By Matt Phelps
The coed softball league for people 55-and-over has changed since last year.
The league split into two divisions, one for more competitive teams, of which the Mercer Island Rockers is a part, and one for more leisurely teams.
The switch, along with a new coach and turnover on the Rockers’ roster, has made for a more challenging season so far.
“We are playing better, but we will be fine,” said John Weinberg, the team’s starting pitcher and new head coach. “We have some new additions to the team that will make us stronger.”
The Rockers improved their record to 10-3 last week with two victories. The team took a few innings to build momentum but eventually won 14-1 on June 21. The game looked to become a pitchers’ duel during the first two-and-a-half innings as glovework out shone line-drive hits.
The Rockers finally broke the stalemate during the bottom of the third inning. With a runner on third, Rocker Larry Musil hit a rocket shot back to the pitcher. But the hit handcuffed the pitcher and ricocheted off his glove as the runner crossed home plate. The hit was the first of five consecutive blistering line-drives that scored a total of three runs in the inning, including RBIs from Janet Garretson and one of the newest Rockers, Mike Salokas.
“I am just barely over the age minimum,” said Salokas, who went 3-for-3 during the game with a triple and two RBI. “I like to play softball because it keeps things fresh.”
The 3-0 lead lasted until the next Rocker at-bat, thanks to a running back-handed catch by left fielder Doug Glant to thwart Renton’s momentum.
The Rocker bats came alive in the bottom of the fourth. Renton had a chance to get out of the inning, but a botched double-play attempt resulted in the team getting no outs and Mercer Island taking advantage of six hits and two walks during the inning for the maximum of five runs. Rocker Doug Davis came through with a bases loaded, two-run single and Patelli brought home the fifth run of the inning on a frozen rope base hit to left field.
Renton got on the board during the fifth inning on a home run by the team’s speedy lead-off hitter. It was only one of eight hits on the day for the team from the south end.
The Rockers scored just one run during the fifth inning, but slammed the door on a Renton comeback with the five run maximum during the sixth inning.
Misfortune struck the Mercer Island Rockers on Thursday before they took the field at Game Farm Park in Auburn against the Auburn 1 team.
Alan Anderson, the Rockers’ 6-foot 8-inch first basemen, was struck in the face during pregame warmups by a hard-hit line drive, which deflected off his glove. He was required to go to the hospital for emergency treatment, accompanied by another team member.
With their obvious concerns about Anderson, and playing short-handed, the Rockers did not have their usual productive day at the plate, scoring only seven runs in the seven-inning game. But their defense remained sharp, and held Auburn 1 to three runs over the first six innings. During the bottom of the seventh, Auburn 1 mounted a serious challenge; but outfield catches by Jackie Roberts and Richard Griffiths snuffed out the rally, and the Rockers held on to win, 7-6.
The two-victory week was common last year. The losses earlier in the season were the biggest surprise for a team that completed the last year’s regular-season schedule undefeated.
“28-0 is tough to live up to,” said Weinberg. “The other teams are very strong this year.”
The Rockers have added a few new faces this year, such as Salokas and Richard Griffiths, who had a double during the game.
Ann DeWitty, who was a rookie last season has picked up her game thus far said Weinberg. For the coach, this season has been filled with pressure — and not just on the mound. Weinberg takes over for long time head coach Mark Ratcliffe, and those are some big shoes to fill as Ratcliffe created the league.
“It is a lot harder,” said Weinberg. “There are 10 million details. We miss Mark but we will be fine.”
One thing that Ratcliffe helped to do was instill a winning attitude.
“We still expect to win,” said Patelli. “The positive attitudes carried over.”
Two of the team’s early season losses came at the hands of the Seattle 1 team. Mercer Island split its first two games with the Tukwilla Magic, which beat out the Rockers for the league tournament title last season. The Rockers will get another shot at the Magic Thursday when they host the defending champions at the Lid Park at 10 a.m.
“This thing is really a three team race,” said Weinberg. “We will give up the season title if we win the (league) tournament.”