Winning for Kids … San Francisco Style
By Nicol P. Juratovac
In the last five years, two San Francisco firefighters raised a total of $1750.00 for the San Francisco Firefighters’ Toy Program hitting, sliding, and sacrificing their bodies on dirt and grass. And in true San Francisco Fire Department form, armed with grit, determination, and aggressiveness, Nicol “Nic” Juratovac (E14) and Janeen “Gigi” Pirosko (E38) once again brought back to their City another first place trophy and a $500.00 grand prize check that they received playing ball in the 14th Annual Palm Springs Winter Classic.

Sponsored by the Palm Springs Recreation and Park Department, this slow-pitch softball tournament generates over 100 men’s and women’s teams each year from all over the country. Juratovac and Pirosko’s team, called The Blues, is a women’s team that has played in the tournament’s women’s competitive division since the year 2000.

Although all of The Blues players play on various tournament teams throughout the year, this talented group of women athletes from San Francisco and Los Angeles come together each year to play in this special charity tournament. During a time when tournament winnings usually consist of t-shirts and trophies, this tournament gives monetary awards to which winning teams may designate their charity of choice.

The team is called The Blues because all of the women are also part-time umpires. The idea behind the name, as well as the team itself, was generated by many of the women getting tired of umpiring games with players who constantly complained about “bad” calls. By forming a team of umpires, these women wanted to show other ball players that one could play this wonderful game and be a class act instead of whining about “bad” calls.

Year after year these women have been getting together to go to bat for the kids of San Francisco. It is clear that they love to play the sport of softball, enjoy the beauty of the game, and find it worthy to play hard in order to raise money for the City’s needy kids through the San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program. As these women see it, there is no sense in trying to win yet another tournament to win yet more meaningless t-shirts or trophies that will end up in someone’s garage when they can all get together once a year to play in this very special tournament.

The Blues played a total of seven games, winning the “if” game in the double elimination tournament by a bottom of the seventh single by Pirosko, driving in the winning run. This clutch hit by the hard-hitting right center fielder was critical, as it was against Title Nine, a group of smart veteran ball players who managed to beat The Blues in the game before. Both were one-run games, but the latter game resulted in a huge doggie pile finish at home plate for The Blues.

That the tournament was a shoo-in for The Blues based on its auspicious performance in previous years was pre-mature thinking at best and dogmatic thinking at worst. After all, despite The Blues being equipped with savvy base hitters, opposite-field hitters, and ball players who could go yard and drive it deep into the warning tracks, Juratovac and Pirosko understood that softball is a lot like firefighting in that nothing is routine. No game, like no emergency call, can be treated as routine. If such were the case, why keep score? Why even put on your cleats to play? One must still perform the fundamentals if one expects to complete the task at hand.

With the attitude of getting back to the basics, The Blues made sure that each at-bat in each game was a productive one. For example, when a runner was on first, it was evident that the batter was going to hit to the right side so as to allow the runner to advance to third. Then, it was automatic that the next batter was going to drive in that run with a sacrifice fly. With these selfless acts of team work and fundamental ball, The Blues mustered enough runs that resulted in wins.

Admittedly, The Blues got off to a sluggish start early Sunday morning for their 1000 game. This was the first time in a number of years where the bats were simply flat. Perhaps the 10 or more hours of sleep were just too much for these ball players, as they were used to the typical five hour sleep before game time due to a rough night out on the town. But because all the games were miraculously completed by early afternoon on Saturday, most of the ball players ate like gluttons (the Mexican food down in Palm Springs is excellent), took a dip in the hotel hot tub, and retreated to their beds early. It was no surprise that the average age on this team was mid-30s.

But there is a saying that one should not wake up a sleeping dog. After their 1000 game on Sunday, The Blues became that sleeping dog that was viciously (and finally) awakened. Thank goodness too, since something needed to fire up those $300.00 bats each of the players carry. It was beginning to be a shame that no player was doing justice to any of these “hot” composite bats.

Still, despite finally generating some runs for the better part of that Sunday morning, The Blues were constantly faced with a very powerful and resilient Title Nine that continued to answer each of The Blues’ runs with runs of their own.

Finally, it was not until the final game of the tournament with the bases loaded and just one out displayed on the score board, that Pirosko was up at the plate and the slick-fielding short-stop Juratovac was on deck. As the third and fourth batters in the line-up, respectively, Pirosko and Juratovac were confident that one of them was going to complete the job that they set out to complete and bring the tournament winnings back to the City’s kids, kids who come from low socio-economic backgrounds.

Before anyone knew it, Pirosko belted a solid line shot up the middle to score the winning run. All the Blues players cleared the dugout and ran up to the player scoring the winning run and then promptly ran up to Pirosko in excitement and relief. Indeed, The Blues had done it again…another first-place finish and another $500.00 to give to the San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program.

It is without a doubt that The Blues felt terrific to win yet another championship, particularly one that was a come-from-behind victory. But more importantly, it is without question that the win is even sweeter when it is for the City’s needy kids. The Blues would like to thank the San Francisco Firefighters’ Toy Program for giving a bunch of women athletes the opportunity to give something back by playing a kid’s game that has given so much to them throughout their own lives.

Photos provided By Nicol P. Juratovac


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