Twenty-four of Veto League’s most dedicated players met on the best minor league baseball field in America on August 26th. After a classic nine inning contest that ended with a walk-off hit, the ultimate victor was the River Bend Foodbank.
In the last game of Veto League’s 16th season, over 200 friends, family members, volunteers and players gathered for the All-Star Showcase and River Bend Foodbank Food Drive at Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport. Scott Raes’ Phenoms hosted Ryan Barton’s Gremlins. It was Raes’ night game captain debut, while Barton has his second opportunity – his first being in 2009.
Players voted on awards, which President Josh Paul presented before the contest began. Sophomore DJ Borkovec was the big winner, taking home three trophies for the President’s Award, Outfield Gold Glove (runner up Kevin Powell) and Playoff MVP (runner up Ryan Barton). The prestigious Member of the Year was earned by another sophomore, Mark Wishnia. The Most Improved award was a split vote, with nine votes each for veterans Nick Larson and Jim Wesson. Barton’s flashy glove at the hot corner earned him his first Infield Gold Glove in eight seasons of VLB experience (runner up Scott Ellefritz). Raes joined Anthony Reese as the only VLB players in history to be voted Most Valuable Player in back-to- back seasons (runner up Borkovec). Paul took home his third career Eick Sportsmanship Award (runner up Wesson). Finally, Rookie of the Year honors went to Rick Hoxie who led all rooks in hits, runs and triples (runner up Nathan Bates).
Fans were encouraged to bring non-perishable foods which would in turn be donated to the River Bend Foodbank. 80% of the food collection goes toward local Quad City families in need while to the remaining amount is given to surrounding counties. Last season, Veto League provided the Foodbank with 1,099 pounds. In the five previous games at Modern Woodmen, VLB has gathered over 3,500 pounds of non-perishable goods. The goal for this game was to break last season’s collection total. The estimated 200 fans filled up box after box of goods. River Bend Foodbank Agency Relations Coordinator Diane Erickson provided a total poundage, “An amazing amount! 1029 pounds of much needed food! Thank you so much, it is greatly appreciated!” According to their website, Veto League’s food drive total topped the last 17 River Bend food drives.
As far as the game went, defense made a rare appearance at a Veto League night game. In VLB’s five previous contests at Modern Woodmen Park, teams combined for an average of 33.8 runs. Through the first five innings, the score was uncharacteristically Phenoms 3, Gremlins 1. Despite battling the setting sun, pop outs and ground balls were routine plays. Both teams squandered bases loaded opportunities. Fans were on pace for a 1.25 hour game going into the 6th.
Barton told his team, “Gremlins come alive at night” and his players listened, plating six runs in the top half off Rick Ulloa, with many of those coming at the hands of Phenom errors. The 6th was also the only inning Captain Raes sat during the contest. Raes who won outfield gold glove in 2011 and 2012, is arguably the best outfielder in the history of Veto League.
However, the Phenoms responded in a very controversial bottom of the sixth. With no runs in, two outs and two runners on base, Hoxie stepped to the plate and crushed a Paul meatball to deep left-center. Off the bat, the PA announcer proclaimed, “A deep drive!” and began playing homerun music. Hoxie slowed to a homerun trot. However, the ball was never called a homerun, nor was it actually a homer. It hit between the padding of the wall and mesh fence on the wall and took a peculiar hop almost straight into the air, dropping in play on the warning track. The ball had never gone or touched above the outfield fence. A throw came from Greg Dutra to Mike Holst, who tagged Hoxie trotting into 3rd for what would have been the final out of the inning. Players were in stunned silence as they tried to rehash the play. VLB career homerun leader Bob Zerull found himself in an uncomfortable position as the third base umpire. With all eyes on him, he ultimately called the hit a homerun. Zerull made a comment afterward, “You can't have a Veto League night game without a home run. Sometimes you have to improvise.” The Phenoms would score once more in the inning, plating two earned and two “unearned” runs in the 6th.
Following the ten runs in the sixth, teams seesawed leads the rest of the way. The Gremlins went ahead in the 7th, only to have the Phenoms reclaim it in the bottom half, just to give it back to the Gremlins in the top of the 8th. The Phenoms scored two more in the bottom of the 8th to knot the game at 12s heading to the final frame.
The Gremlins scored a single run in the top of the ninth. However, the Phenoms put a runner in scoring position and Ellefritz extended the contest with an RBI single, tying it up 13-13. With an 0-for-4 line in the box score, Keith Youngs stepped up to the plate and collected a clutch single, moving Ellefritz into scoring position. Powell took advantage of an outfield shift, crushing Jeff Kilgard’s pitch to right-center, easily scoring Ellefritz in walk-off fashion. It was the closest Veto League contest in night game history.
Night game MVP was awarded to Hoxie for a 3-for-4 performance with three RBI and the contentious homerun. Also helping the winning effort was Borkovec’s 4-for-5 with a double, triple, two runs and two RBI. Ellefritz also collected four hits. On the Gremlins side, it was Mike Holst’s big night that kept them in the game. He went 3-for-4 with three RBI, two runs and a double. Bates, Todd Lopshire and Lenny DeBroeck also each had three hits for the Gremlins.
The league earned enough money from concession sales and donations to pay for a new L-screen and other miscellaneous equipment for the 2014 season. They are still seeking funds to build a field of their own.
Veto League will take a few month break and will plan to have a November weekend Fall Classic before officially ending the season.