Local metropolitan area fans were treated to some of the best collegiate level baseball anywhere over the Fourth of July holiday weekend at the 2008 Joe Branzell All-Star Game in Vienna.
The showcase contest, in which the Clark Griffith League All-Stars, made up of players from Virginia, Wash., D.C. and Maryland teams, took on the Maryland Collegiate Baseball League All-Stars. The game took place on Saturday night, July 5 in the heart of Vienna at Waters Field.
The Clark Griffith League, made up of seven teams, hosted the game. The classic wooden bat All-Star game is named after Branzell, a longtime coach and supporter of the 63-year old Clark Griffith League. Branzell, who died in 1997, served as a scout for over 30 years with the old Washington Senators and Texas Rangers.
For baseball faithful who appreciate a hard-playing, fundamentally sound brand of ball, Waters Field was the place to be on Saturday night. Most of the contest was a pitching dominated affair as both teams used a handful of talented pitchers to keep the opposing offenses at bay. But it was a late-game home run by the Clark Griffith League team that changed the game’s momentum and led the home team to a dramatic 4-3 come-from-behind win.
With his team trailing 3-2 with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the eighth inning, A.J. Kirby-Jones, a first baseman for the Fairfax Nationals of the Clark Griffith League, gave his team a huge lift when he belted a high, towering, opposite field solo home run over the right field fence that tied the game at 3-3.
Two batters later, Mike Bokman of the D.C. Grays gave the Clark Griffith team the lead for good with a soft line-drive single into left field that plated teammate Nick Kuroczko (Vienna Senators), who had coaxed a walk following Kirby-Jones’ homer.
Tall right-handed pitcher Jimmy Dugan (Vienna Senators) of George Washington University retired the Maryland team’s side in order in the ninth, including two strikeouts, to earn the save and clinch the win for the Clark Griffith stars.
Gaining the mound decision for the winning team was JD Polcari (Fairfax Nationals), a right-hander from Burke who pitched just 2/3’s of an inning in the eighth in a short relief outing.
Kirby-Jones, a collegiate player at Tennessee Tech University, was not certain his home run was going to clear the fence when he hit the ball.
"It was one of those hits where you’re not sure," said Kirby-Jones, who started the contest as a Clark Griffith substitute. "I saw the outfielder backing up and saw the ball clear. It feels good to come through against a team like [the Maryland stars]."
Kirby-Jones, who competed in a pre-game Home Run Derby, said he enjoyed meeting and playing with stars from around the Clark Griffith League.
"It’s always fun and you are always trying to do the best you can for your teammates."
<b>INDEED</b>, it was an honor for the game’s players to participate in the high profile All-Star affair. And they did not take it lightly, wanting very much to play well in front of the large crowd that was on-hand on the warm, summer night.
"I feel pretty good being here and being selected to the All-Star game," said outfielder Juan Mujica (DC Grays), the Clark Griffith team’s leadoff hitter who singled and scored in the first inning to give his team an early 1-0 lead. "It’s a fun game, but we were trying to win. Every year you want to win this game for the Clark Griffith League. I like the [turf] field [at Waters]. There are no funny bounces."
The Clark Griffith All-Stars were under the direction of manager Chris Burr (Vienna Senators’ skipper). Throughout the night, he used nine different pitchers. Starter Daniel Tillman (McLean Raiders) was the only one to work more than one inning. Tillman, who plays collegiate ball at Florida Southern, allowed no runs, gave up two singles and walked none with one strikeout in his two innings of work.
Clark Griffith held a 1-0 lead through six innings. Maryland tied the score at 1-1 with a run in the top of the seventh, but the home team countered with a run of its own in the bottom of the seventh on an RBI double off the bat of Brant Jones (Fairfax Nationals) of Longwood University.
Maryland, however, scored a pair in the eighth to go up 3-2 before the Clark Griffith team rallied for two in the bottom of the eighth, spear-headed by the Kirby-Jones homer.
Overall, it was a great night of baseball in Vienna.
"It’s always fun getting together with guys you play against," said Clark Griffith third baseman Martin Parra (Vienna Senators), who walked and flew out deep to center field in two plate appearances. "There’s always the competition [of wanting to win]. That’s what the game is about, playing and competing. It was a close game."