Northstars claim first ever title
‘And here’s Woods with the delivery; ground ball to second, McKee slides over and the flip to McMahon! The Belfast Northstars win! The Belfast Northstars win! Who would have thought that these invaders from the North…..’
Ok, so ESPN weren’t there, but for the men in maroon yesterday at the International Baseball Centre in Ashbourne the day will live long in the memory; for the first time ever, a Baseball Ireland title is travelling 100 miles north to Belfast in this, the club’s twentieth year in existence.
After the deluge that met the players in Hydebank, a crisp Autumnal morning woke the players this weekend and they were met with an immaculate field in Ashbourne thanks to a few Giants who had graciously offered their home up for the day.
In game 1, the Stars were already carrying a 4-1 advantage and they looked to put the game to bed early, coming out perhaps a touch aggressive with the bats, with Mark Smith and Melvin Woods both flying out in the fourth.
With Woods continuing his rare post season form on the mound, the Stars bats sprang to life in the next inning, plating seven times and with the Hurricanes failing to score in the bottom of the fifth, the game was called.
Riding high, the Northstars started strong in the second game, with four of the top five hitters all scoring, thanks in no small part to a soaring home run to right centre by Melvin Woods. Switching sides of the rubber, Shackley handed the ball to righthander Randy Cornwell, who shut the powerful Hurricanes offence down for the first two innings.
Having not scored in the second, the third saw another offensive explosion by the Stars who crossed another five times. At this stage, the Northstars may have been forgiven for looking forward a little but, as they were about to find out, the Hurricanes had no intention of going quietly into that good night. Scrapping back four runs, the Dublin side pulled themselves back into the game and, with the Stars only recovering two of those runs back, the Canes erupted for seven runs in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game, thanks in no small part to a number of errors and miscommunication by the Belfast side.
With the comeback on, Melvin Woods once again took the ball to hold off the Dublin hitters. Unfortunately the wind was at the Hurricanes backs (pun intended) and not only did they prevent any more Belfast score but they were able to stretch a three run lead in the fifth.
With a final rallying call from Shackley, the Belfast Northstars plated no less than eight times, catalysed by Randy Cornwell’s powerful hitting, pulling the score out to 19-14. With the Northstars fully locked in, Woods prevented any more score in the sixth. Adding three more runs in the top of the seventh inning (making the scoreline 22-14), the Hurricanes attacked one final time and, with runners on, one final powerful pitch from Woods induced a ground ball to John McKee at second that was flipped to a waiting Sean McMahon at the bag. The resultant group embrace in the infield signified the work and sacrifice that this team, this championship team, has given from the first training session in mid January to the last out.
From the top of the order to the end of the bench, each member of this Belfast Northstars squad was willing to give up playing time, share the load and do whatever it took to win; veterans, rookies and everything in between, old faces and new friends, breakout performances and seasons, an enviable pitching rotation, formidable hitters: you want a 2-1 victory with tight defence? Fine. You want an utter slugfest? Bring it. A baserunning contest? Pick your poison. You want to try to stretch a double to a triple or steal second? Probably not wise.
What Sean Shackley and his team has done this year has been remarkable. He, who would be the first to defer credit and the first to take blame, promoted a team-first attitude that everyone bought into. And that respect was given back in spades, with the players all willing to go into battle for their talismanic skipper, knowing full well that there would be no need to go through a wall for Shackley.
He would have already gone through for them.
As the dust settles on the 2016 season, there will no doubt be reflection on a number of things but one thing is certain. This group of players represents a 20 year legacy of very long trips to Dublin (before the fancy motorways and Applegreen service stations), playing with eight, panicky late night Friday phone calls ‘Can you play tomorrow? Yes? Great! Bythewayyoualsoneedtodrivethanks.’ and year upon year of records far and away from this year’s 2016 final win-loss of 20-2 (24-3 including playoffs). It is an old sports adage that you have to learn to lose before you learn to win; well the Northstars have done the former. By God they have done the former.
But to the winner go the spoils, and for this winter the Northstars will bask in the glory of their first ever title. Until January, when they do the whole damn thing again.
NOW RECRUITING! The Belfast American Sports Association are now looking for new players for 2017. Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or through our website www.belfastbaseball.co.uk