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Batting cages tonight, and boy did we look good!! All 12 girls were there, and they were locked on from the start. One of the cool things about batting cages with stations is that the more girls that show up, the more work everyone gets because everybody hits all the stations. We do 5 minutes a station, and so with all 12 girls present every player gets a full hour of constant hitting.

My coach working the soft toss overheard a couple of 12U coaches who stuck around and watch us run our practice. Apparently they said that we're the team to beat this season. I sure would hate to disappoint them!

After I dismissed the girls, I worked with our pitcher for about 10 minutes. One of my good friends who is the parent of one of the 14U pitchers watched my pitcher pitch, and immediately picked up a flaw in her delivery that I hadn't noticed. Immediately, my pitcher gained 3 or 4 mph on her fastball.

All in all, a great night of practice!


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Last night was our last practice before the season starts (assuming no rain on Saturday), and so we spent time going over our pregame routine. I don't want the girls (and me) stressing about learning new things on game day -- the goal is to show up to our first game squared away and ready to rock and roll.

I also intentionally ramp up the pressure at this practice by being more vocal and more impatient with mistakes. I think that this is the reason I never enjoy this particular practice (for further thoughts on this, check out Don's Coaching Rule No. 3) -- I'm usually a patient, fun-loving coach and I have to turn myself into someone I'm not for this practice.

I intentionally ramp up the pressure at this practice because there is game pressure that just can't be reproduced in practice or a scrimmage, so this is an attempt to increase the stress on the team and have stress a bit outside the team's comfort zone. I don't ratchet up the pressure much, just enough to get the girl's thinking "What's up with Coach Don today?".

Our pregame routine starts with warm-ups, then batting stations but instead of doing batting stations serially like we do at practice (each girl follows the next through the stations -- see my Maximize Defensive Softball Practice Efficiency for an example), we break our girls into two 6 person groups. Group 1 is pitchers, catchers and team captains for the game and they go through all 6 batting stations while the Group 2 shags or helps out as needed. When Group 1 is done, the pitchers and catchers go with me and start warming up while Group 2 rotates through the batting stations. I try to have a coach or a parent running each batting station so the girls can focus on hitting.

When Group 2 is done, everybody except the starting pitcher and catcher (unless they're done warming up) grabs their gloves (and takes a swallow or two of water) and we run them through a quick infield/outfield/short hop drill. We start with half the girls in a line in the outfield, and half the girls in a line near the closest base (1st base if we're on the first base side, 3rd base if we're on the third base side), and then one girl behind me with a ball waiting for a partner for the short hop drill.

I will hit a grounder to the first girl in the infield line, and she'll throw it back. Then I hit a ball to the first girl in the outfield line, and she'll throw it to the infielder who's moved to the base and the infielder will throw it to me. The outfielder then runs to the back of the infield line and the infielder runs over to the short hop station, where her partner throws her a ball high in the air to catch as a short hop. The girl who threw the ball for the short hop then runs to the end of the outfield line. When the pitcher and catcher are done warming up, they'll join either the outfield or infield line.

When the first infielder is back in the front of the infield line, she'll take her grounder and her throw from the outfield and then head to the dugout (the girl at the short hop station also heads to the dugout). The outfield line will empty before the infield line, and when that happens I just hit a grounder to the infielder and then she heads into the dugout.

It took us longer to go through the pre-game routine than normal because the girls were learning it for the first time (which is why we were practicing it!). Then we took the last 45 minutes of practice and ran an internal scrimmage. I put our 1st inning defense out in the field and had the 3 girls on the bench bat against them until 3 outs were recorded, then we put the second inning defense out there and had the three girls on the bench (different girls) hit, and repeated until everyone but the pitcher and the catcher hit. I play everyone except the pitcher and catcher equally (for thoughts on how and why, see Don's Coaching Rule No. 4), so everyone got a chance to hit and we rehearsed our defensive lineups through the first 4 innings of our first game.

All in all, we looked pretty good. Our pitcher was MUCH sharper than she was a week ago when we scrimmaged another team, and our hitting was MUCH better than that scrimmage. Our defense wasn't bad, but it could have been better. I think we're ready to go for Opening Day. And whether we are or not, we're going to play anyways!

After practice, I complimented the girls on a good practice, and told them that I was intentionally being way hard on them and they visibly relaxed. I promised them that I would be Normal Don instead of Evil Don (sounds like a Star Trek episode!) and the reason why. Then we shared cookies and I sent them on their way.

Were still a long way from teaching the girls everything they need to know, but we've covered the basics, and hopefully that will be enough to get us through the first game.


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The rain held off yesterday, though it was about 45 degrees and the wind was blowing about 15 mph. Add to that the occasional sprinkle, and it was pretty miserable out on the softball fields. And it was a L-O-N-G day, as we had Opening Ceremonies as well.

But oh what a glorious day!! The first day of Softball Season is like Christmas day -- everything exciting and new, everybody all smiles and laughing. Opening Ceremonies was perhaps the best run of any in the 6 years I've been involved with the league. We've got a lot of new board members who are on top of things, and it definitely showed yesterday.

Smokey Smiles players got first and second for distance in the Hit-A-Thon, which was super cool. My daughter got 1st and a big trophy and our 2B/1B/OF Emma got a medal for second. Alas, we didn't win the team contest for fund raising, though I wasn't surprised. Even though we had twice as many girls participating in the Hit-A-Thon than any other team, I knew other parents had deeper pockets than mine did. Oh well, the league won either way, and the big goal for us was to put the 12U division on notice that the Smokey Smiles were bringing their bats this season.

Then all the All-Star teams got introduced, so I got to be with my 12U Silver team one last time, which was cool. We didn't win much, but I'm a HUGE believer in fielding Silver teams whenever possible because it just makes the league better in the long run. The girls get introduced to a whole other level of play, and they get a whole lot more practice that they wouldn't otherwise get. Coaching that Silver team also taught me a thing or two about coaching that made me a better coach.

All the All-Stars in each division got medals, and the 10U All-Stars got trophies as well for making it to States. It was nice to see a lot of girls walking around with a lot of hardware as Opening Ceremonies concluded!

...

Oh yeah, the game!! I almost forgot ;-)

I will start by saying that we have a bunch of stuff we need to work on. We made some errors, our Outfield was only so-so in backing up plays, we sometimes didn't understand when a play was a force play or not, and we had trouble receiving a throw and putting the tag down. Plenty of stuff to work on over the next couple of weeks.

But, OH MY GOSH did these girls play hard! Get comfy, 'cause this might take a while. The short story is that we won 13-7.

The long story...

We'll start with pitching. Our pitcher had not pitched a full game ever, and had never been the primary pitcher for her team. She pitched 3 innings for me in Winter Ball against 14U players and showed me enough then for me to be willing to bet our whole Spring Season on her. You could tell she was nervous at the start, and her pitches were down in velocity, and was a a bit wild. They scored 2 in the first (2 singles), 1 in the second (2 singles), and 3 in the third (2 singles and a walk).

However, you could see that she was slowly gaining confidence as the game wore on, and by the 4th inning, she was pitching better and faster than she started the game. They got 1 run in the 4th (2 singles), and then in the last inning (due to time) with the top of their order up, she retired the side in order with 3 grounders -- a solid play by our 3rd baseman, a nice play by our catcher on a slow roller in front of the plate, and a come-backer to the pitcher. Our pitcher's line: 5 IP, 8 hits (all singles), 1 Walk, 6 K's, and 7 Runs. I'll take that any day of the week.

Our defense also started out a bit shaky. I don't know if it was because it was the first day of the season and everyone was a little nervous or what. We had 5 errors, all in the first 3 innings. Then we settled down and got the job done. Our pitcher only had 1 strikeout the last two innings -- the last five outs were by our defense.

Our hitting...well...HOLY COW!! 11 hits, including a double and a BOOMING triple hit by our pitcher. This was a ball that was hit so hard that, even though I was in the 3rd base coaching box, I became a spectator for about five seconds watching that ball in flight. I told her afterwords that next year when she's a little bigger and stronger, that ball clears the fence. As it was, it landed about 10 feet from the fence on a line drive. It was a sight to behold!

We also got 5 walks, and I was very pleased with the patience our girls showed at the plate. I was also pleased with the production we got from the bottom half of our batting order. They struck out 5 times (with 3 strikeouts looking -- a pet peeve of mine), but they got 3 walks and put the ball in play 7 times including 2 singles.

One was by a girl who'd only got one base hit ever in her life before, and that was a grounder that she beat out. This was a towering, and I mean TOWERING fly ball that landed between the left fielder and the third baseman. If she'd have hit it square, she'd had hit it over the outfielder's head. And this girl is T-I-N-Y. She's like 4 and a half feet tall and maybe weighs 70 pounds. I'm sure she's not seen her last base hit this season.

I was very impressed with our base running, particularly since we haven't worked on it that much in practice yet. All the girls were very aggressive, yet smart, on the base paths. There was not a single mistake that was made, and their willingness to take a second base ended up scoring us a few runs. Best yet, they were making decisions on their own with little guidance from the base coaches.

Maybe the best thing about the game was something I wasn't even aware of until after the game and me and my daughter we talking about everything that happened. We'd finished pregame warmups with about 10 minutes to spare, and me and my coaches were talking about what we were going to do during the game. The girls were too excited to just sit in the dugout waiting, so they were standing around the on-deck circle being goofy. I noticed that they huddled up on their own and did something, and then they all said "We should do that every game!". I didn't pay it much attention...I do like it when the team comes up with their own stuff, but that's about all I thought about it.

It turns out, the girls wanted to pray before the game. They prayed for a teacher that they knew who was being laid off, and then they prayed for us to play well and for the ball to jump off our bats. Wow...

I LOVE THESE GIRLS!!! And the good Lord answered their prayers as far as the bats went!



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I almost forgot one scary part of the game. In the first inning, one of our players was crossing home but it was sprinkling so the plate was wet. When she stepped down, her feet went flying into the air as they slipped out from underneath her and she landed square on her shoulder blades.

She was shaken up pretty badly and sat out a few innings, but then went back in. I called her folks today just to check on her, and she's sore but going to be OK.

That was about the worst fall I've ever seen on a softball field. Thank goodness she's OK.


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No practice last night due to rain. Fortunately, the weather's supposed to be good for the rest of the week, so we should be able to get our batting cage practice and Thursday's practice in.


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Had something happen to me that has never happened before. We had batting cages last night, and our cages are along the left field foul fence on our 14U field. The 14U teams were having a scrimmage and I was positioning our batting stations about 15 minutes before the start of practice.

"HEADS UP!!" Now, I'm at least 120 feet away from home plate, and about 30 feet away from the fence, and there are a stand of 50' trees between me and home plate as well. So I casually glance up just to see where the ball's going to land and see a ball about 3 feet from my head! All I could do was turn away and the ball conked me right above my right ear.

It didn't knock me out, but the impact definitely left me wobbly and I had to take a knee. What scared me the most was that my skull opposite from where I got hit hurt more than where I got hit, so my brain must have sloshed around a bit. I was fine after a couple of minutes of icing and practice went on as usual, but OUCH!

We had a really good batting practice. We turned the machines up to 47 mph (we'd had them on 43 all season because that's the fastest any of the division's pitchers are), and the girls adjusted quite nicely. We didn't tell them the speed until after practice -- now they know they can hit anybody in the league!

We finished our batting station rotation just as the 14U scrimmage was over, so we moved onto the field and got some base running work in while my infielders worked on receiving a throw from the catcher and putting a tag on the runner. We worked on positioning and footwork, but we are definitely a work in progress in this area. It was about the only thing we didn't do well in our last game.


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I had to miss the first part of practice Thursday. My son ran in his first ever Varsity Track meet, and I couldn't miss that! He ran the mile and ran 4:58, breaking 5 minutes for the first time ever. Exactly one year earlier at his first meet ever as a freshman, he ran 5:56, so he's improved a TON in a year!

We had a two hour practice Thursday since Monday's was cancelled, and I got there with an hour left to go. We started working on outfield plays, particularly where to back up what when, and pretty much spent the entire hour working on that. We finished up with some base running relays.

The girls are GEEKED about our game on Saturday. We've only played one game, but in their mind this is a statement game. We're playing the other undefeated team, and it happens to be coached by last year's 10U All-Star coaches. Given that 9 of my girls were 10U players last year who either played for or against them, my players are making a big deal of this game.

They aren't nervous -- they are excited. I believe that it is going to be a good game. I'd have to give the pitching edge to them, though if our pitcher pitches like she did last week we'll be in excellent shape. I think we are a much better hitting team than them, and defense is probably a wash. IF my girls can keep their emotions in check, then I think we'll do fine.


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For you baseball fans, picture a duel between Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux. On one team, a fire-balling strike out king. The other, a pitching artist who has perfect command of his locations. You knew going into those games that they would be exciting and nerve-wracking games, where every pitch and play was huge, and which team won would be a matter of which team blinked first.

That was the kind of game we had yesterday between our Smokey Smiles and their Royal Ninja Spiders. Their pitcher is a 10 year-old playing up in our 12U division, and she can fire the ball with way more velocity than anyone else in the division. Going into the season, the general opinion was that she was going to be the best pitcher. And she didn't disappoint yesterday.

Our pitcher has already exceeded everyone's (except mine) expectations. Going into the season, I believe everyone thought that our team would have the weakest pitching -- our pitcher didn't even pitch last spring in 10U, and doesn't have a pitching coach. However, I saw her pitch a few innings for me in Winter ball when we were a 14U division, and I saw that she could throw strikes, and that she could get batters, even 14U All-Star batters, out.

She looked GREAT in warm ups, really firing the ball with some pop. My biggest concern for the team, and especially my pitcher, was that nerves would get the best of them. But judging from warm ups, the team was locked in and focused.

We scored 2 in the first. My shortstop led off with a single and an error by the outfield let her get to third. My catcher followed with another single, driving in our shortstop, and then stole second. Our third baseman laid down a GREAT sacrifice bunt getting our catcher to third, and then the 1st baseman hesitated just enough after the play for me to roll the dice and send my catcher home. She scored on a fantastic hook slide around the tag. The next 2 batters hit balls to their shortstop for outs. 2-0 after the top of the first.

They scored 2 in their half of the inning on 2 hits and an error. Our pitcher did not look nearly as sharp velocity-wise as she did during warm-ups. She had mentioned that her back was a little sore at the start of the day, but that she would be OK. It sure didn't seem to be bothering her during warm-ups, so I figure she worked out whatever kink she had. But whatever was going on, she clearly wasn't 100%. Houston, we have a problem...fortunately, she was still hitting her spots and basically pitching to contact, getting out of the inning after only 13 pitches.

Then their pitcher got into a groove, striking out the side for the 2nd and 3rd innings (with 2! strikeouts looking -- grumble grumble GRUMBLE!!) while they scored another run in the second. Something was clearly bothering my pitcher -- she wasn't her normal smiling self at all. I asked her if her back was bothering her, and she said her back felt fine. Figuring that nerves were getting to her, I tried to encourage her telling her that she was pitching great (and she was -- only 37 pitches to this point) and that we were going to get her some runs.

Top of the fourth, and up comes our last batter. This was her first game EVER (she was sick with strep throat for our first game), and was the player who I had turned into a slap hitter. Now remember, at this point, their pitcher had retired the last 9 batters in a row, and had struck out the last 6 in a row. Our batter got into an 0-2 hole, and then had the at-bat of the game. Fouling off pitch after pitch, she worked the count full, and then laid down a perfect hit up the third base line that stopped about 15 feet up the line. Even though the third baseman was playing in, there was no way they were going to catch her. Safe at first with her first base hit ever, and against a very tough pitcher.

Now the top of the order comes up, and just like the first inning, my shortstop and my catcher both get hits. Then their pitcher got a little wild and we went walk, sacrifice bunt, walk before our final batter struck out. 3 CRUCIAL runs, all started by my newest player. H-U-G-E, as we are now up 5-3. Their pitcher labored for 37 pitches that inning -- equal to our pitcher's total count for the game so far!

Our pitcher gets a grounder to short, a pop up to short, and strikes out their #4 batter. Again, H-U-G-E! She still looked uncomfortable out there, but was still being effective.

Top of the fifth, and we go down 1-2-3, including 2 strikeouts LOOKING! ARGH! I figure time-wise, we'll get another inning in because we still have 15 minutes before the no-new-inning kicks in. Good thing, too. They start off single, stolen base (just beating a great throw by our catcher), single and score a run. However, their girl on first gets thrown out at second trying to stretch the single into a double. Our pitcher gets a strikeout, then with 2 outs, the wheels come off our defense. An error allows the next runner on base. Then the next girl hits a pee-wee home run as we commit two errors allowing her to circle the bases. We do get the last girl out, but now are down 5-6.

We had the bottom two batters in the order up to start the 6th and last inning. Strike out, strike out -- the last on a drop third strike that kicked away from the catcher and our batter could have easily gotten to base on, if she'd run. It was her first game and she just didn't remember to run. So the top of the order comes up with 2 outs and us down by one run. Our lead off runner gets her 3rd single of the game. Our catcher (who, btw, had the best defensive game of her career), takes the first pitch she sees and laces a ball right at the second baseman, who bobbles the ball. I'd sent my runner on the pitch, so the second baseman's only play was at first, but with my catcher's speed, she had to rush the throw and overthrew the ball.

Now pandemonium ensues. My catcher doesn't even break stride and rounds 1st for second. By the time they get the ball back into the infield and the pitcher, my college-level-speed shortstop has already scored, and my catcher has rounded second and is well on her way to third. The pitcher throws to third and I'm just about ready to put up my hands and have my catcher go back to second, but the throw is wide. On my catcher goes to home, beating the throw. A pee-wee home run of our own, but I will definitely take it! Our 3rd baseman hits a laser back to the pitcher, who deflects the ball to the shortstop, who throws to first, beating our runner by half a step. 7-6 Smokey Smiles, with the Ninja Spiders last at bat coming up.

We get their first batter out on a pop up to our pitcher. Now the top of their order is up. Their lead off (and shortstop) gets a hit of her own, then steals second just beating our catcher's throw by an eyelash. Then, on the next pitch, she tries to steal third, and gets gunned down by 3 steps by our catcher. The next pitch, their pitcher hits a hard shot to our third baseman, who knocks the ball down, then gathers it and throws a perfect strike to first to beat the runner by half a step.

What a GREAT, EXCITING game! These girls just wouldn't quit, even when the other team's pitcher looked unhittable at times. The pitchers' lines:

Theirs: 6IP, 12K, 2 BB, 5 hits (all singles), 7 Runs, 4 ER, 107 pitches (66 strikes)
Ours: 6IP, 5K, 0 BB, 7 hits (one double), 6 Runs, 2 ER, 66 pitches (50 strikes)

Two very different, but very masterful pitching performances. The differences in the game, IMO, was defense and bunt execution. Our defense played well overall, with 5 errors -- 3 in the fifth inning. Their defense made 4 errors with far fewer chances. As with most teams that have dominant pitching, their defense was shaky when tested.

We executed 2 sacrifice bunts that directly led to runs. In a one run game, that is huge. They only fake bunted once, so our defense wasn't even tested in that respect.

All in all, a well-played game on both sides. I believe, though, that if our pitcher had her normal stuff, the game wouldn't have been as close as it was. Long after the game last night, my daughter told me that our pitcher had a splitting headache all game long, but that she (our pitcher) didn't want to tell me because she was afraid I wouldn't let her pitch. How's that for desire and guts? THAT's why I drafted her!

Last edited by Don -- Softball; 03/14/10 11:12 AM.

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This is going to be a tough week. 3 of my 12 players are away at 6th grade camp and I've got games on Tuesday and Thursday. We're missing our third baseman, the girl who is evolving into our regular first baseman, and my newbie slapper. Additionally, my shortstop didn't make practice because she was sick -- hopefully she'll feel better for the game today, otherwise I'll be going with 8 players which won't be fun.

I was concerned enough about the strikeouts looking from Saturday that we sat down the girls at the beginning of practice and addressed the issue. Normally, I want the girls working, not sitting and listening, but every once in a while you have to stop and address issues to keep them from turning into season-killers.

We basically told the girls that they are all good hitters because we see them hitting well in practice every day. We went around the circle (we were all sitting in the grass in the outfield) and told each girl what we liked about their batting. We pointed out that they've all hit better pitching than what we saw on Saturday, because occasionally we have a 14U pitcher come in and pitch a batting station. We told them that they've all hit when the pitching machine was set higher than any speed we'll see in the division this year.

Hitting is as much about confidence as it is about anything else, and keeping that confidence no matter what. Softball is a game built around failure, and the good players are the ones that can function even through the fear, and the taste, of failure. Until our last game, the starting pitcher of the Ninjas had most girls beat before they even stepped in the batter's box, because they'd never beaten her before. Hopefully, we can build up the confidence of our batters to the point where they believe they are as good a hitter as we believe they are. When our batters reach that point, we will be unstoppable.

So after talking with the girls, we did batting stations with our pitching machine set to about 50 mph, and they all hit. Every time they did, I told them that they just hit a 50 mph pitch and that they can therefore hit any pitcher they'll face.

We then addressed our weak throwing, and broke the girls into three groups. One coach took the 4 stronger players and worked on quicker throws. Two other coaches each took a pair of girls and just worked on throwing fundamentals for about 10 minutes. Then we set up a drill where 2 coaches would hit balls to two players, who then had to throw across the diamond to their first base. In a competition of best 2 out of 3, the losing (slowest throw) would have to do 10 kangaroos. The intent was to have the girls learn to get to the ball quickly, and throw quickly and accurately to a target, and it worked really well. The girls had fun and didn't even realize they were learning!

I think we'll be OK this week, as long as nobody gets sick or hurt...


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Well, we played last night but it was not pretty. The game was called on account of darkness after 3 and a half innings. It looks like, since we play the same team on 24 April, that we'll just finish our half of the fourth then.

We have 3 girls at 6th grade camp, including our normal 3rd baseman and normal 1st baseman. That left us with 9 players, and some had to play in positions they weren't comfortable with. So mistakes were going to happen...

We played well for the first two innings. They had scored 3 runs on 2 hits and 2 errors in the top of the first. We answered with 4 runs, getting 3 hits and a walk. Then they scored 2 in the top of the second on 2 singles, a double and an error, but we mercy-ruled them in the bottom of the second by scoring 6 on 6 walks and a hit.

I was a little concerned with warmups between innings -- normally I don't mind a little bit of joking and goofing off during a game. For me, it's one of the cool things about managing girls and it is usually a sign that they are loose and confident. However, I got the feeling this time that they thought the game was in the bag and weren't taking the game seriously anymore.

Sure enough, we looked awful. We got mercy-ruled ourselves as they ran up 6 runs on 1 hit and...wait for it... 9(!!) errors. We only got one out in the inning. Worse, my pitcher dove for a ball and came up shaking her pitching arm. She was still throwing strikes, but her velocity was WAY off. It was definitely one of those painful innings that, as a rec league coach, you have to suffer through from time to time. Fortunately, I haven't had to suffer through too many of them, or I would have pulled out my already-graying hair long ago.

My girls came off the field looking pretty shell-shocked. I just told them that everybody has bad innings and we just had ours, but that we could still win the game. We scored 2 to take the lead, but that was it, so we go into the top of the fourth with a 1 run lead, 11-12.

I could tell that my pitcher was feeling worse, not better. She got the first batter out, but was starting to bowl her pitches. The next batter got on by another error, and after 3 balls that were bowled to the catcher, I'd seen enough. I had no idea how hurt my pitcher was (remember, she pitch the entire game last game with a headache without telling me), but I didn't want to risk the entire season getting her permanently injured.

My emergency pitcher did not do awful, but she is my emergency pitcher for a reason. She walked 7, but did manage to retire the side after 8 runs were scored. We only had one error in the inning, says the guy trying to find a silver lining in this storm.

By then, it was too dark to continue, and we'll finish the game after our regular game on 24 April.

After the game, we talked a bit about not taking teams or games for granted. I told them that we are going to lose a few games this year -- nobody's going to go undefeated -- and that losing is acceptable if we play well. What happened after the first two innings of this game was unacceptable, even with the injuries and missing players.

We are currently the first place team in the division, so we're going to get everyone's best shot, and you gotta hand it to the Meerkats -- they never gave up and took advantage of game situations as they developed. We've got to remember that any team can end up beating us if we don't stay focused for every pitch.

One positive note: No strike outs looking!!


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