By Tim “Shoe” Sullivan
“There’s a long drive to left…it’s back at the wall…it might be…it is — home run for Brian Brooks — and the Guns win 10-9! Holy cow!”
Those were the words and shouts of an elated Ron Carlson, the official announcer of the fourth annual Guns N’ Hoses charity softball game. The epic battle was a thriller at the historic Cub Mancheski Field in Bukolt Park, and former SPPD Assistant Chief Carlson was on hand to call the action Saturday morning along with his booth partner Gary Wescott, a former Stevens Point mayor.
The Hoses, a softball team made up of Stevens Point firefighters, had bested the Guns — comprised of police from Stevens Point and Plover, along with Portage Co. deputies — the past three years, and the cops were trounced last summer by the tune of 23-10. This year, the law enforcement men were clearly out for revenge.
“The fire guys have youth and speed on their side,” Carlson said before the game. “Their pitcher, Casey Bielen, is the second coming of Ted Williams. Personally, I think the cops would do better in football against them. But whatever happens, this game is a great example of our community coming together to help our veterans, and I’m very proud to be a small part of it.”
As usual, there was a lot of trash-talking before the game.
When asked why the law enforcement team has lost for the past three years, Sheriff Mike Lukas said, “Well, [firefighters] always get a lot of practice time. We’re always on call and out solving crimes while they’re nice and comfy playing video games. We try to make them feel good by letting them win. They need a lot of love.”
“They get all that extra rest,” chimed in Stevens Point Assistant Police Chief Tom Zenner. “We’d have a better chance if [firefighters] stopped paying off the umps. You never know what they’ll pull next.”
In turn, firefighters fired back.
“I’ve seen some of them shoot; I’m not worried,” said Assistant Fire Chief Jodi Baganz.
“We’ll win again,” said Hoses center-fielder Frank Minervini III. “It’s like Deion Sanders said: You look good, you feel good. You feel good, you play good. You play good, you get paid good.”
By the way, Minervini also holds the “Radar Run” record by the Fire House.
The game was umpired by Stevens Point Mayor Mike Wiza at third base, Plover President Tom Davies and first, and Dan “The Man” Mahoney behind home plate. The on-field announcer was Mike Kincaid of WGLX.
For the uninformed, the Guns N’ Hoses softball game was started by former Stevens Point Police Chief Kevin Ruder.
“We started this in 2014 as part of a fundraiser for the Portage County veterans,” Ruder said (For all you trivia buffs, Ruder was also the first “bicycle cop” in town). “It’s amazing how the city and people from all over get behind this. Over the last three years, we’ve helped to raise $115,000 for our veterans.”
“Any time we can help our veterans out, I’m excited,” said co-chair Traci Tauferner, who is a veteran herself.
Under a blue-gray sky with a slight drizzle in the air, the Hoses struck first with two runs in the opening inning. A walk to Frank Minervini, double by Casey Bielen, sacrifice fly by Dayton Budsberg, and singles by Quinn (the Mighty Quinn) Warner and Ben Molnar accounted for the two runs against the Cops’ righty Lance Lewis. Quinn is known to fall asleep at will and Budsberg, recently engaged, attended his first Justin Beiber concert last month.
The Guns got one run back in the bottom of the first when Jeff Sadelmyer reached first, moved to second on a walk to Dustin Kitzman, advanced to third on Joe Johnson’s single, and came home on a sacrifice fly by outfielder Brian Noll; 2-1 Hoses after one.
In the second, the Hoses got a solid double from Dan Congdon but he was left stranded at second. The Guns then followed with their best rally of the morning. They scored five runs thanks to walks to Mark Smallwood and Josh Ostrowski, plus doubles by Nate Shulfer and John Lawrynk. First baseman Matt McDonald then smacked a tape-measure homer to left. The cops, in a total shocker, led 6-2 after two.
The Guns’ lead increased to 8-2 after three when Jeff Coey doubled and shortstop Jeff Sadelmyer launched a towering homer to right that just missed hitting a kid fishing for carp in the Wisconsin River.
The firefighters picked up three runs in the top of the fourth. Minervini had his second walk of the game and Bielen slugged a two-run homer to left that home run tracker Bobby Sullivan claimed went 330 feet and would’ve been out of Miller Park. Kraig Arndt then doubled and scored on the Mighty Quinn’s single and we had a game again at 8-5 in favor of the fuzz.
Neither team scored in the fifth as Kraig Arndt made a great play for the Hoses at third and Brian Noll tracked down a long fly to center for the Guns; 8-5 Guns after five.
The game really started to get tense when the Hoses tacked on two runs, mid-rain, bringing the tally to 8-7. The two runs came in when Travis Koch singled and Jeremiah “The Bullfrog” Parker left the yard with a booming two-run blast. Joe Johnson’s solo home run in the bottom of the sixth put the score at 9-7. With the seventh and final inning coming up, the Guns were only three outs away from the upset.
At the top of the seventh. Minervini led off with a solid single and Bielen hit one of Lance Lewis’ offerings for a long two-run homer that’s probably still going. That blast tied it up at 9-9. Lewis held the Hoses scoreless over the remainder of their raps.
Brian Brooks came to bat at the bottom of the seventh, leading off for the Guns and with the score tied at 9.
“End it — don’t go for a single,” called left-fielder John Lawrynk from the Guns dugout. “Just end it!”
Brooks crushed a line-drive over the fence in left field, bringing the law enforcement team its first win, and a first-ever walk-off homer in Guns N’ Hoses history.
“I made up my mind not to swing at the first pitch,” Brooks said. “But Bielen put it right in my wheelhouse, and the rest is history.”
Color caller Ron Carlson almost jumped out of the score booth with excitement. SPPD Chief Marty Skibba was asked how it felt to finally win the Safety River Jug Trophy. After a long pause, he said, “Patience is sweet.”
Afterwards, Sheriff Mike Lukas referenced the friendly bet made between law enforcement and firefighter chiefs.
“Lunch will really taste good coming from Chief Finn,” Lukas said. “We bet a lunch but didn’t really specify what lunch. I’m gonna hold out for lobster.”
HOSES BATTING STATS: Frank Minervini III: two walks, single, three runs; Casey Bielen: two homers, double, three runs; Dayton Budsberg: single, sacrifice fly; Kraig Arndt: double, run; Quinn Warner: two singles; Ben Molnar: single; Dan Congdon: double; Travis Koch: single, run; Jeremiah Parker: single, homer; Ross Oestreich: two walks (good eye); Dennis Zvara (repaired a zipper in the dugout); Paul Mattlin (drives an ‘82 Trans Am around town; also father of the batboys); Justin Thomson (drives a Harley named “Miss Piggy”); Pete Ostrowski (likes Polka music and plays the squeezebox); Drew Egan (has the largest comic book collection in the department and has won spelling bees).
GUNS BATTING STATS: Jeff Coey: double, run; Jeff Sadelmyer (I think it’s really Sadlemyer but that’s the way they got it): homer, two runs; Dustin Kitzman: walk; Joe Johnson (captain of team): two singles, homer; Brian Noll: sacrifice fly; Brian Brooks: single, game-winning homer; Mark Smallwood: walk, single, run; Josh Ostrowski: two walks, run, good eye like Ross Oestreich; Lance Lewis: winning pitcher, made several good plays; Nate Shulfer: double, run; John Lawrynk: double, run; Matt McDonald: long homer; Junior Chojnacki: single, walk; Rob Roser: fine job at catcher; Mike Long: is into yoga).
Bottom line: The fans at Bukolt were treated to an outstanding softball game filled with fun, jokes and dead-serious competition. You couldn’t ask for a better ending. For their part, the players helped raise funds for a truly worthwhile cause in support of local veterans.
And it was great to have some of those vets on hand part in the festivities. If it wasn’t for veterans and their service to America, there wouldn’t be any softball games at Bukolt Park, and Cub Mancheski Field has to be one of the most beautiful baseball diamonds anywhere.