The ebb and flow of sports can make fans joyous one minute and heartbroken the next. For the Mercer Island senior softball team, the Rockers, that concept has caught up with the perennial league champs.
“We lost a lot of strong players from last year’s team,” said Rockersa coach and starting pitcher John Weinberg. “We are rebuilding.”
The defending league champions, who posted a record of 26-1 last year, is mired in a season full injuries and defections with a record of 3-15.
The team has lost three of its biggest offensive threats from years past. Long-time third baseman Larry Patelli moved to Arizona, John Meuller, the team’s cleanup hitter, injured his wrist and wont return this season, leadoff hitter Doug Glant has bone spurs in his heel and Ted DeCampo, the teams assistant coach switched teams to play with Tukwila.
“We hope to get a lot of those guys back next year,” said Weinberg. “We are hopeful for next season since most of our problems have been due to injury.”
The injury bug even hit Weinberg, who broke his hand and was unable to pitch during a four-game stretch.
“We lost a lot of offense but we have picked quite a few good players,” said Weinberg.
Among those are Jim Shuman, Fred Fogg, Dave Williams and John Harris. Shuman has proven to be valuable this season as he replaced starting shortstop Mike Solokas while the veteran was injured.
But the biggest problem for the Rockers has been finding offense. The team lost a double header to Tukwila Thursday 14-5 and 11-6.
“You don’t win too many games scoring five and six runs in softball,” said Weinberg. “We have had our offensive problems.
Most of the league has flipped over this season. Tukwila, which is normally a power in the league, is below .500 this season.
The Rockers also lost to Des Moines 10-3 on June 26. The lopsided losses are not easy for anyone on the team to get used to. Two years ago, the Rockers finished the regular season a perfect 27-0, the only recreational softball team to achieve that feat that particular year.
“There are only six games left and we are hoping to get into the second level for the tournament,” said Weinberg.
One of the biggest changes in the league is the lowering of the age qualifications. The age restriction used to be 55 and older but it has been lowered five years. And while other teams such as Seattle, have thrived with the rule change, the Rockers have struggled.
“It is difficult because most of those younger players are still working,” said Weinberg. “They are just hard to come by.”
The championship tournament, held the first week of August in Auburn, is split into three tiers of teams. Mercer Island may end up playing more recreational teams this year in the tournament, something that might give the team wins and momentum toward next season.
And while the Rockers have never been out of the top tier, they are proving that they play for the fun of competing and not just to win. That idea has not always been evident to other teams who have been on the losing side of a game with Mercer Island.
“One positive effect has been that we are making a lot of friends this year,” said Weinberg.
But don’t count the Rockers out. The team still has six games left and then the tournament. Mercer Island will play next at Renton on July 10.