Two San Francisco Firefighters Donate First Place $500.00 Prize to Local 798 Firefighters Toy Program Again!
|By Nicol P. Juratovac|
Two San Francisco firefighters played their hearts out in the 13th Annual January 2004 Palm Springs Winter Classic Softball Tournament to go undefeated (5-0) and win the highly-coveted $500.00 first place prize. And if that was not enough, they donated the cash to the Local 798 Firefighters Toy Program, a tradition they initiated three years ago and continue to honor each year. As a result, a total of $1250.00 has been donated from their winnings to benefit the Citys disadvantaged children.
Both FF Janeen Gigi Pirosko (E38) and Lt. Nicol Nic Juratovac (E14) were at it again this year, determined to bring home the top prize in the Womens Competitive Division. Although their team won the grand prize of $500.00 in their first year of participation in 2002, they came up short last year in 2003 and brought home to the Toy Program the meager third place prize of $250.00. This time, the two women were motivated to make 2004 mean something special again.
The tournament, sponsored by the City of Palm Springs Department of Parks and Recreation, offers a mens competitive, mens recreational, womens competitive, and womens recreational divisions in the tournament. There were a whopping 90 (not a typo) mens teams and ten womens teams that entered the tournament this year, all competing for the big bucks to donate to their favorite charity.
The two ball-playing firefighters knew that this years approach had to be different if they wanted to win more money for the Citys underprivileged kids. They could not settle for another third place finish. The question then that was etched in their dogged minds was, Why settle for $250.00 when the tourney is handing out $500.00?! Consequently, the gritty (not to mention pragmatic) women were out to win it all in 2004. Besides, as Gughi-trained firefighters, they knew that Lt. Albert Gughemetti (SFFD ret.), in his many years of experience as the manager of both the Red Team (SFFD mens team) and Pink Team (SFFD co-ed team), would not have wanted it any other way.
Despite their focused and eyes on the prize attitude, the duo understood that winning the entire tournament was not going to be without challenges. The team, composed of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Toronto ball players, was missing a few key sluggers, along with some much-desired speed in the outfield, due to injuries and players inability to secure time off of work. For example, FF Alexandria Alex Alexander was sorely missed for her lightening quickness and occasional ability to go yard. It should be noted that other San Francisco firefighters have participated in this worthy tournament in years past, such as FF Kimberly Kim Grinton and FF Nikki Divecchio.
Still, in lieu of making excuses for that which the team lacked, the two resolute athletes concentrated on doing their job on the field and playing small ball to muster the necessary runs. The infield was solid around the horn with Juratovac at short, while the outfield was ready, willing, and able to track down towering shots with Piroskos diving catches leading the charge. They both endured scrapes and bruises to prove that getting dirty is a prerequisite to playing hard.
The Blues, as their team is called, consists of part-time umpires who continue to play the game of slow pitch softball. The team originally came together to show players that umpires can play ball and have fun without whining about supposed poor calls. Although many of the players are committed to their regular womens and co-ed tournament teams (in addition to their umpire schedules), the athletes manage to come together each year to play in this charitable tournament. Juratovac, a San Francisco local and Galileo High School All-City athlete, represented the Northern California-bred ball players on the team, while Pirosko, once a member of the nationally-ranked Lakerettes Slow Pitch team out of Ohio, represented the Northern California transplants.
Although many of the opponents cry foul and swear that The Blues is a ringer team consisting of crème de le crème ball players throughout California, these opposing teams nonetheless obtain their share of star-studded players for a true show down of home run swinging and situational base hitting. With most, if not all, of these athletes having played college ball, it is no wonder competition is fierce to drive home runs for each teams choice of charitable organization.
The Blues came out Saturday morning to an aggressive start against Bent, a Los Angeles squad that took first place last year. The Blues knew that Bent was a team to jump on early in the game, as they are known to get on a roll with consistent base hitting and productively moving the runners.
Much to everyones surprise, however, the game turned out to be a pitching duel between two slow pitch softball hurlers. This battle on the hill, coupled with superb defense by both teams, resulted in a 3-0 win for The Blues. In fact, with a precious 50 minute time limit format for each game, both Juratovac and Pirosko contributed by going 2 for 2 and 1 for 2 at bat, respectively.
The second game was a bit more intense against Long Beachs Title Nine in that The Blues were forced to manufacture a 9 to 1 come-from-behind win for an exciting bottom of the seventh inning huge doggie-pile finish at home plate. With the final score of 10-9, The Blues turned a much hitless game for them into one that woke up all the bats late in the last inning.
Admittedly, this was one of those games where Title Nine not only got all the breaks with Texas leaguers that dropped just past the mitts of The Blues players, but they also punch and Judy hit The Blues defense to near-defeat. That Title Nine mastered the game of small ball using much of the ball park real estate was an understatement. They dominated with their approach of hitting them where they (The Blues) were not. Hit to the right and take two was also Title Nines mantra throughout the game.
It was not until the fire in the two firefighters came alive that the bats of all The Blues players lit up. It was flashover time with Pirosko and Juratovac buzzing the tower with their line shots up the middle to load up the bags. All of a sudden, hitting was contagious. What was once an eight-run deficit in the bottom of the seventh transformed into a three-run climb.
Finally, with the tying run on third and the winning run on second, two outs were displayed on the board. All that The Blues needed was a base hit to drive home both runs for the blue (the real blue) to call it a ball game. Unfortunately for The Blues, the defense displayed a shallow outfield, so when a Blues player muscled a base hit to drive in the tying run, the winning run ended up getting thrown out at third, as a Blues player over slid the bag. Title Nines third baseman kept the tag on The Blues players forearm despite a beautiful attempt by the runner to slide away and reach for the bag with her right hand.
Consequently, this third out turned the match into in a tie ball game where the international tie breaker rule was implemented. With some incredible pitching of high and deep strikes, The Blues managed to close the door with three outs in a row for their turn to capitalize with a fresh new inning and a runner on second. And in true competitive spirit, it took one base hit, this time deep in the gap, to drive home the winning run.
Game three against a San Francisco team called the Panthers was almost a repeat of the previous game against Long Beach, as it was yet another come-from-behind win. This time, The Blues faced a five-run deficit versus eight. Still, The Blues again managed to muster enough runs to win 10-4 despite weather conditions that plummeted from a warm 75 degrees to a blistering 40 degrees (read: January is probably not a good month to be playing ball in the mountains) late in the afternoon.
Nonetheless, as San Franciscans, the firefighters were unfazed by the cold and fog. And in true City style, The Blues came prepared, as Pirosko pulled out her SFFD sweat pants, and Juratovac threw on her old Ben Davis to remain warm. Gughi would have been proud.
With the challenge of not giving up despite facing uphill battles in each game, The Blues sailed through the rest of the tournament in games four and five, winning the championships on Sunday morning 13-1.
The Blues wish to thank Local 798 Firefighters Toy Program for allowing the team to donate their winnings to such an invaluable cause. The team looks forward to increasing their winnings in 2005 and assisting even more disadvantaged children who are not as fortunate as others. The Blues recognize that winning in the name of the Citys kids is easy when it is done through team work, camaraderie, and having a good time.
|Photos Provided By Nicol Juratovac|