On a windswept afternoon at the London Marathon Community track, East London’s finest sporting venue, dozens packed into the main stand to watch the King’s College London River Rats face the UCL Capitals for the second ever Varsity Baseball game. With exciting seasons for both sides of the capital, the true success of their respective seasons would be measured on this glorious day on a muddy football field with some cones shaped as a baseball diamond.
After a 2-0 lead to our boys at the bottom of the first was turned into a 4-2 UCL lead at the top of the second and back into a 4-4 game at the bottom of the second thanks to some magic from Kevin Chuang and Kyohi Hayano, the ballpark was really coming to life. With momentum swinging between the teams like a Newton’s cradle, UCL struck the first major blow. After five unanswered points, the third inning was ended with the “mercy rule” (where the inning immediately ends if a team scores five runs). The game was in the River Rats’ hands, who had to answer quickly.
Tom Binnie, MVP candidate and a true British Barry Bonds, took the game by the scruff of the neck and dragged an extra run in for the team before more smart plays and walks finished the Whites’ comeback, ending the fourth inning with a mercy rule, “The mercy rulers become the mercy ruled” coined one of the KCL Radio commentators next to me in the press box (well-protected from the elements outside). However, the massive exchange of points wasn’t going to stop soon, as the Capitals put their own shift in, taking another five point lead to the bottom of the fifth.
As players prepared for the next inning we were joined upstairs by the day’s designated noise maker (not whoever was on the aux, choosing to mix Guns and Roses with the Chainsmokers?), Edward, who was manning the drum in the stand (obviously a River Rats fan, as ‘supporting your team’ is an unknown activity to our godless friends uptown). Ed, who’s been drumming for about a year, kindly explained that the drums were his way of communicating his passion and anger into a way that helps the boys on the field, something he promptly returned to do as the sixth inning beckoned. Cheers Ed, good to know that the Strand faithful will be there wherever we are.
America’s favourite pastime was quickly becoming mine too, as the ball got rolling again. UCL took the game head-on after some points were exchanged, storming to what everyone thought was another five point lead, before the umpire deducted two runs due to a runner interfering with play. Game back on. The scoreboard now stood at 15-11 as Dhruv Gandotra, Dubai’s own Babe Ruth, stepped up to the plate… and smashed it all the way out of the park for a home run. 15-12.
The game had now turned defensive, as everyone knew that a winner had to be chosen by the bottom of the Seventh. The River Rats keep it very tight outfield, keeping their black-clad counterparts from putting any more points on the board before taking the field themselves. With our boys back on the field, the momentum switched back on. UCL failed to deal with a steal as we run one in with the inspirational Kazumo Yoshikawa on third base, who then runs it home to make it fifteen apiece at the bottom of the sixth.
With the game perfectly poised, everything was now up for grabs in the seventh inning. Despite two huge defensive plays at the top of the seventh, the blasting wind and some difficulty pitching meant the bases were now loaded. Walk. 16-16 UCL. Low hit. 17-15 UCL. Fumbled pitch. 18-15 UCL. River Rats ball to decide the game. UCL get an out and two strikeouts from the get-go, meaning that they only need one out to win the ballgame. An eerie silence descends upon the field. The River Rats batter gets a walk, then steals second. Ball fumbled by the UCL catcher and Tatsia Hiroka steals home to make it 18-16. Scott McLean, the Strand’s own American hero, proceeds to steal second and third on his own. He’s now on third with a batter at the mound. Ball one, foul ball. Ball two, foul ball. Ball three, strike, Ball four, strike. Game on the line… Ball five, strikeout. Game over.
Just like that, three hours of riveting baseball had passed and while the Capitals took the win, the River Rats put up an incredible fight that went right down to the wire. On to the next one boys and girls…