Local softball team fights its way to the finals

BY VICTORIA SIEGEL, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

For the first time since they joined the International Jewish Men’s Slo-Pitch Softball Tournament (IJMST) five years ago, the St. Louis RiverDawgs (Dawgs) made it into the finals.

The team, captained temporarily by Steve Tucker of Shaare Emeth, had a 5-1 record heading into the playoffs held on Monday, Sept. 1. “This is only the second time we’ve been in the playoffs and the first time we’ve made it to the finals,” said Mark Michelson, chair of the 2008 St. Louis IJMST Organizing Committee and first baseman for the Dawgs. “It’s very exciting.”

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The tournament began with 16 teams playing three games each on the morning of Saturday, Aug. 30. The Dawgs beat a team from Chicago, 8-7; won another close one 4-3 against the Hamilton, Ontario team; and lost a high-scoring game to Vancouver, British Columbia 18-14. On Sunday, fueled by the 2-1 record from the day before, the Dawgs went 3-0 and logged high-scoring wins against the St. Louis Heat, 17-6; 24-6 against the team from Las Vegas, and beating one of the Montreal teams 17-6. “We were among only three teams that went 5-1,” Michelson said. “We were seeded third for the playoffs, based on run differential.”

This tournament of slo-pitch softball teams from across the United States and Canada occurs every year over the Labor Day weekend and began 30 years ago (see story). This year was the first time a tournament had been held in St. Louis. Another first this year was the addition of the second St. Louis team.

One of the other reasons for the Dawgs’ success was a very personal one. On Friday, as the tournament organizing committee was putting the finishing touches on their hard work, Ben Sandmel, manager of the Dawgs and one of the key members of the organizing committee, had to leave the festivities to enter the hospital for an injury he had sustained in an earlier practice game.

“We were playing for Ben,” Michelson said. “It was a big deal on our bench and we talked about him the whole time.” In fact, on the day of the finals teammates and their family members were sending Sandmel text messages at the end of each inning with score updates. In addition to losing their manager, the Dawgs also lost their starting pitcher when Sandmel was sidelined. Fortunately, Tucker stepped up to manage the team in the interim and to take over as starting pitcher.

On Monday, a hot and steamy Labor Day, in the first round of the playoffs the third-seeded Dawgs faced off against sixth-seeded Las Vegas. After beating Vegas 17-10, the Dawgs immediately began the semi-final match against Winnipeg/Detroit Crown Royals winning 7-3. This brought them into the finals for the first time and brought them face-to-face against a strong team with a history of winning: the Detroit Motor City Hit Men.

The Dawgs were the first to put a number on the scoreboard and remained in the lead until the fourth inning when Detroit tied the game. The Dawgs fought hard and held their own up until the sixth inning when Detroit put three more in the runs column and St. Louis only responded with one. In the final inning, both teams scored one run, making the final score Detroit 5, Dawgs 3.

“We played hard but we didn’t hit,” Tucker said after the game. “It was our first time in the finals. We feel exhausted but we were great this year; Detroit played great. Detroit has won before and will probably win again. I’d play these guys anywhere, anytime.”