CHILLICOTHE, Ohio. — Well Uncle Mel is enjoying the warm sunshine and the hospitality of the fine folks that call this lovely city in Ohio their home.
Oh yeah, nieces and nephews your favorite uncle of the Mid-American Conference is watching some mighty fine baseball at this year’s edition of the 2011 Mid-American Conference Baseball Tournament.
The games are being played inside the historical VA Memorial Stadium located in the beautiful city of Chillicothe, Ohio and stands majestically on the hollow grounds of the Veterans Hospital located in the state of Ohio’s first capital.
The aroma of frying bacon and scrambled eggs that hugged the stadium early in the morning was replaced by the strong mouth watering sizzling sound of ground steak being grilled kept the appetite wet for more of excellent southern Ohio cuisine and for some exciting baseball.
Eastern Michigan University feeling full of a good meal and proved to the many baseball fans that found there seats early wanted to stay late and feast on the style of baseball offered by the Eagles.
Eastern Michigan University continued there bid for a chance to play for the title and an NCAA tournament bid by showing Northern Illinois University the gate Friday morning 12-10 in 10 innings.
Eagle fans that sat in the morning sunshine began to make early lunch plans but the only thing the Eagles could do is score five runs in the top of the ninth inning and force the extra session cancelling any meal reservations.
Eastern Michigan University is 8-1 when the Eagles get involved in an extra inning game.
The Eagles pounded out 20 hits against the Huskies but left 10 runners on base but in the ninth the bacon still crisp and the butter melting on the biscuit, the Eagles sat down to a buffet and feasted.
Eastern Michigan University sent nine hungry players up to the plate with empty dishes but there was plenty of jam and other sweet things for desert. That forced Northern Illinois University baseball coaching staff and players reaching for an extra amount of Pepto-Bismol.
Eastern Michigan University advanced to play Kent State University as the warm sunshine moved across the blue sky.
Starting against the Golden Flashes, Steve Weber answered the call made by Eastern Michigan University baseball coach Jay Alexander before the tournament said that he needed his players to accept the challenge that the tournament provides.
Eastern Michigan University defeated Kent State University 4-2 and moved into the semi-finals of the conference tournament.
Alexander described Weber’s performance as an outstanding display of pitching form the one time starting pitcher.
“The first game we would not quit, and this game we played a good game,” Alexander said. “We got great pitching from Weber, who was normally a starter before and we did not make any mistakes and that is why we had a chance to beat them.”
Oh, my nieces and nephews there is a difference in a 24-hour period – a difference in a day.
Saturday morning brought more excellent weather, samples of great southern Ohio cooking and baseball.
Uncle Mel severing the fresh strawberries from a pancake breakfast found his seat at VA Memorial Stadium and as the first pitch found its way across the plate from Kent State University starting pitcher Andrew Chafin, the air around the diamond and in the stands charge-up with electricity.
Eastern Michigan University and Kent State University have developed a good baseball rival similar to the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians – there is respect but there is also a bitter and intense feeling of wanting to destroy each other on the field.
Pitch by pitch Eastern Michigan University starting pitcher Robert Wendzicki matched Chafin.
Alexander said after the game he appreciated Wendzicki performance and should have had a better result.
“It is just a shame because Robert pitched outstanding. He pitched just as good as there guy did,” Alexander said. “Unfortunate we could not overcome a little adversity; he goes out there with the will to win. He has nothing to show for the quality of the game that he pitched.”
Wendzicki threw 100 pitches and most of the Kent State University baseball fans in the stands found themselves looking at each other wondering and asking Uncle Mel.
Where did he come from and why is he not a Golden Flash?
With two outs in the seventh inning, the strong performance from Wendzicki suddenly became a fading memory.
Stepping up to the plate with just 20 at bats in his career Nick Hamilton stood in the batters box with a count of two balls and two strikes and watched a curve ball sail into him a caressing his arm.
Wendzicki gave up a single to first baseman George Roberts through the left side-putting runners for the first time in the game by either team runners in scoring position.
Wendzicki being tired but kept showing what Alexander describes as his bulldog personality; Wendzicki wanting to remain in the game faced Kent State left fielder Joe Koch. With a full count, Koch placed his bat on a good fastball located by Wendzicki and served the pitch into left field. It looked like Eagle left fielder Daniel Russell could make the catch but the ball fell onto the turf for a single.
Hamilton with a late break from second and tripped over third base got up and ran toward the plate, Alexander said he thought that Russell had the play and should have got Hamilton at the plate.
“We did not go hard that last ball in left field when they had the bases loaded the kid fell on his face and we should have had him at the plate,” Alexander said about the defense mistake in left field. “That was the only thing we lost it for one second.”
The appetizer served by Kent State in the seventh inning quickly turned into a full course dinner.
Alexander went to his strength the bullpen and brought Tim Combs into the game.
Combs faced one batter, Golden Flashes second baseman Derek Toadvine and Combs walked him bringing Alexander back to the mound and making another call to the bullpen, summoning Neil Butara in the game.
Butara facing Kent State center fielder Evan Campbell with the bases loaded left a fastball in the middle of the plate and Campbell did not pass the dish. He lifted the fastball high over the right center field fence for a grand slam home run.
The Golden Flashes scored three more runs in the eighth inning, the Eagles could not solve Chafin, and finally the final out of the game came off the bat of Russell a ground ball to short and the tournament hopes for the Eagles ended.
Alexander said after the game, the Eagles did not accomplish any of the goals that they set for themselves, so he would describe the season as a failure.
“It is a let down make no mistake about it. We set out with two goals: one to win the MAC conference and the other one to win the tournament champion,” Alexander said about the season for the Eagle baseball program. “We did not accomplish either one of those goals now it was a fun ride and we worked hard through out but we did not accomplish our goals.”
Eastern Michigan University baseball program is in good hands with Alexander and he is a baseball coach that expects nothing from his players that he does not provide for the program from himself – an all out effort from day one of practice to the final out of the season.
The Eagles recorded 37 wins this season a school record and the pre season poll from the MAC Media Association picked the Eagles to finish in third place in the completive West Division.
Eastern Michigan University baseball is proud program and historically, a strong program and that is because of the leadership from the dugout.
Alexander describes himself as a players coach. What he forgot to mention and which is evident when you talk with him is that he is a good baseball man and a quality teacher.
Alexander and his team do not have to hang there heads down because there are many baseball teams in the NCAA and in the Mid-American Conference that have found a new respect for the Eagles.
The feast was satisfying and so was this year’s edition of the Eastern Michigan University baseball.
About the Author
Written by Mel Suiter
Graduated from Eastern Michigan University in 2002 and have been working as a beat writer for The Ypsilanti Courier covering Eastern Michigan University football and men's basketball during my school career and after graduation. I like the Mid-American Conference and the rest of the mid-major conferences.