by Jane Richard
It was "Score Night" in Rohnert Park on Tuesday, July 17th, as the Sonoma County Crushers trounced the St George Pioneerzz, 13-2, to extend their winning streak to a season-high six games.
The team had just returned home after a three-game sweep of the Long Beach Breakers down south, and 906 of the Crusher faithful turned out on a chilly July night to cheer their heroes on the local independent minor league team.
After a quiet first two innings, with Crusher pitcher Gabe Neboyia and his counterpart Ryan Lubner matching zeroes in the run column, Sonoma County erupted and the crowd grew in danger of becoming hoarse. Eleven Crushers came to the plate in the third inning, seven of whom ran, trotted or slid home.
The half-inning took so long, that Neboyia ambled down to the bullpen to play catch with a 'pen-mate to stay warm and loose. The strategy must have worked, because, apart from a single run in the fourth, and a solo home run to St George DH Anthony Lewis in the sixth, the line of zeroes across the Pioneerzz part of the scoreboard strode on with barely a hiccup.
The same could not be said of the Crushers. The fourth inning saw two more runs for the team in purple pinstripes, and in the seventh, by which time the hapless visitors were bringing in their fourth pitcher, another four runs capped off the evening nicely.
Despite the cold and all the scoring (or maybe because of the scoring—one-sided in the "right" direction), the game was moving quickly and the patrons were feeling festive. Between-inning diversions like "tot racing" and "sumo football" kept the mood alive.
This latter could only be found in the lower levels of professional baseball, where entertainment is the key to revenue and thus survival. Two apparently willing volunteers clad in giant Pillsbury-doughboy-like brown suits to the point of near immobility, play "football" in the foul territory down the third-base line until one falls over. At this point the game disintegrates since that player is now incapacitated like an upside-down dung beetle and the other usually dives on top. To the loud exhortations of the crowd and adding to the general madness, the mascot, "Crusher the Abominable Sonoman", flings his bulk onto the pile and the stadium staff are left hauling the prostrate gargantua onto their feet and off the field so the "real" game can resume.
Back on the diamond, every Sonoma County player, it seemed, was either driving in or scoring runs. Designated hitter, former Japan League star Makoto Sasaki—nicknamed "Sasa" by teammates and fans—did both of the above once each, as he lashed singles (3) about the outfield.
Nine-year professional, fiery center fielder Chris Powell, had the best in a night of great box scores, with a triple and two singles, four RBI and three trips home. Recently acquired right fielder Diego Rico and popular third baseman Bo Durkac had the other multiple RBI nights while scoring once each, Durkac sending three teammates home, and Rico a pair.
The story of the game, though, was sophomore Crusher Neboyia. On a night designed more for ice skating than baseball, he hurled 116 pitches, facing only eight more Pioneerzz than he needed to. Nine batters either flailed or looked at strike three, and only one saw ball four. After eight innings of stellar pitching, with a lop-sided lead of eleven runs, Sonoma County manager Tim Ireland decided that was a job well done, and told his thrower to take a seat for the finale.
End of the eighth, and down in the bullpen Brian Rose had finished his warm-up tosses. Bare arms showing below shirtsleeves the poker-faced reliever grabbed his jacket and strode to the dugout. Fellow pitcher Tim Davidson yelled out encouragement. "Go get 'em Rosie! Sleeveless and all. Sleeveless in Santa Rosa!"
Three batters later the iron-blooded "Rosie" had dealt with the opposition and the game was over. As teammates gathered on the field to congratulate one another, the well-satisfied fans murmured happily, lingering before leaving. Impervious to the cold, kids ran about the stands with balls and gloves, or pressed at the low fences, clamouring for autographs. The players were only too happy to comply, and for a while the line between uniforms and sweaters blurred.