2003 Firefighter’s Summer Olympics
“SF Turns Up The Heat…”
By Ricky Hui

During a week which saw record-highs in Northern California weather, the SF Heat was “turning up the heat” down south in Ventura County at the 2003 Firefighter’s Summer Olympics. Having played in the Police/Fire Games in Sacramento the week prior the team was nearly “softballed out…”. Back-to-back disappointing tournaments in Las Vegas and Sacramento had many of our spirit’s down. Talk of “hanging‘em up…”, “this is my last tournament…” and other frustrations loomed.

With two years in, this team was started on a whim, as I organized a group which included such characters as Paul Gallegos (E1), Kaeo Nakua (E8), Bob Coleman and Charlie Kwong (AP), Derek Wing (E15), and JR Chan (B10) to go play some softball and have some fun at the 1996 Firefighter’s Olympics. Needless to say, after two years of being abused on the softball field in Sacramento and Ventura, the team was disbanded. We changed our name to SF Heat from the Golden Dragons for Ventura, but never saw the 6th inning for two years. That same year, The House of Pain (another SF team) decided they didn’t want to partake in the annual beatings either.

In the summer of ’98, under new management, Mike Orlando (E1) and myself, we took a small group of die-hards: Al Wu (E13), Phil Lee (E1), John Choy (E1), Ramon Chea (E17), Ta’ape Tilafaiga (E7) from each team and uncovered some hidden softball talent, Greg Zanders (T19) and Rick Avilas (T9) in our ranks and played once again in Concord. A team that included such standouts as the “Salas-es”, Chris (E3) and Kevin (E1), Toy-King John Voelker (T9) and the late Frank Puccetti (RS1). The SF Bombers again went winless, but for the first time our team was actually competitive. We even had a late 10-run lead on the eventual Gold Medal winners, San Jose Fire.

That was enough to bring the Bombers back in ‘99 and travel down to Santa Ana. Ta’ape wanted to bring a friend, Chet Spirlin (T7). We finally won our first game and gave our own SF Red Team a run for their money in the first game of the tournament. Coming back to Sacramento, we played the 2000 Olympics as Rikishii’s Butts. That year’s probie class brought Jared Franklin (E15) to the team, although I only saw him hit mile-high pop-ups in the 798 League, the team had found someone to bat behind “Z.” The team took a major step by beating a Milbrae team that was one of the dominant teams in the tournament.

In 2001, not all things were bad with the “f***ing medics” (said only with love, baby!) … as Sean Bonetti (M8) lateralled into the department and onto the Heat. We also finally found a shortstop, Andre Brown (T13) and added Dwayne Curry (E29) to the roster after playing two years with the Red Team. I don’t need to further discuss our 2001 – 2002 Olympics as I have already covered them in previous articles … but basically all the parts were in place. But just like a new born baby, it took time for the parts to learn to work well together. Some last minute “fingers and toes...” Jason Reichard (M5), Pedro Gonzalez (E15) and Jack Chow (E9).

So, that brings us back to Ventura … with early bad news, losing our lead-off hitter, Dwayne Curry to a shoulder injury as well as John Choy to baby-sitting duties … the team would have to move on. Pool play started with a few minor adjustments to the line-up and wins over San Diego and LA 1st In. The next day we played an ‘ugly-game” vs. LA Big Boyz and lost 6 – 2 … both teams left their bats back at the hotels. In a “must-win” game for seeding, the Heat dispatched Kern Co. Fire. With the 2nd seed secured, the team was ready for the tournament. An early 8:00am game vs. Oakland was over early and we followed up with another win over San Jose, more on them later. This set us up for the biggest and toughest game yet in the tournament, a morning game vs. SF Fire. Early hitting and a little luck late helped us beat them 12 – 8 and keep us out of the dreaded “loser’s bracket.” The game also guaranteed our team the Bronze medal. We had finally did it … after all those building years … our team finally got it’s medal. Honestly, I was already satisfied, but the team didn’t let me feel that way for long, as our momentum kept surging.

We prepared ourselves to play the defending Gold Metal team, LA County Fire & Ice for at least the Silver. Our team squandered several early scoring opportunities, but Ta’ape was in the “Zone” and was pitching a shutout and was supported by beyond flawless defense. Finally, in the top of the 6th, we were able to push 3 runs across and led 5 - 1 going into the bottom of the 7th. After getting the all important 1st out, Fire & Ice scored a run and had the bases-loaded, one out and the middle of their order up. Once again, the defense cut their hearts out as Ramon Chea snatched a screaming line shot down the 3rd base line for the 2nd out. With the tying runs on base, their cleanup hitter lifted one out towards left field and as our outfielder squeezed the last out (W 5 – 2) … I realized now, that anything less than Gold would be a letdown. Unfortunately, nobody ever remembers who wins 2nd place. We waited anxiously for the next team.

Meanwhile, back in the loser’s bracket, SF Fire’s bats came alive as they beat San Diego Fire, but lost a tough game vs. San Jose Fire in extra innings … San Jose Fire was the talk of the tournament as they continued to climb back through the Loser’s Bracket after they lost to us earlier. On their way back up, they beat the likes of Ventura, Milbrae, SF Fire, and LA County Fire & Ice … and in their 5th game of the day, needed to beat the SF Heat twice to win Gold. Realizing that they were probably tired … we decided we should help them out by beating them quickly, so they could go rest. SF Heat turned “the heat way up” on them and put up 5 quick runs and continued to score every inning. Again, the defense quickly turned any offensive momentum they gained back to our side. By the top of the 5th we led 20–4 and 3 more outs was a mere formality. A routine grounder ended it … and that was it … GOLD!

What made winning so much more sweet was as I was passing out the medals, I was able to remember distinctly how, when, and under what circumstances each player came to become part of the team. Knowing our team’s humble beginnings and our slow, yet positive progression makes everything so much more satisfying. I guess I consider myself a sentimental guy, but isn’t that why we do the things we do? So, that in the end, we can look back at what you’ve accomplished or what you were a part of? I’m not saying that this is the end of the story, but definitely the end of this book for me … finally, all the emails, practices, organizing, collecting, phone calls, city leagues, tournaments, and all the lobbying, trying to sell our team to new players has paid off. In closing, now I know for sure that a team is only as good as the collective talents of all it’s players, not individuals. Whether it be in softball, our fire department, our families…” honor supra in Labore et Ludo … Honor Above All in Work and Sports…” Book II begins, July in Lake Tahoe.

Dedicated to my grandmother who passed away quietly, Thursday, June 26th, 2003.

Photos provided by Ricky Hui


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