Thursday, July 10, 2008

There's A Glimmer Of Hope

True story. Travis Thornton once carved out a spot in the rich greenery of the Hastings Burke Estate woods. It was a quiet setting where the baseball-crazed 25-year-old set up a lawn chair and a few 24 oz. bottles of Poland Spring Water.
Why?
For the sole purpose of watching all of the Hastings Yellow Jackets Varsity home games alone, with a hawk-like gaze and free of any distraction that might crack the surface.
This is Thornton's ultimate baseball sanctuary, where he re-lives his glory days while allowing his wildest baseball fantasies to materialize. He sits there, quietly relaxing his dome--waiting, waiting, waiting--for the next Hastings legend to emerge and deposit a tape measure shot.
Yeah, his commitment to his hometown team is that serious.
Thornton has taken that high-order commitment to the next level this season, helping establish H-town's first-ever semi-professional team, the Hastings Monarchs. The Monarchs play in the Westchester Rockland Wood Bat League, the toughest union in the area on the summer semi-pro circuit.
After a rugged start, the Monarchs shocked the burgeoning small-town baseball culture with a signature victory. They upset the top team and stamped another formidable foe with a 6-4 triumph. Here's how it all went down:

The squad that was crossing a creaky bridge over quicksand didn’t play like one Saturday. Keeping their playoff hopes in sight, the Hastings Monarchs displayed the fireworks and proficient pitching that’s been sorely lacking this season, during a double-header at the Burke Estate. They caught the Westchester Rockland Wood Bat League by surprise, posting a pair of resume victories.
The Monarchs pulled off a riveting upset of the league’s top team, the Pleasantville Red Sox, before a small partisan crowd Saturday, gutting out a 7-6 victory.
Travis Thornton earned the victory on the hill in that pivotal Game 1 of the twinbill, firing six solid innings and finishing with six strikeouts.
Thornton’s younger brother, Luke, provided much of the offensive punch. The outfielder went 3-for-5 with an RBI and scored a run. Dan Bohm, who has shouldered the label of jack-of-all trades for what’s been a patchwork group for much of this season, went 2-for-4 with a double. Catcher Mike Degaspari went 1-for-2, drawing two walks while also contributing a run.
Sound defense was the key to the pulsating, David v.s. Goliath upset. That statement resonated in Thornton, who sported a permasmile following the biggest victory of his young career as a manager on the semi-pro circuit.
“Dan Bohm played second and we put Max (Pachner) at short. The tandem turned three double plays and that was a huge factor in why we won the game,” said Thornton.
The Pleasantville shortstop registered presence of Bohm and Pachner in a major way, grounding into double plays in the final three of his four at-bats. Fittingly, the game would conclude with him grounding into an inning-ending double play.
“It was crazy,” said Thornton of his previously cellar-dweller club’s monumental upset.
“It was extremely exciting (to knock off the league’s best team). it gave us hope for a possible playoff run. All the guys on the team feel that we can make the playoffs. We feel like we can beat basically any team in the league at this point as long as we have guys showing up to play ball and make that big commitment. It’s a real high for the team at this point.”
The Monarchs completed the twinbill by stamping a 6-4 victory over New Rochelle, which fell to 9-8 with the loss. Former Ossining standout Kenny Smith, who plays alongside Luke Thornton at SUNY Morrisville, gave the Tigers’ bats no signs of life.
Getting ahead in the count while utilizing his hallmark four-seam fastball and a curveball with a sharp 2-7 break, Smith whiffed 10, walked five, yielded three hits and surrendered four runs, just one earned.
Smith would last up until the ninth inning, when it appeared there was little gas left in the engine.
With one out and a runner on first, Travis Thornton, the team’s rubber arm last season, came in and shut the door. Thornton induced a fly out to center field and caught the last batter swinging on a changeup.
“We owed it to Kenny (to get the win),” explained Travis. “He strikes out a ton of guys. If he doesn’t walk guys, he’ll beat any team.”
Thornton, the 24-year-old Hastings product who hurled at SUNY Morrisville and SUNY Oswego, said that the confidence and morale has never faltered. He did mention, however, that the trials and tribulations of being a first-year squad coupled with the outside conflicts (which have prevented the team from having their entire roster on hand giving an efficient account of itself) have played a substantial role in the Monarchs’ seemingly insurmountable free-fall before Saturday. Prior to the victories, the Monarchs had won just one game and dug themselves an 0-9 ditch.
Now there appears to be a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel. If Thornton is to steer the Monarch ship into playoff territory and re-write this season’s script, the team needs to continue to perform the way they did Saturday.