FAYETTEVILLE, N.C.—The moment came in Anthony Williams’ first inning of managing at The Swamp since being named the field manager for the Fayetteville SwampDogs in the fall. While managing Division 3 baseball for the University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg Bobcats during this weekend’s tournament in front of his new summer team’s fans, Williams was forced to remove his starter trailing by six with the bases loaded and just two outs into the start of the season.
The starter, visibly frustrated by all the malfunctions that go along with seeing 11 hitters in the first inning bolted for the dugout as soon as Williams touched the base of the mound practically dropping the baseball in his manager’s hand. The precursor to the sport-show-highlight meltdowns that run on repeat and make the blooper reels for years to come when they are caught on camera. Not that the kid could be blamed for his emotions bubbling to the surface.
But Williams’ moment would have been unnoticed almost anywhere else. The skipper simply stopped his pitcher with a his left hand while clutching the baseball with his right, said a quick and simple message to his exiting player, changing the starter’s posture on his way to the dugout. While it did not become a turning point for the Bobcats, its certainly prevented an unraveling.
The three runners left on base scored on a bases clearing double, instantly digging the Bobcats into a 9-0 hole. UPG pushed a run across in the bottom of the inning, but would fall down by as much as 13 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning. And that’s where Williams’ moment beam doubly meaningful.
Most teams would let the final innings of a 14-1 game slip away in preparation for the next game, just like most managers may let a frustrated starter slip into the dugout to vent his emotions early in the season. Writing each of those situations off is practically commonplace in baseball.
The Bobcats, however, scored 11 runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to tighten the ballgame and pull within two runs displaying hard-work, toughness, and heart in the process. The team spent a ton of effort just to get back into the game, utilizing every out, even though the second game of the double-header was coming up just minutes after the conclusion of the four hour marathon.
The first game at The Swamp for Anthony Williams since being named the manager of the SwampDogs seems to a perfect introduction for fans wondering what to expect from the team this summer. A hard working, baseball intelligent, and resilient team can only be led by a manager who has those same traits. Still, the hard fact remains that baseball success is cruelly measured strictly on wins and losses.
Heading into the final day of the tournament, Williams’ Bobcats were set to square off against his alma mater, the Frostburg State Bobcats who came into the day ranked 10th in Division 3 with a pristine 5-0 record. The matchup provided another series of challenging moments for Williams and his club.
Pitt-Greensburg scored first and held a Frostburg lineup, that had put up over 20 runs in the day prior, scoreless for much of the game. Perhaps there is some depth to the effect that Williams’ handling of his starter in the season opener had on his entire club, as UPG held a 4-1 lead in the top of the ninth before Frostburg would rally to make the game 4-3 with the bases loaded and just one out. Pitt-Greensburg sealed the win thanks to a double play, third to home, when the catcher was de-cleated by the home-bound runner from third, resulting in a runner interference call to end the game. The win was, simultaneously, the first of the year for Williams’ Bobcats and his alma mater’s first loss of the year.
“Its nice to see after three games, against really good opponents, that we can stick together and find ways to scrap and claw,” Williams reflected after the win. “Thats what we are; a scrappy team that’s blue collar, and that’s the way we want to be and that’s the way we like it.”
Add the coach’s description of his team, to the qualities that help to best describe his coaching style. All of those adjectives are ones that have been used by coaches to describe the players coming to the SwampDogs roster for this summer, which may just be the reason why the coach selected them to begin with.
This weekend, those attributes were on full display through Williams’ Greensburg team through three games worth of similar moments and make for a very exciting preview of the SwampDogs 2016 season.