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Two STLCC Employees Play in Record-Setting Baseball Marathon
July 13, 2012
(Editor’s Note: Jonathan Webb, St. Louis Community College’s sports information specialist who also coaches high school and summer baseball teams, participated in a record-setting baseball marathon – during a record-setting heat wave – to benefit a local charity. Following is his account of the experience.)
At 7 a.m. on July 3, 52 men, myself included, gathered on the infield at T.R. Hughes Ballpark in O’Fallon. While it may have been an early start for a ballgame, we planned to stick around for a while.
The two teams played for the next 60 hours, completing their game slightly after 7 p.m. on July 5. Our twofold mission was to set a Guinness World Record for the longest baseball game ever played, and more importantly, raise money for Backstoppers, a local charity that provides for the families of police and firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty. After two-and-a-half days of continuous play, both goals were achieved.
As a group, the game yielded a wide range of baseball experience. Some played at Division I colleges. Others were lacing up the spikes for the first time since high school. The two rosters featured firefighters, police officers, sports writers, radio hosts, as well as a host of other professions.
|Players feel the effects of 100-degree temperatures and
continuous play. (Photo property of Derrick Goold)
The amount of life experience for each player was just as varied. The youngest player was just 20 years old, a generation younger than teammate Paul Talaski, age 58. Talaski, a part-time photography professor at St. Louis Community College’s Meramec campus, was the oldest member of Team Traube Tents, though he still outpaced many of his teammates in innings played. Team Traube Tents who won the marathon game 249-202.
Ultimately, that score paled in relevance to the other numbers of the game. More than the score, the game was measured in time (60 hours, 11 minutes and 32 seconds), innings (169), and money raised for Backstoppers – more than $150,000.
The game was organized by Steve Pona and Chuck Williams, who have made record-breaking athletic events a way of life. The duo arranged their first Guinness World Record game five years ago, when the benchmark for baseball longevity was 32 hours, 29 minutes and 27 seconds. That record had been bested three times since, including another Pona-Williams game in 2009, which extended the record in excess of 48 hours. After that record was eclipsed by a group from Barre Town, Vt., last July, Pona and Williams sought to put some distance between themselves and the closest competitors. They sought numerous local players, including some who played in Pona’s and Williams’ previous record games.
After a series of ceremonies prior to the 7 a.m. start, the first pitch from John Massa of Team Liebe Lettering crossed the plate officially at 7:02 a.m. The two teams divided their 26-man rosters into two 13-man squads, which alternated every few hours to offer players a short break in an air conditioned tent, medical attention, a meal and if they were lucky, even a little sleep.
As a first-timer, I had little idea how to pace myself through a marathon game. I learned quickly. A mere 12 hours into playing in 104-degree heat, full-paced sprints around the bases and maximum-effort pitches were out of the question. The fine folks at SSM Physical Therapy, who were on-site throughout the event, got to know many of the players on a first-name basis by game’s end.
Pitching was simply a matter of survival. Nearly half of the game’s participants were called to the mound at some point, and quality was measured not in how many runs were allowed, but rather in how many minutes and innings were logged, and how quickly we were able to get our team back into the shady dugout. By the game’s second day, the pace slowed considerably. Hustle on and off the field each inning crawled to a slow walk.
As if we needed any reminder of how hot it was, an umpire, two players and a volunteer suffered from heat exhaustion on the final day.
But there was much more to the game than simply fighting through increased soreness in the hot summer sun. There was something unique about the opportunity to play through the night in an empty stadium, with no sounds other than cicadas and the occasional crack of the bat. Or to pitch at 4 a.m. and watch the sun come up while we played on.
During the day, the good-natured banter and ribbing that had given way to a relative silence returned in earnest. After all, how often do you get to brag about a 40-run lead in baseball?
From the moment players arrived at their lockers prior to the game’s first pitch, each received a tangible reminder of why the game was played. There, on the right sleeve of each jersey, was a patch with the logo of a local police or fire department.
As the game neared its end, the reminders continued. We received a visit from Rock Hill police officer Matt Crosby, who was paralyzed from gunshot wounds suffered after responding to a domestic dispute in 2010. It was people like Crosby and his family who served as a clear vision of the need for Backstoppers.
When 20-year-old Christopher Watson struck out St. Louis Post-Dispatch Cardinals beat writer Derrick Goold to conclude the game, the numbers noted above came to the forefront. The soreness would subside in the following days, as would the game’s notable moments and the subsequent dugout banter. But those numbers pale in comparison to the sense of achievement that comes from playing the longest baseball game and doing so for a worthy cause.
And that’s why we play the game.