Sosebee, O’Neil give game Kansas City flavor
T-Bones' shortstop Chad Sosebee was an unlikely choice for the role of All-Star hero.
Sosebee didn't make the original Northern League all-star roster, but was added as a fill-in. He was hitting just .209 coming into Tuesday's contest and struck out in his first two at-bats.
But Sosebee got the ultimate chance for redemption in the bottom of the ninth. He came to the plate with a runner on second and two outs. The score was tied at 6-6, both teams were running out of pitchers and no one wanted to see extra innings, least of all Sosebee, who knew he had a shot to deliver the game's biggest hit.
"I knew I had a chance to win the game and I had two strikeouts before, so I really needed to do better than that," Sosebee said. "Just trying to bring that run home."
Sosebee did just that, lacing a ground-ball single into left field. Gary's Jay Pecci flew around third and slid in just ahead of the throw home. The hit set off a wild celebration around Sosebee at first, a fitting ending for a day that all of Kansas City could be proud of.
One of the city's favorite icons, Buck O'Neil, kicked off the game with a historic at-bat. The 94-year-old signed a one-day contract with the T-Bones, making him the oldest professional baseball player in the history of the game. He was traded during the pre-game to Fargo-Moorhead so he could lead off the game for the visiting West Division team. That move came as a surprise for T-Bones' ace Jonathan Krysa, who started for the East.
"Honestly I thought he was going to be on our team and the other pitcher was going to pitch against him," Krysa said. "No real approach, I was just trying to put it over the plate and have him hit it."
Krysa might not have been too used to throwing meatballs, because, with a 2-1 count he threw a slow, looping ball that headed straight for O'Neil's head. Krysa immediately looked shocked and appalled at the path the ball was taking.
"I was just hoping he could duck," Krysa said.
O'Neil did duck, showing impressive agility for a man his age, and the ball sailed harmlessly over his back. Krysa took no chances with the next pitch, though, throwing it way outside to give O'Neil a base on balls. The Kansas City Monarchs legend was then traded back to the T-Bones at the end of the half inning so he could get an at-bat for the East. He walked again, but not before taking one mighty cut that nearly spun him off his feet.
After his second at-bat, O'Neil took the rest of the game off and a gang of cameramen followed him off the field. Despite triple-digit temperatures and a media circus following his every move, O'Neil said he was having a great time.
"A 94-year-old man with a bat in his hands, in an all-star game: you can't beat that," O'Neil said.
He also said that he bore no ill will toward Krysa for the unintended brush back pitch.
"That was no problem, I've been ducked out before," he said.
But Krysa, who leads the Northern League in strikeouts, wasn't his usual dominant self after the incident. He was able to strand the bases loaded in the first, but gave up a three-RBI double to Edmonton's Stubby Clapp in the second, which put the West up 3-1. Clapp came in for O'Neil and ended up with MVP honors.
A number of T-Bones delivered solid performances in the innings that followed. First baseman Charles Peterson drilled an RBI double to center and Greg Bicknell and Byron Embry each pitched a scoreless inning.
Despite the hometown contributions, the East trailed 6-5 going into the bottom of the ninth.
Kansas City catcher Craig Hurba got things started in the ninth with a one-out triple to center. Greg Jacobs then knocked him in with a sacrifice fly that tied the game. With two outs and nobody on, the inning could have ended there, but Pecci kept it going with a single to center and then stole second.
The stage was set for Sosebee, and his teammates were dreaming of heroics, even though Sosebee hadn't hit a home run all year.
"We were talking about, 'what would happen if he hit a walk-off right here?'" Krysa said. "But a single's the next best thing, he got the winning RBI and it's nice to see another T-Bones' player be a star for a night."
With Buck O'Neil on the field, Sosebee will never be able to claim he was the game's only hero, but he seemed fine with that.
"It was the chance of a lifetime kind of thing getting to see something like that and be around a guy like that," Sosebee said. "It was just a good day all the way around."