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Take a bow, Toby Schwartz.

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Today was the last day of the 2014 college baseball regular season here in the Lehigh Valley, and it went out in high style on the wind-whipped field of Lafayette College.

(The wind, like Chekhov’s gun, remains in the background for now, but will emerge as significant before our tale is told and done.)

The day began, oddly enough, with a case of white guilt … but first, a little background is in order.

I like to catch games with unfamiliar visiting teams. I’ll watch anybody play baseball. But, like a birder, I prefer a rarely seen species to something familiar.

There are certain colleges that come here a lot because they’re in the same league as our local schools. For instance, Bucknell, Army and Holy Cross are in the same league as Lehigh and Lafayette, so their teams are in town pretty frequently.

Then there are teams that seemingly only come here because they’re within bus-ride range and have a free weekend.

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Lafayette’s opponent today, North Carolina Central University, was totally unknown to me. I could not recall having heard of the school before, and I looked forward to adding it to my collection of sightings.

Wikipedia tells me that North Carolina Central is a historically black university whose student body is still 85 percent African-American.

That’s probably why I’ve never heard of it.

And that embarrasses me deeply — to know there are 100-year-old public institutions of which I am completely ignorant, just because they’re not athletically prominent and my lily-white personal circles don’t include anyone who went there.

It reminded me of the way I felt about 10 years ago when I learned of the death of John H. Johnson, the founder and publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines.

It occurred to me I’d never read a complete issue of either publication — which seemed like a major blind spot in my knowledge of my country. We’re talking about the education and culture of millions of Americans, and I couldn’t know less about it.

Feeling like a cad, then, I settled in to watch the newly introduced Eagles of North Carolina Central do battle with the Leopards of Lafayette.

The fledglings flew upside-down for an inning or two. There was an errant pickoff throw to second, and an air-mailed throw to first by the shortstop, and a near-collision between two outfielders, and for a while the visitors had more errors than hits.

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NCCU rallied in the fourth inning to tie things 3-3.

Two innings later, a Lafayette batter hit a long fly ball with the wind behind it. It bounced off the top of the yellow protective ribbing on the right-field fence and skipped over for a home run. I’d never seen that happen before; it seemed like luck might be going Lafayette’s way.

It was until the eighth, when the wind rose up and bit the Leopards. Lafayette’s left fielder dropped a playable fly ball, leading to a three-run rally that put North Carolina Central up 6-4.

Last time I saw Lafayette play, they dug themselves a hole, rallied in the ninth, but fell short.

I kinda expected the same result today. So I was — still am — a little stunned by the suddenness and ferocity of the Leopards’ response. The bottom of  the ninth, play by play:

– Leadoff pinch-hit home run (to right field again); score 6-5

– Single (by senior center fielder Andrew Santomauro, one of four Leopards playing their last college game)

– Sacrifice bunt advancing the runner to second

– Two-run game-winning jack (guess where) by late-inning substitution Toby Schwartz, who was listed in the game program as a left-handed pitcher but was playing first base because … well, because fate commanded, I guess.

(Young Mr. Schwartz was an unlikely candidate for heroics. Or so I gathered from his teammates’ celebratory postgame whoops of “Fuckin’ Toby Schwartz, man!” The thought crossed my mind that Toby Bleeping Schwartz might be to North Carolina Central fans what Bucky Bleeping Dent used to be to Red Sox fans.)

Pile-on.

Pile-on.

As the saying goes, it was not the kind of game you would use to teach anybody how to play baseball.

But it was a damned entertaining game to watch, building to a wonderful climax. And next spring’s college baseball season is going to have to go a long way to beat it.

I took my usual 7,000 pictures while I was at the game. So I’ll stop frothing at the mouth and say goodbye to another season with a gallery of images. Click to see ’em larger if you want.

Lafayette honored its four graduating seniors before the game. These moments are always sweet.

Lafayette honored its four graduating seniors before the game. These moments are always sweet. (Arrayed in front of them, but not visible in the photo, are their teammates, lined up in front of the home dugout, giving them a round of applause.)

Dude on the right, stop yawning.

Dude on the right, stop yawning.

About five seconds after a strikeout.

About five seconds after a strikeout.

Mound conference. The Lafayette pitcher who came into the game about 30 seconds later is visible in the background, warming up in Lafayette's pine-shaded bullpen.

Mound conference. The Lafayette pitcher who came into the game about 30 seconds later is visible in the background, warming up in Lafayette’s pine-shaded bullpen.

Apparently knowing of my fondness for sidearmers, Lafayette's manager made sure to bring in a real sidearmer, Connor McMahon, to pitch. (He ended up getting the win.)

Apparently knowing of my fondness for funky arm angles, Lafayette’s manager made sure to bring in a real sidearmer, Connor McMahon, to pitch. (He ended up getting the win.)

One of the great things about college ball is how close the players are. (From time to time they even wander into the public bathroom.) In this pic, two prospective Lehigh pinch-hitters have wandered into the public area near the stands to loosen up their swings.

One of the great things about college ball is how close the players are. (From time to time they even wander into the public bathroom.) In this pic, two prospective Lafayette pinch-hitters have wandered into the public area near the stands to loosen up their swings.

Also spotted in the public area: Legend-in-waiting Toby Schwartz, warming up to enter the game at first base.

Also spotted in a public area: Legend-in-waiting Toby Schwartz, warming up to come in at first base.

Left fielder Matthew Lawrence, who dropped a fly ball in the top of the eighth, has just been thrown out in the bottom of the inning trying to take an extra base. I was standing right behind third when he was tagged out, and I can still see his expression as he popped up out of his slide -- the wide-eyed grimace of a man who has awoken from one nightmare to find himself in another.

Left fielder Matt Lawrence, who dropped the fly ball in the top of the eighth, has just been thrown out in the bottom of the inning trying to take an extra base. I was standing right behind third when he was tagged out, and I can still see his expression as he popped up out of his slide — the wide-eyed grimace of a man who has awoken from one nightmare to find himself in another.

Toby Schwartz settles into the batter's box ...

Bottom of the ninth. Toby Schwartz settles into the batter’s box …

... swings for the fences ...

… swings for the fences …

... game over.

… game over.

I love this shot. The Lafayette players are practically dancing with glee, while the North Carolina Central players ... well, the bus is waiting.

I love this shot. The Lafayette players are practically dancing with glee, while the North Carolina Central players … well, the bus is waiting.

I like this one too. Toby Schwartz's batting helmet lies abandoned in the foreground; after all, he won't be needing it.

I like this one too. Toby Schwartz’s helmet lies abandoned in the foreground; he won’t be needing it.

See you next spring.

See you next spring.

 

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3 responses »

  1. I’m puzzled by the intractable “No Smoking. No Pets. No Alcohol…..Enjoy the game!”

    Reply
  2. It doesn’t look like NCCU’s baseball team is 85% African American.

    And I believe that “Jet” is ceasing print publication.

    Reply

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