Winning three in Cooperstown
“It’s a long way to go to play baseball,” said team leader Chris Spiegel of Gypsum.
Given the distance, the Merchants were dealing with a constantly changing team roster, depending on when available players were able to get a few days off work for those really faraway games. The weather in Cooperstown in early July was hitting 98 degrees, with 99 percent humidity.
Still, team members posted three wins in four games. The Cooperstown adventure offered a rare opportunity for a number of local fathers and sons to play together on a field that is synonymous with baseball in the United States.
For years, historical accounts identified Doubleday Field as the site of the first baseball game, reportedly played in 1839. Modern-day historians have since disputed that claim.
However, Doubleday Field, with its backless wooden benches for fans and covered grandstand behind home plate, is home to the annual Hall of Fame Game every summer. To play a game there is to feel a part of baseball history.
“People want to play on Doubleday Field,” said Spiegel.
That statement is verified by the number of locals who turned up in Cooperstown for the opportunity to pay on a field just down the block from the Baseball Hall of Fame. Spiegel was accompanied by his sons Skylar Hootman, who plays baseball for Eagle Valley High School, and C.J., who served as the Merchant’s bat boy. The team also got an unexpected boost from Chris’ 60-year-old father, Bill, who traveled from Dubuque, Iowa, to participate.
Eagle resident Kraig Keltner recruited his son, Keegan, as a teammate. Tom Klahr, also of Eagle, brought along sons Nick and Brett. Former Eagle Valley High School baseball stars and brothers, Mike and Jarrod Reynolds, also journeyed Back East for the Cooperstown adventure. The remainder of the team was cobbled together from former teammates and friends of friends. There’s no doubt the players enjoyed the adventure.
“People want to play on Doubleday Field. When you’re out there in the field, you’re just in awe. You don’t want to hurt the grass,” said Spiegel, who organized the games with the New Jersey Angels, a semi-pro men’s team for players ages 30 and older through contacts he had made during a previous trip to Cooperstown.
The early July play dates were in the making since last January.
Like the Eagle Valley team, several members of the Angels wanted an opportunity to play with their sons on the historic field. All of the players were intrigued by the fact that the entire town essentially is devoted to baseball.
“It’s a baseball fan’s paradise,” recalls Spiegel.
Tom Klahr pitched most of the first game, posting a 12-6 win, helped by a 430-foot home-run bast from Kraig Keltner.
Only wooden bats are allowed on Doubleday Field. Bill Spiegel, who hadn’t played ball for 20 years, did some shopping and found a 36-inch, 40-ounce bat modeled after “Betsy” – “Shoeless Joe” Jackson’s famed bat.
Initially, Chris said he was worried his dad would get hurt. However, after the first game, when Bill Spiegel went four-for-five with a walk, concern changed to amazement. The older Spiegel’s hitting was consistent enough throughout the four games three kids sought his autograph afterwards.
The Merchants posted an 11-8 loss in their second game against the Angels, but rebounded upon the arrival of a trio of regular merchants arrived – the Reynolds brothers of Grand Junction, and Nick Luchycky of Gypsum.
The Angels brought their own surprise to that game – the two best pitchers from a younger age-group league in New Jersey.
Still, behind great pitching from Mike Reynolds and a good catching performance by Skylar Hootman, the Merchants were again able to claim the win, 5-1.
The fourth and final game proved to be the most thrilling. The
Angels threw their left-handed ace, unbeaten against the Merchants’ Jarrod Reynolds. Going into the eighth inning, however, the Merchants were on the losing end of a 2-0 score when Jarrod Reynolds got a base hit and Kraig Keltner drove him in. Bill Spiegel hit the game-tying single.
Luchycky, pinch-running for Spiegel, scored on a base hit from Brett Klahr to put the Merchants in the lead.
Ultimately, a double-play by Kraig Keltner in the ninth inning with the tying run on third base assured the Merchants’ win.
The Cooperstown adventure ended with three wins and an uncountable amount of fun.
The Eagle Valley Merchants, originally organized in 1990, recently finished second in their league. They are set to play in a tournament in Grand Junction on this weekend.