From the wrong side of Williamsburg to the top of New York City baseball
This burst of urgent crowd energy transferred to catcher Ernesto Lopez, who led off Grand Street’s frame by turning on Corniel’s high, hanging curveball and sending it over the Midwood Ambulance Service sign down the left field line. 2-0, Grand Street.
Next year, Lopez, along with his batterymate, Gonzalez, will play at Louisiana State-Eunice, a junior college in the L.S.U. system, one of those random schools that Martinez somehow gets his players into. He’s a good prospect, but clearing the fence in high school is nonetheless a special feat: His teammates greeted him at home plate, momentarily mobbing him in the jump-moshing celebration of a walk-off home run. Then came the collective realization that it was still only a 2-0 game, and they reined it in.
"HEY THERE, YOUNG FELLA," A SCHOOL SAFETY officer said to a Dominican early-twenty-something on the G.W. side.
“They won’t sit down?” He pointed to the G.W. dugout, where the players were still standing, still clapping, still chanting. “Why not?”
The young man shrugged good-naturedly and said nothing. A moment later, Grand Street’s Gonzalez went back to work on the G.W. batters for the fourth inning, inducing a flyout for his eighth consecutive out. Gonzalez was eight outs away from a no-hitter, meaning that Grand Street was eight outs away from its first championship.
But G.W.’s next hitter, first baseman Bryan Mejia, waited for an off-speed pitch that stayed a little too high, and singled to center. Another single, then a G.W. bunt that was mishandled by Grand Street, and then another single loaded the bases.
G.W.’s right fielder Henry Rodriguez followed with yet another single to bring home his team’s first run. Like his teammates before him, he followed the formula of waiting an extra quarter-beat on an offspeed pitch before stroking it into the outfield. It was 2-1 Grand Street, but G.W. had the bases loaded and one out, and with that, the upper hand.
The next G.W. hitter, shortstop Henry Rodriguez, swung a moment too soon and popped up to the first baseman for the second out. The next hitter, Michael Richardson, fell behind 1-2 before ineffectually tapping a changeup between the mound and the first base line. Gonzalez scooped it up and tagged Richardson out in the baseline.
The gentlemanly restraint with which he did so, combined with his relief about escaping the jam with the lead still intact, left some pent up emotion: Two steps after tagging out Richardson, Gonzalez flailed his arms in the air and started socking his chest with his first. Cuas, running in from shortstop, slapped him on the shoulders, turned to him, and pumped two fingers down at the ground. Our house, our game, our championship season, the gesture said.
GRAND STREET LEFT THE BASES LOADED the following inning.
Then Gonzalez came back on the mound and got three straight outs.
Grand Street went quietly in its half of the sixth inning, sending the game into its final frame with the score still 2-1.
Eudalio Martinez, the 70-year-old father of the Martinez brothers, clutched his clipboard, the way he has for approximately 1,000 Grand Street Campus games since his sons took over the program. He wasn’t expected to be at the game, having undergone chemotherapy earlier for the leukemia that has taken a turn for the worse in the past year.
Martinez was one of two inspirational figures for Grand Street this year. The other was Quinton Ward, a seven-year-old who plays with Martinez’s twin boys in a little league at the Parade Grounds, and is battling lymphoma.
Both were on the Grand Street side, which at this point was receiving extra attention from School Security.
“Nobody in the aisles when the 7th inning starts,” one female security officer said to others. (All spectators at the game had to pass through metal detectors.) “Nobody upon nobody. Tell ‘em they gonna get locked up.”
A moment later, before the inning started, an announcement over the loudspeaker warned fans about storming the field after the final out.
“Please do not ruin this potential once-in-a-lifetime moment for the players,” the public address announcer said.
A Grand Street error put the first batter on, and a hit batsman by Gonzalez, on a 1-2 pitch on which he was trying to push the hitter off the plate, put the go-ahead runner on with one out. But then a lineout to left for the second out, and then a tapper back to the mound.
Gonzalez is short, especially for a pitcher, but the fiery, purposeful way he stalks about the mound indicates a command of his turf and of the moment. This was true on Friday: He saved his best for the biggest game of his life, and his best pitches for the biggest situations.
But his last throw of the night was his most unsure. Having fielded the ground ball, he gingerly stepped forward and aimed a short-armed a lob in the direction of first baseman Kelvin Flores. Flores sized up the parabola as if judging a fly ball. This one was catchable. He squeezed it with both hands, and Grand Street Campus became PSAL champions.