Men's softball strikes competitive edge

BY CARLOS SOSA | JUNE 15, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Dirt Ball Bags and Team Christensen competed for that ever so valuable victory on Thursday. Team Christensen led, 14-13, with five minutes left at the Hawkeye Softball Complex. The high stakes gave the players what they came out for: competition.

The Iowa City league only allows 50 minutes of playing time, and each at-bat starts with a 1-1 count. For these two teams, however, those rules weren't important — just going out and playing in a competitive environment meant more than the eventual 15-14 Christensen win.

"I just wanted to stay competitive," said Sam Christensen, the captain of Team Christensen and a 2010 Iowa graduate. "This league allows me to compete."

Men are continually looking for a way to stay competitive. And for graduates who don't make the pros, there are recreational sports such as softball that keep that athletics spirit high.

"I play for fun," 2009 Iowa graduate Brent Jenn said. "I play for the team camaraderie and because it's fun to do in the summer."

Team Christensen held a 7-run lead going into the bottom of the fifth. The competition wasn't noticeably fierce up until this point. The game just went along, hit after hit. Run after run. The mood was light, but that changed.

A 7-run lead can be daunting, even for an major-league team, but the Dirt Ball Bags were confident they could pull out a win.

Derek Parker, who graduated from Iowa in 2011, stepped up to the plate with a runner on. With time running out, he calmly nabbed a single. This started a comeback.

"I'm from Iowa City and Matt [the Ball Bags captain] and I are friends, so he always calls me to play," Parker said. "It's a way to stay competitive and just something to do."

The Ball Bags were able to capitalize on the momentum after Parker reached base. Three more hitters reached base, including Matt Horan, who graduated from Iowa in 2009.

Team Christensen finally got three outs at the end of the fifth, but by then, its lead had been cut down to 1.

The sixth inning went quickly with both teams unable to score.

Then came the seventh. The allotted time for teams to play was running out, and the Ball Bags and Team Christensen took the field. Despite the league being recreational and formed just for fun, the players were anxious as they stepped into the batter's box and found their places in the field.

The seventh began with fewer than 10 minutes left, and all the players felt the pressure of the clock. Parker smacked another hit to reach base safely. The Ball Bags looked to capitalize with a man on base.

And they did.

Parker crossed home plate to tie the game at 14. The inning ended with a routine ground ball from shortstop to first. It was now up to Team Christensen to close out the game.

Jenn reached base with a triple. With two runners on, Nate Feldman stepped up to the plate.

With the calm of a professional baseball player, Feldman hit a single just out of the reach of the Ball Bags' second basemen for the victory.

The game ended shortly after the 50-minute rule, with Team Christensen the winners, 15-14.

Feldman and his teammates breathed a sigh of relief as they walked away from the field with their W, but the Ball Bags were smiling as well. They got what they came for: tough play with high stakes.

"I like the competitive edge that it keeps," Feldman said after the game. "We are pretty competitive people, so I think that's what brings us out, and we just like to have fun."

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