By Trey Williams
After telling players for 22 years that there’s no crying in baseball – and doing a good Tom Hanks impression in the encouraging process – coach Bill Dunham found himself in a league of his own Friday at Lion’s Field.
His Lakebridge team won the Little League city tournament with a 3-2 triumph against the Bucs, and it put a lump in his throat.
Dunham, who is hanging up his coaching cap, had to miss the title game due to work when his Gregory Isbell Company team won the championship in 2006, and it appeared that’d be the case this year. Dunham’s son Phillip and his wife were traveling from Denver to Nashville for a wedding, and Dunham and his wife (Bonnie) had long ago planned to meet them in Knoxville for dinner.
Dunham initially thought it “a good omen” to miss another championship, but liked Phillip’s thinking better.
“The phone rings at work and it’s my son and he goes, ‘Do you want to go to the game tonight,’” Dunham said. “I said, ‘What the hell do you think? Of course, I want to go to the game.’ He said, ‘Fine, Candace and I will drive up. We’ll have dinner with you there and you can go to the game.’ He about made me cry.”
Lakebridge went 15-5 during the regular season to finish second behind the Bucs (17-3), who had beaten Lakebridge in 3 of 4 regular-season meetings. The championship was the fourth one-run decision in the teams’ five games.
Caleb McBride tripled and scored, and allowed one unearned run in four innings for the victory in the championship. Nathan Trout’s two-out groundball to third scored Jake McCallister to give Lakebridge a 2-1 lead in the fifth. Austin Denham followed with a bases-loaded walk.
The Bucs made it interesting. Avery Stewart began the final frame by reaching on an error. After McBride retired the ensuing two batters, Zane Huff walked and Kaylee Oler singled to score Stewart.
Suddenly, the tying run was at second with leadoff batter Daniel Pogue at the plate. But McBride ended it catching Pogue’s pop-out.
“Kaylee Oler came up and got a huge hit to keep them in the game and with Daniel Pogue coming up I was really starting to sweat,” Lakebridge manager Bob McCallister said. “Caleb’s a fairly steady pitcher. I don’t think he gave up an earned run until the final week of the season. … In the end, the Bucs had a great year and got the regular-season title and we had the city championship.”
McCallister was happy for Dunham, his baseball geek of a neighbor who initially invited him to coach with him.
“The boys enjoyed him, the parents enjoyed him,” McCallister said. “You could always hear him yelling to outfielders where to stand – behind the patches, in front of the patches. Somebody said we should name the patches on Lion’s Field ‘Dunham’s Patches.’ It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience getting to coach with him.”
McBride and Jake McCallister, a hard-throwing 11-year-old who pitched the first two innings, were assisted by teammates. First baseman Gavin Johnson caught two line-drives, including a lunging grab to rob Jacob Pealer. Austin Denham made a long running catch in center field to deny Pogue an extra-base hit.
“He made a spectacular catch in center,” Bob McCallister said.
McBride tripled and scored on an errant throw to lead off the bottom of the first.
“That’s probably the fastest I’d ever seen Caleb run when he was coming around second,” McCallister said. “That was the most prepared and focused and ready that I’d seen them all year. And a lot of credit goes to my other assistant, Raymond McBride, who really got ‘em going before the game with a great speech.”
McBride was denied another hit in the fourth when second baseman Jackson White backhanded a sharply hit ball and threw in time to first. Joe Johnston was 2-for-2 with a walk and McCallister was 1-for-1 with two walks. Andrew Denham walked twice.
Pogue singled in the first, was sacrificed to second by White and scored on Jose Chavez’s two-out double. White walked twice, Pealer was 1-for-2 with a walk and Stewart lined out and reached on an error.
“Our kids had a great season with a JCALL championship … and making the tournament finals despite Daniel Pogue not being 100 percent,” Bucs manager Mike White said.
“Daniel was our ace this year and has been recovering from a shoulder issue. But despite that he was a trooper all week at first base and even asked to go to the mound and gave us all he had when Jacob Pealer reached his pitch limit in that fifth inning. Our other pitchers like Pealer, Jose Chavez, Damian Mejia, Jackson White and Baylor Brock really stepped up this week to get us to this point. …
“As tough as it may have been for us to come up short, I’m really happy for Bill Dunham and Bob McCallister. For Bill to go out with a city tournament win after 20-plus years of service to the kids in our league is something special.”
White will manage the 12-year-old All-Star team. The zone tournament starts July 5. His staff includes McCallister.
As for Dunham, he’ll exit with a wail of a walk-off win.
“That was my post on Facebook,” Dunham said, “‘Apparently I’ve been wrong all along; apparently there is crying in baseball.’”