Legion alumni celebrate Fourth with 15-6 explosion
     2012-07-16      By Terry Gaston   
Two of Americana’s biggest slices of pie, the Fourth of July and baseball, crossed paths last Wednesday at Oregon Trail Park, when the present members of the Gering Platte Valley Companies Senior American Legion Post 36 team met 18 former Gering Legion players on, appropriately, a warm summer afternoon.

Given that PVC coach Doug Jones saved his best pitchers for weekend action — a move that paid off nicely with a doubleheader sweep Saturday in Rapid City, S.D. — the Alumni fired their rockets’ red glare against the less-experienced Post 36 hurlers, riding an eight-run seventh inning to a 15-6 victory.

“Well, now I will be known as the first Legion coach to lose to the Alumni,” a good-spirited Jones said as the players, coaches and fans left the ball park for more Independence Day traditions like barbecues and fireworks.

“It’s all about having the alumni coming back, and it was a good time for everybody.”
While the fourth annual event had no effect on the Seniors’ season record, the third-base dugout containing five decades of alumni — led in the lineup and cheers by late ’70s veteran Dingus “Double-D” McKee — was playing for fun first, but also to win.

“It’s cool things like this that keep it fun,” said Jerry Goodwin, who played on Gering’s 1982 state championship team and lives in Scottsbluff. “It was fun to get back for a lot of us — Dingus, is what, 53? — and we still hope a lot of the younger guys will come back as well. All things considered, it wasn’t too bad.”

With the Seniors as the visitors, left-handed PVC starter Bret Orozco took the mound with a 3-0 lead and commenced to retire the “Old Guys” with an infield fly sandwiched between two strikeouts. Post 36 right-hander Seth Holthus then kept the Alumni off the bases with two ground-outs and a strikeout in the second inning.

The Alumni scored its first run off a Seniors error — the first of five committed by the current 36ers — in the bottom of the third inning against PVC southpaw Ethan McDaniel, who otherwise struck out two and allowed a single to Matt Landrum, who was in turn picked off in a four-man relay.

But PVC forged ahead 5-1 in the top of the fourth thanks to Danny O’Boyle‘s two-run triple that overshot center fielder brother Patrick.
After Jon Hutchison, the Seniors’ assistant coach, hit one batter and walked another with a fielder’s choice in between, Danny O’Boyle drilled a Hutchison pitch into right-center field, where the breeze in the air pulled the ball over Patrick O’Boyle’s outstretched glove.
“It was coming right at me, but then the wind carried it over me,” Patrick O’Boyle said. “He’s going to give me some crap for that, but I will just throw some back at him.”

The reason? The Seniors watched their lead overtaken during the Alumni’s next three at-bats, starting with a four-run rally in the fourth, during which the Senior 36ers committed two errors.
The Old Guys’ first three runs scored on errors, while McKee’s infield single deep to shortstop plated Bret Hutchison and cut the Seniors’ lead to 5-4. It could have been worse for PVC, however; the current Seniors kept the bases loaded of Alumni.

Two innings passed before the Alumni pulled ahead 6-5, with leadoff hitter Greg Hamer walking and advancing to third on Landrum’s off-the-fence double to left center. After Reggie Reyes got the next two hitters out, Nick Ereth drove home Hamer and Landrum with a single up the middle.

Danny O’Boyle proved in the top of the seventh that he was not about to concede the game to the veterans. He led off the inning with a single to center off Heath Briggs. O’Boyle stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch before he knotted the score at 6 on another wild pitch.

Despite his letting the tying run score, however, Briggs became the game’s eventual winning pitcher when the Alumni followed with its game-breaking, eight-run flurry in the bottom of the seventh.
Bryce Burkhardt gave his turn on the mound for the Seniors his best shot, but he walked five Old-Timers and allowed three singles — including back-to-back, two-RBI hits by Bret Hutchison and Mikah Schmall — all while tallying just one out.

Walker Britsch walked three straight Alumni but got an inning-ending double play on a right field fly-out and perfect throw home. But by the time the double play ended the inning, the Alumni led 14-6.
The game’s unique pitcher-catcher battery came in the Senior 36ers’ half of the eighth inning, when left-hander Patrick O’Boyle took to the mound and Mike Jones strapped up the pads and settled in behind the plate.

The battery of Jones, the B&C Steel Junior Legion’s head coach, and O’Boyle, his assistant, proceeded to make assists on getting out the two Senior Legion runners O’Boyle allowed on a single and walk.
Bret Hutchison scored the game’s final run after he led off the Alumni eighth with an off-the-fence double to center and scored on Ereth’s sacrifice fly and third RBI.

Of the Alumni’s 11 hits, Ereth finished the game 2-for-3 with one run and his three RBI, while Jeremy Burgener was 2-for-3 with a run and also did two innings in the not-often-seen role as a southpaw catcher. Landrum also was 2-for-3 with one run and a double.
Other Alumni who had a hit apiece were McKee, Bret Hutchison, Jon Hutchison (double), Schmall and Josh Valdez — a quintet that spanned the youngest Alumni, Schmall and Valdez from last year, to the oldest in McKee.

Other alumni players not previously noted included Tom Cooper, K.C. McKee, Vince Rodriquez, Nate Rimington and Taylor Stephens.
The current Seniors totaled eight hits, with O’Boyle going 2-for-3 with his two-RBI triple, two runs, a walk and base gained by error. Zach Smith was 2-for-3, hit by a pitch, had one RBI and one run.
Grant Rimington had a double in going 1-for-1 with a walk with one run. Britsch, Colin Chatterton and Holthus added singles.
The game featured three sibling rivalries: the O’Boyles, Nate and Grant Rimington, and Jeremy and Josh Burgener, along with the brothers Hutchison for the Alumni.

“We had a lot of fun up there,” Patrick O’Boyle said. “We just went up there and took our hacks, and things turned out on the good side.”
And the boss on other Senior Legion game days gladly concurred.
“It was just about having fun, and I was happy with the way we played in spite of the mistakes,” Doug Jones said.

And after nearly three hours and nine innings, it was time to celebrate — for both teams, who on a Wednesday, July 4 afternoon had the chance to celebrate their freedom by playing a game of America’s pastime and that night raised food and drink to a star-spangled festival of fireworks.

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