My column today on the Grand Island baseball team's stirring victory in the Far West Regionals is one of the most special stories I've ever had the privilige to write.
I had a lot of information and not all of it made the paper. Our copy desk, particularly Greg Connors, did a great job editing a large story that, largely due to doing some of the interviews on a busy Thursday (including the Corporate Challenge), was filed much later than it should have been.
Here are some additional notes and quotes regarding the story:
* There was another sign during the game that struck Matt Lenz:
“My dad just loved baseball,” he said. “And he loved watching those big planes from the [Niagara Falls] air base go by. … Right in the 10th inning, there were two of them that flew over the field. I saw that and immediately thought of him.”
It was just moments later that Matt was called to pinch-run by coach Santorio.
* Santorio on what happened after Lenz scored in the 10th:
“Twenty-two other guys -- we have a big squad -- they run out to home plate, and each guy hugs him,” said Santorio. “There was another standing ovation. At that point, no one cared about the game or the score. He might have scored the last run of the year, and that would have been OK.”
* Phil Lenz, the eldest of the five brothers, on the game-winning hit:
“When Dylan’s hit got down,” said Phil Lenz, “we said, ‘He's got to be watching right now.’ What unfolded was incredible.”
* Matt Lenz: “When I stepped on third base, things just felt different. It felt like my dad was just watching down and he made the game go our way.”
* One thing I've thought about is the circumstances of the game. If GI gets a walk-off hit earlier in the game, things don't happen the way they did. If Santorio put Lenz in as a pinch-hitter, as he considered earlier in the 10th, perhaps this story twists a different way.
“We had a couple of chances in the seventh and eighth to win, but we didn’t come up with the hit. There was a chance it wasn’t going to happen,” Santorio said of getting Lenz in the game. “It was that type of baseball game, where every pitch meant the difference. Maybe it was meant to be.”
* During my research of the story, I learned that there was some sort of letter-to-the-editor in the local Grand Island paper which blasted GI coaches and the athletic department for valuing winning more than getting all of the players involved. Time for a retraction, or some letters from the other side. Tuesday's events probably crystalized it, but it didn't need to: GI, with the tradition of the late, great Gene Masters influencing many coaches, including Santorio, is like most WNY programs, which show that it's possible to do both. You can have the goal of winning games while doing it the right way.
* Another jaw-dropper came in an email today: "If you want to be more amazed. ... Go back to yesterday's photo in the sports section of Alex Kovacs of St. Joe's. ... He won the game for Joe's and was coached by Ken."
* And another "whoa" moment from an email -- regarding how Grand Island's state semifinal opponent advanced: "As you may know by now, New Hartford scored three in the bottom of the seventh with two outs last night to beat Glens Falls, 7-6. That is ridiculously similar to Grand Island and now they match up Saturday."