Howard Herman: A quiet July 4 leads to a look back at some recent local baseball games

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It was a very, very quiet Fourth of July in Berkshire County.

That's because the events that we're used to going to did not happen. No fireworks at Wahconah Park, Joe Wolfe Field or Tanglewood on this Independence Day. No baseball games in Pittsfield or North Adams. No Independence Day Race on the Pittsfield Fourth of July Parade route.

To say they were all missed would be an understatement.

I have often said that if sports editor Geoff Smith and I decided to play chess on the pitchers mound at Wahconah Park on July 4, and we promised to shoot off fireworks afterwards, 5,000 folks would be there to watch us move those little chess pieces around. That's how big, and how important July 4 games are to Berkshire County.

The SteepleCats have been playing Independence Day games since joining the NECBL in 2002. The Suns have been at home every season since they joined the Futures League in 2012. Both teams have had outstanding fireworks shows in each of those seasons. The baseball, however, has been hit-and-miss, so to speak.

The SteepleCats have had the better of things on July 4. North Adams had won its last four games on the holiday, and are 8-1 in their last 10 Independence Day games. That includes a rain out in 2014. In fact, in 17 seasons of Independence Day games at The Joe, the SteepleCats are a pretty good 11-6. They missed games in 2007 and '14 because of rain.

A couple of those games were fairly memorable for the fireworks on the field, as well as those in the skies over Route 2.

We go back to 2003, the SteepleCats' second year, and they dropped a 12-10 decision to Danbury. There were a combined 29 hits in that game.

The SteepleCats led 5-3 when the Westerners erupted for nine runs in the top of the eighth. North Adams came back with two in the eighth and three in the ninth, but could not push the tying run across.

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Then there was the fireworks show in 2008, in a game won by the SteepleCats 16-8. It too was against Danbury.

This game had 24 runs, 39 hits and 10 errors — seven by North Adams. Paul Hoilman went 3 for 5 with five runs batted in. There were, believe it or not, no home runs in that game.

The Suns have had a bit less success on July 4, having won three of seven contests. Their game in 2014 was, like in North Adams, rained out.

The first time the Suns took the field on July 4, they earned a 2-1 win over the Seacoast Mavericks, a team that is no longer in the Futures League. Pittsfield scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning and reliever Adam Krebs allowed one base runner in a scoreless ninth to record the save.

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Then there was a big night for Izaiya Mestre. The former Taconic standout got the start in front of 5,582 fans on July 4, 2018. Mestre gave up a run on three hits, walked two and struck out four in four innings. He got a no-decision, but the Suns hung on for an 8-7 win over Brockton.

Hopefully, next summer, the crack of the bat will echo at Wahconah Park and Joe Wolfe Field before the fireworks go off.

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Before we close, a word about a now-former Eagle colleague who retired on Friday.

For some three decades, Bill Everhart has been a guiding hand behind this paper's editorial page. Some of you may not remember that he was once a sportswriter.

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When I arrived at the old building on Eagle Street, Bert — as we all know him — was one of the beat writers for the Pittsfield Cubs and he was the high school boys basketball writer. He later took over the Pittsfield Mets beat, until moving into editorials. I replaced him at Wahconah Park and in high school gyms across the county.

I was the Associated Press correspondent for Cubs games, back when the AP ran writeups on every minor league team. So Bert and I, along with the late Ray Lamont, used to spend our nights at Wahconah Park watching the Cubs.

One night, during the 1986 season, the Cubs were getting their tails kicked. So manager Tom Spencer decided to use first baseman Phil Stephenson to pitch. That way, Spencer could save some arms.

So Stephenson, who pitched in three games and did not give up an earned-run, finished the game by tossing a scoreless ninth. We gravitated to Stephenson's locker to ask him when the last time the Cubs first baseman had pitched.

There was a little bit of laughter, and then the next thing you knew, from across the room came a pair of pinstripe pants that landed on my shoulder. Now, I cannot remember who threw the pants, but if that player had shown the arm on the field, he might have been a star in Chicago.

A little more laughter, then Bert and I beat our retreat out of the clubhouse.

I imagine that never happened when he wrote editorials.

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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