category this Preakness-combo team and link it to the old Preakness Valley history, especially with some Preakness Valley players playing for other teams, even though there are still some players on this combo team that played for the old Preakness Valley too. Coach Scott Botbyl says, “whether my shirt says UnityOne or SRC or ALRC, playing against all those older players from that original Preakness Valley team, I really do like playing against those guys in particular, some of them for 10 years, some for 15 years, and some of those guys have been playing even longer than me, up to 20-25 years, I just have so much respect for the core guys from that team back in the day, and during the joint batting practice before the game, it’s just nice being out there on the ballfield with them, as it feels like old times”. But Botbyl admits, “my words though after our 2015 second round playoff game have changed the atmosphere of these matchups, just like the weather today, it’s like a dark cloud that still hovers, and even though there was a meeting that took place at the end of the 2016 season, sadly it still feels like the dark clouds aren’t going away anytime soon, and I will continue to pray that somehow that can change and the sun can come out again figuratively with clear skies when we play”.
ALRC entered this game coming off a poor performance the day prior against Midland Park and those offensive struggles continued early into this game too. ALRC was sent down in order 1-2-3 in the top of the first inning. It’s the 5th time this season that ALRC has failed to record one hit in an inning this year. Coach Scott Botbyl feels that “without any doubt, it goes down as the worst inning of the season for us, because they had only 9 fielders to start the game”. It’s actually the second consecutive time this has happened, since last year Preakness had a 10th player show up late, same thing this year too, 9 guys to start, a 10th player arriving late. Preakness had their best offensive inning in the bottom of the 1st inning too, scoring 4 runs to a take 4-0 lead after the first inning.
In the top of the 2nd inning, the struggles continued as ALRC was held scoreless for the second consecutive inning. There was only one hit (single by Brian Churco). It meant that the Green&White had now generated only 5 runs of offense in their last 9 innings of softball. Unlike yesterday’s game though, the ALRC defense still kept them in this game. In the bottom of the 2nd inning, Preakness was held scoreless thanks to the Green&White infield being able to turn a double play, on a nice catch started by Botbyl on a groundball hit back up the middle. After two innings, it was still 4-0 Preakness.
ALRC finally got on the scoreboard with their best inning of the game in the top of the 3rd inning. Chris Cohen started things off with a lead-off single. Pastor Chris Jacobsen had a single of his own. Nick Schroeder’s RBI single scored Chris Cohen. Scott D’Alessandro capped off the inning with a big 3-run HR that tied the game at 4-4. In the bottom of the 3rd inning, Preakness manufactured a run, thanks to an RBI sac fly, which gave them a 5-4 lead after three innings. Coach Botbyl appealed to the base, believing that the runner left early, but the umpire ruled the run stands as called.
Trailing 5-4 in the top of the 4th inning, ALRC got a lead-off single from Jason Young. However, no more hits after that, so it remained 5-4 Preakness. In the bottom of the 4th inning, Preakness scored a pair of runs to increase their lead to 7-4 after four innings.
It looked like ALRC was going to tie the game in the top of the 5th inning. Singles by Mike Cohen and Pastor Chris Jacobsen meant that the batter represented the runner that would tie the game. However, for the 3rd time in the past 2 days, Botbyl had a potential HR taken away, on a great catch by their outfielder. In fact, this game was low scoring not because of the tough weather conditions, but mainly because the defense being played by both teams. There were only one or two errors throughout this contest, both teams were hitting the ball hard, but guys playing defense, they were certainly showing off their gloves in this game. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case on one play in the bottom of the 5th inning. On a hard line drive back-up the middle, Scott Botbyl just missed getting his glove on it, and took the ball directly on his left wrist and/or lower left forearm. To the surprise of no one, Botbyl was fine and remained in the game. Preakness did tack on two more runs in that inning though, which gave them a 9-4 lead after five innings.
In the top of the 6th inning, ALRC didn’t quit though. Scott D’Alessandro hit a lead-off single and then stole 2nd base to move into scoring position. D’Alessandro scored on an RBI single by Jason Young. Brian Churco’s RBI triple scored Young. Dan Bosgra’s RBI single scored Churco. Chris Cohen hit a single before the inning ended. ALRC had now cut the Preakness lead to 9-7. In the bottom of the 6th inning, Preakness scored one insurance run to increase their lead to 10-7, a run that would later prove to be the difference.
Scott Botbyl recorded a one-out walk in the top of the 7th inning. Scott D’Alessandro kept the inning alive with a two-out single. Yrvy Gonzalez represented the runner that would tie the game. Gonzalez delivered a 2-RBI triple scoring both Botbyl and D’Alessandro. Botbyl’s two sons and Yrvy’s son Pablo, all 3 kids have been with Coach Scott in Little League these past four years, and the kids were basically praying that Pablo’s Dad would score to tie the game. However, even in moments such as this, Botbyl continues to use this softball league as a teaching mechanism for the kids. He informed the boys that Yrvy scoring would only prolong the game slightly because against a team like Preakness, when they are the home team, you need to have as big of a lead as possible. Just last year, ALRC led by 8 runs heading into the bottom of the 7th inning against Preakness and that wasn’t enough. Although, this time, Preakness didn’t need to bat in the bottom of the 7th inning, as they got the final out with Gonzalez stranded at 3rd base, giving Preakness another one-run victory over ALRC, this time 10-9. With back-to-back losses, the ALRC record is now even for the season at 4-4.
Only one player (for both sides) posted a 1.000 AVG for the day and that was #6 for Preakness, who hit 8th in their batting order, and on a day filled with great defense, his 3 for 3 at the plate, which eventually led to being the game-winning run, that can really impact the outcome of a game. The best box score for ALRC belonged to Scott D’Alessandro, who was 3 for 4 (2 singles, HR, 3 Runs, 3 RBI’s, SB). D’Alessandro also made numerous good catches in right-field as well. Coach Botbyl also felt the game was close because of Brian Churco making several great catches in left-field too, and he was 2 for 3 at the plate. Both Chris Cohen and Pastor Chris Jacobsen, each were also 2 for 3 hitting as well.
It’s back-to-back years now, where anyone that has attended the ALRC vs Preakness game … those people walk away thinking “wow, that was a really good game to watch, both teams played really well”. Botbyl re-assured all concerns after the game that he is fine, he even told the Preakness player, “you have been a great player in this league for a while now, you keep playing like that, keep hitting the ball hard, don’t feel bad, and don’t change a thing about your game”.
Botbyl has been drilled often during his career. Most people know about his broken jaw in 2010. Others know about his internal bleeding and hairline fractures last year. He feels like he has at least one scare each season. However, he sadly says that “all the injuries heal with time, if you look at me, you can’t tell that I’ve had a broken jaw or broken ankle, and in a little bit all the swelling and bruising on my wrist will be gone, but I know there is still a scar that both my team and their team feel from the 2015 playoff game, we might not see it physically, but we can all still feel it, and hopefully that wound heals soon too somehow”.
Every game, every year, every preview, every recap, I get to look back and read on all the memories thru the years that have been created with all the teams. When I read back from 2014 with Preakness, I see when I wrote this:
Coach Botbyl said, “I’ve watched some good softball out there during the 2014 playoffs, just like I have every year watching the playoffs thru the years, but I don’t think I’ve seen any one player more impressive than Preakness Coach Russ Meyer has been playing out there, I remember for 15 years now, I always considered him the best player on Preakness Valley, their star LF, however, he has continued to improve, as he was originally viewed by me as the guy in the league that could hit the ball farther than anyone else, but now he’s changed positions, doing great at 1st base, and he’s probably batting like .900 because I don’t think he makes out, he puts the ball anywhere and everywhere and is driving in runs almost every at-bat, we don’t have a League MVP, but if we did, Russ Meyer has my vote this year”. Congrats to all the Preakness players, both those from Preakness Valley and those from Preakness Bible Church. Congrats to both churches and all their fans on a great season. They deserved to win the 2014 Championship!”
When I read that, I can vividly recall those games and how I felt during that time. For years, I always just watched the playoff games, I would never “cheer” for a specific team. However, in 2014, I fully admit that I was cheering for them. I felt like their number one fan. I wanted to see them win it all. For that exact reason too, they deserved it that year. Similar to how Keith Spoelstra played last year, he was incredible, like a League MVP, Midland Park deserved it last year.
And when I read back on everything I said about Preakness from 2005 to 2014, I wish there was some way I can get back to that feeling. They eliminated us from the playoffs in 2005, but that didn’t change how I felt about them. Although, as everyone knows, how we were eliminated in 2015, it changed my feelings. I recall going to their second round playoff game last year, Preakness vs UnityOne, and I know I found myself wanting to “cheer” for UnityOne. The situation has brought out emotions in me that I shouldn’t and I need to change that, as soon as possible, for the betterment of me, my team, our games with them, and even the league too.
Last year was a thrilling and exciting one-run game. This year again, another competitive, hard fought, one-run game. This would normally bring out the type of comments like “it would be great to see these two teams play again in the playoffs or even a championship game”. Yet, I honestly don’t feel that way, and I should. I want to get back to that. Sadly, I still find myself thinking “hopefully we don’t have to play them again in the playoffs”. My mind thought that last year too.
If you do consider the new Preakness combo team the same as the old Preakness Valley team, than the all-time regular season series is no longer even, it was 6-6, but it is now 7-6 Preakness, since they have won the past two regular season meetings. The two teams have met twice in the playoffs. The post-season game in 2005 was actually between teams with slightly different names, as ALRC was known as SRC back then, and Preakness wasn’t a combo team yet, as they were still just Preakness Valley, but if you count both playoff games 2005 and 2015, then it’s 2-0 for Preakness in the post-season too.