The Play’s the Thing
With the 2011 season upon us, we are guaranteed that we will see something occur on the diamond that we have never seen before. The strangest play that I ever saw came in a game at First Horizon Park in Greensboro, NC on July 7, 2006. We were in town for a wedding the next day and our hotel happened to be two blocks from the ballpark. Naturally, my daughter, Becky, and I took in a game. The Greensboro Grasshoppers were taking on the Greenville Drive in Sally League action on a beautiful Friday night.
In the bottom of the 4th Greensboro loaded the bases with none out when catcher Brett Hayes crushed a long fly ball to deep left center. Everyone in the ballpark thought it was a grand slam when Greenville center fielder Jay Johnson made a spectacular leaping catch running into the wall in the process. Stunned, he crumpled to the ground, but had presence of mind to flip the ball to left fielder Chris Turner. Meanwhile, the base runners, assuming as we did that the ball was at least good for extra bases were scurrying hither and yon. Turner threw the ball to second where Andy Jenkins was doubled off the bag for a highly unusual 8-7-4 putout. Second baseman Matt Mercurio, presuming that the man on third had never tagged up, threw to third and everyone thought that they had witnessed a triple play.
The runner on first, Kris Harvey was already half way to third and he was desperately making his way back to first–retouching second on the way–as the ball was being thrown to third. Harvey made it safely and planted himself on the bag as the Drive walked off the field, but the umpires ruled that in fact, the runner on third Jeff Van Houten, had indeed tagged and scored and therefore, Greenville executed a double play, but not a triple play. Had Mercurio thrown to first, which he could have easily done, then it would have resulted in a triple play.
The final result was that Hayes had hit into a double play sacrifice fly that began with what Greensboro’s manager Brandon Hyde described in the paper the next day as “the best catch of the year. Might be the best I’ve seen in four years.”
This play tied the score at 1-1 and ironically enough, Greensboro took the lead in the 7th on a routine sacrifice fly to center and won the game 2-1. It was an exciting contest in a beautiful ballpark. There were fireworks after the game, but Becky and I didn’t stay. Nothing was going to top what we had seen in the 4th inning.
What’s the strangest play that you’ve ever witnessed?