01/27/2016 2:50 PM -
When I first heard rumblings toward the end of the 2015 season that the Lexington Snipes may not return for 2016, I couldn’t help but welcome a flood of memories encompassing all the great games I’ve seen involving the boys in purple over the last three years.
The Midwest Collegiate League will be in great shape with the Bloomington Bobcats bringing a storied history of their own to the table as they continue the league’s Bloomington-Normal presence this coming season.
Still, the three-year chapter of the Lexington Snipes in the Midwest Collegiate League is one worth remembering. I saw all 29 games the Oilmen and Snipes played against each other over the three seasons, and those accounted for a good number of my favorite games over my first four years broadcasting and covering Northwest Indiana Oilmen baseball.
Win or lose, the Snipes did it with class. They fielded teams of talented and well-rounded players, and it all started with manager Billy DuBois, a fiery, outspoken, passionate, caring, classy man who went out of his way to befriend everyone in the ballpark. I’ve covered hundreds of high school and college coaches, and DuBois may very well be my all-time favorite.
For whatever reason, games between the Oilmen and Snipes always seemed to be some of the most dramatic, wacky and compelling. I’ve selected three of the most memorable matchups and shared my memories from each.
No. 3 Aug. 2, 2015: Oilmen 5, Snipes 4
The four-run seventh, aided by a Lexington error, allowed the Oilmen to move in front. Key hits by Josh Turnock and Fred Smart helped the Oilmen build a two-run lead, which nearly slipped away before Christian Howell nailed down the save with the tying run at second in the ninth.
The series went to a Game 3, which was won by the Snipes at Oil City Stadium. Lexington advanced to the MCL Championship, where it lost to the Hounds in three games.
No. 2 July 31, 2013: Oilmen 17, Snipes 9
The Oilmen outdid Lexington 17-9 to sweep the MCL Semifinals and advance to the MCL Championship Series for the second consecutive year. They would go on to lose to the Southland Vikings, the first of back-to-back Vikings’ league titles.
The Oilmen racked up a franchise-record 23 hits, including an individual franchise-record five from Jack Czeszewski.
No. 1 July 18, 2014: Snipes 3, Oilmen 2
The Oilmen scored twice in the seventh inning that night, but the offense couldn’t scratch out a run in any other frame. After the regulation nine innings, the game was tied 2-2. Neither team scored in the 10th. Nor the 11th. Nor the 12th. You get the idea. It took 16 innings for the Snipes to eke out a 3-2 victory.
Outside of it simply being the longest game in Oilmen history, there were several other factors that made the night unforgettable. The Oilmen ran out of pitching after 14 innings, so they turned to second baseman Ryan Burvan, who had never taken the mound in a college game. Burvan was almost the winning pitcher. After he worked a scoreless top of the 15th, the Oilmen nearly walked off in the bottom of the frame, but Andrew Ray was cut down trying to score on a Nick Vogelmeier single. Burvan yielded a run in the 16th and took the loss.
Another oddity was my broadcast itself. It’s one of the only times I remember going off the rails on radio, making for an entertaining broadcast with my partner at the time, Joey Gelman. I remember boasting to Joey about the fact that my scorebook had plenty of room because it contained 15 innings. That is, of course, until we got to the 16th.
By the middle of extra innings, the entire Oilmen pitching staff was in the press box rather than the bullpen. All of them had already pitched, so they needed a change of scenery to take in the remainder of the game. This made concentrating on inning after inning of play-by-play even more of a challenge. At one point, Oilmen pitchers Cameron Linck and Andrew Lowe – two of my favorite players to cover that season - joined us as guests on the broadcast. Lowe would go on to fill the chair next to me on a regular basis as the color commentator for 2015 home games.
Perhaps the most bizarre fact of all is that the Snipes had already played a nine-inning game earlier that day against DuPage County, meaning they played 23 innings in one day and made a long road trip to compete at two different road venues. The trek back to Lexington was a happy one after two victories.
About the only normal thing that happened that night was Billy DuBois being ejected from the game in the 10th inning. His antics earned him an early exit more often than any other MCL manager over the last three seasons.
I remember catching then Oilmen manager Justin Huisman on his way out of the ballpark for our typical postgame interview. “Really?” he asked when he saw me with my notebook and voice recorder.
He meant the interview, which made his long night a little bit longer, but the question could just as well have applied to the game itself. Yes, really.