Attend Saturday’s 21st Annual WinterBall Game

On December 4, Maplewood Park in Malden will be hosting the 21st annual Winterball Baseball Game that benefits the U.S. Marines’ Toys for Tots program. 

This year’s contest will be a battle between the Sugar Cookies and Snickerdoodles, with players from the Boston Men’s Baseball League, Boston Amateur Baseball League, Commonwealth Amateur Baseball League, Yawkey Baseball League, and Boston Park League invited to participate. To play, players must arrive at the ballpark with one unwrapped toy that will be donated to the Toys for Tots program, which the Marines will collect prior to the first pitch.  

According to South Shore Giants outfielder and event organizer Brett Rudy, the WinterBall game has collected approximately $84,000 in toys over the 21 years since the event began. Approximately 40-50 players sign up to play each year. 

“It’s always a great feeling to give to those less fortunate, especially to a charity like Toys for Tots which has been around for a very long time,” said Waltham Cutters’ catcher Dan Field. “It’s pretty awesome to see a member of The Marines come down to the event every year and collect all of the toys, knowing they are in good hands and will eventually be delivered to those less fortunate children on Christmas.” 

The Toys for Tots program has delivered 604 million toys to 272 million children to date. Photo provided by Brett Rudy.

“It never gets old, knowing that you are giving back, and making a difference for local kids who are less fortunate than we are,” said Rudy. 

Last season, the game was decided by a battle between father and son in the bottom of the 5th inning. John “Smokey” Moore entered the game to face his son Zack Moore, who promptly “roped” the ball into the right-field gap for an inside-the-park home run.  

“I was ecstatic my last pitch I ever threw was a home run to my son,” said John “Smokey” Moore. “Couldn’t have asked for a better ending of my pitching career.”  

Thanks to Zack’s home run, the Santa’s Stompers defeated the Roaring Chestnuts, 6-5. 

This at-bat was a rematch between father and son, who last faced off in the 2010 Winter Ball game. Zack flew out to right field in that matchup. Both father and son have been playing this game for 15 years together and John was previously a Toys for Tots recipient in 1975 at the age of eight. 

This year’s contest will begin at 10 a.m. with batting practice, followed by the U.S. Marines collecting toys before first pitch at 11 a.m. Visit the Winterball 2021 Facebook page to sign up to play in this Saturday’s contest in Malden. All participants are encouraged to wear festive attire.

Bob Halloran’s Birthday Brain Aneurysm  

On July 22, 2016, Bob Halloran was one day away from celebrating his 53rd birthday. Each year he celebrates his birthday by completing the number of pushups that matched his age.  

Halloran decided to push himself to do 63 pushups that day. He recalls getting to 10 or 11 pushups when he felt a “pop” behind his right eye. He recalls not feeling any pain in the immediate aftermath but noticed a headache developing the next day. He assumed it was just a migraine and continued going to work as a Sports Anchor/Reporter at WCVB-TV Channel 5 Boston. 

“I come from a family of nurses and I said to him, ‘You should go to the doctor, that could have been an aneurysm,’” said Eileen Curran, Bob Halloran’s wife. “Bob said he felt fine.” 

The headache became increasingly worse as time went on and eventually caused him to stay up all night. This led him to schedule a doctor’s appointment on July 28.  

Before he could arrive at the appointment, Halloran drove to the first day of New England Patriots’ training camp to film a news package for WCVB-TV Channel 5. After completing the midday live report and package for the evening newscast, he hopped in the car to head to his appointment. 

Unfortunately, Halloran never made it to his appointment. He pulled off Route 138 in Canton, Massachusetts to stop at a Dunkin Donuts for an egg sandwich and coffee. As he pulled out of the parking lot, he started to pass out and eventually drove off the road into a large bush. He is unsure how long he was unconscious, but when he regained consciousness, he was surrounded by EMTs and an unknown bystander who had brought him an ice-cold bottle of water. 

“I’m an idiot who doesn’t know anything about aneurysms and when I had this really bad headache, which I don’t get headaches, I should have listened to my body and not waited five or six days to respond,” said Halloran. “I should have been to the hospital much more quickly and maybe that would have had even better results for me. Or I just got really lucky that, even though I wasn’t smart and proactive, things worked out.” 

Halloran was transported to Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Milton in Milton, Massachusetts. A CAT scan confirmed that Halloran had suffered a brain aneurysm. Dr. John Mahoney, recommended that Halloran should be transported to Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston. 

“The thing that kept going through my head while driving to the hospital was – he was conscious — that’s a good sign and I need to get him into Boston, as Milton Hospital is a community hospital,” said Curran. 

Dr. Mahoney recommended Beth Israel because Dr. Chris Ogilvy,  the Director, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Brain Aneurysm Institute was one of the “top doctors” in the world. Dr. Ogilvy concluded that the initial “pop” behind Halloran’s right eye, was a small tear instead of a complete rupture of the aneurysm. The complete rupture happened on July 28.  

His wife recalls the first two and half weeks in hospital being “grueling” as Halloran was in the ICU, where doctors inserted a pump into his head to drain liquid that was building up inside of his brain.  

“He doesn’t remember a lot of his time in ICU, which actually is a blessing, because I wouldn’t want him to remember that horrible pain,” said Curran. 
 

On November 1, Halloran returned to WCVB-TV Channel 5 after 13 weeks recovering. In an exclusive interview EMass Sports, Bob Halloran explains his motivation for returning and what he learned from his time in the hospital. 

“This could happen to anyone so I would say to everyone – if you have a horrible, excruciatingly painful headache – go see your doctor,” said Curran. “If your doctor says it’s stress or a migraine, go see someone else. You need to get a CT scan – it could save your life.” 

According to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, 1 in 50 people have an unruptured brain aneurysm. In addition, Halloran wanted to remind everyone that 50% of cases with ruptured aneurysms are fatal. 

“People who suddenly have a headache like they never had before should recognize this is a serious issue and get to a hospital as quickly as possible,” said Halloran. 

Boston Havoc’s Championship Redemption

One year ago, the Boston Sox, now called the Boston Havoc, watched the MABL 18+ championship slip away as they fell three games to one to the Middleboro Mocka Rays. They were outscored 15-7 in that series, including 9-0 in the final two games. This postseason, the Havoc went up two games to one against the defending champions, but lost game four, 2-1, on October 7. As a result, a win or go home contest was necessary to decide the MABL 18+ championship.

The Havoc scored all nine of their runs in the first three innings, which was highlighted by a six-run second inning. Their offense finished with 14 hits, including five by corner outfielders Ramelo Carbuccia and Nick Powers who combined for three RBIs. The Havoc outscored the Mocka Rays 23-4 in this series to secure their team’s third MABL 18+ championship in team history. Their other titles were at the conclusion of the 2013 and 2018 seasons, when they were known as the Boston Sox. 

“Right out of the gate they brought the energy,” said Mocka Rays catcher Derek Pizzaro. “They were ready to go right out of the gate and didn’t waste anytime, which is what you need to do in a game situation like that. It was a quick momentum grab, and they never came close to giving it back.” 

On the mound, starter Jon Shepard fired a two-hit shutout, striking out seven Mocka Rays in the process. This was his second consecutive complete-game win of the series, as he allowed two runs in Havoc’s 6-2 victory in game two. The Havoc surrendered two runs or less in every game this postseason, losing their only two playoff games to the Mocka Rays in this series. 

“He’s able to dissect hitters at a level you don’t always see in men’s leagues,” said Pizzaro. “Getting to see him throw when it’s not at you is a treat and it’s fun to play behind him. When you are playing against him it’s a tough night at the plate and my 0 for 3 the other night would prove that to be true.” 

“It goes right back to my team having my back in the field,” said Shepard. “I like to keep them involved. I never to try and strike people out.” 

This was coming off a regular-season campaign, where he finished with a 4-1 record, 0.66 ERA, walking two hitters, and striking out 42 in five starts. Four of his five regular-season starts ended in complete-game wins for Shepard, most on the staff. In the post-season, he elevated his game to another level by allowing four earned runs in 30 innings pitched, which included two complete game wins. 

During their 2013 and 2018 championships, the Boston Havoc/Sox combined to post a 39-7-2 regular season record. Photo by Whitney Dowds.

“I think historically, even when I was a little kid, I always pitched better in the big situations,” said Shepard. “I always get more enjoyment going against the better competition.” 

Shepard kept a Mocka Rays’ lineup in check that led the MABL 18+ division in runs scored (184), walks (84) and batting average (.378). Middleboro outscored their opponents 185-44 during the regular season on their way to securing the number one seed in the MABL 18+ playoffs with a 19-2-1 record.  

In addition, Shepard pitched for the Boston Athletics (21-4-1) of the Boston Park League this season. He finished with an 8-0 record, 0.37 ERA, and led his team in strikeouts with 50. He surrendered a total of six runs in nine starts in that span to help earn the CY Young Award. 

“Historically, he has dominated in both the regular season and the postseason and has several championships under his belt,” said Dan Field, the Boston Men’s Baseball League playoff color commentator. “I’ve only faced him once or twice in my career but I believe he has 3 pitches in his repertoire, with his slider being his best pitch.  As a broadcaster positioned behind home plate, I got to really see exactly how much his slider moves and why it’s so effective in getting batters to chase balls outside the strike zone.”

With the Boston Men’s Baseball League postseason now finished, the 2021 BMBL League Banquet is scheduled to take place on October 27 at 7 p.m. at Game On! Fenway. 

Solomon’s Rock-Solid Pitching Evens MSBL Masters Championship Series

After losing game one of the MSBL Masters 38+ Championship series on a walk-off grand slam, the Avi Nelson Rockies were immediately faced with a 1-0 deficit in the top of the first. However, that would prove to be the only run allowed by Rockies’ starter Ethan Solomon in the Rockies’ 5-1 victory over the Bistro 781 Bulls on Friday night.

“Well for most of the year, Ethan has just really been a bulldog,” said Rockies’ first baseman Mike Barthel. “His bread-and-butter pitch is his slider, which everyone in the league talks about. It’s got unbelievable movement. It looks like a fastball coming out of his hand and my guess is that a lot of hitters have trouble just picking up that pitch and that’s why it’s been his go-to pitch.”

Soloman fired his third straight complete game, surrendering just two hits, walking two and collecting a season-high 13 strikeouts in the process. This marked his second consecutive postseason outing with 10+ strikeouts. First baseman Steve Busby was the only Bulls’ hitter to reach base twice against Solomon with an RBI single and walk.

“My focus is always to just go out there and get ahead of hitters and trust what I have in the tank and go out and try to execute one pitch at a time,” said Solomon.  

Soloman was awarded his second consecutive MSBL Masters 38+ division Cy Young Award, finishing the regular season with a 3-1 record with a 1.20 ERA, walking five, and striking out 53 hitters for the Rockies. 

During his first Cy Young campaign in 2020, Solomon finished the season with just three walks and 18 strikeouts.

“He has a good mix of pitches (slider and changeup) and this is why he is the best pitcher in the league and won the CY Young,” said Bulls’ catcher Kevin Lyons. “[You] have to tip your cap to him.”

In the bottom of the third inning, his offense broke through with a four-run rally. First baseman Mike Barthel’s bases-loaded 2-run single started the scoring for the Rockies, putting the Rockies up 2-1. Barthel leads the team in RBIs (6) this postseason. 

“The table setters as usual were able to draw walks, get on base and really put the middle of the order hitters, like myself, in a position where I can deliver,” said Barthel. “Thinking about that inning, their pitcher fell behind in some counts and it was just one of those situations where I came up to the plate, I got a good pitch to hit, hit it hard and was able to turn things around for the team.”

The third run of the inning came across thanks to a throwing error by Bulls’ starter Robert Austin, who attempted a pickoff play at second base. Steve Miller scored from second on the error and Nate Knowles added an RBI single six pitches later to extend the lead to 4-1. Two innings later, Mike Tufo added an insurance run with an RBI fielder’s choice to officially cap the scoring. The Rockies have scored five runs or more thirteen times this postseason. 

Both Ethan Solomon and Mike Barthel agree that their team’s key to success moving forward is their pitching. The Rockies’ pitching staff has struck out 60 hitters and have combined for a 1.96 ERA this postseason ranking first in both categories in the MSBL Masters 38+ division. 

“It’s about doing the same stuff that’s gotten us here,” said Solomon. “Pitch to contact, fill out the strike zone on the mound, make the routine plays and then compete at the plate.” 

“Ethan is obviously our leader on the mound, but we have several guys who throw the ball very well,” said Barthel. “We have the luxury of throwing a number of arms at them and we do feel like we have the advantage in that sense.” 

The Bulls won game three of the series tonight, 4-2, securing a 2-1 series lead. They now sit one win away from being crowned the 2021 MSBL Masters Division champions of the Boston Men’s Baseball League. Visit bostonmabl.com to view this week’s complete Boston Men’s Baseball League postseason schedule.

In the meantime, click the video below to relive the Bulls’ walk off grand slam from game one with the call coming from Boston Men’s Baseball League broadcasters Dan Field and Brett Rudy during a Facebook live stream of the contest.

The Mocka Rays Secure Game 1 with Chilly Shutout 

For the second straight season, the Middleboro Mocka Rays (19-2-1) and Boston Havoc (14-6-2) face off for the right to be crowned MABL 18+ champions. With temperatures dropping to 55 degrees on Thursday night in game one, the Mocka Rays won their second straight shutout to place themselves two wins away from repeating as champions. 

Center fielder Nick Radcliffe provided all the offense with two hits and two RBIs in the first three innings. Radcliffe was ranked second on the team in RBIs (18), behind DH Mike Knell who finished the season with 26.  

On the mound, starter Justin Sylvia was nearly unhittable, allowing just four baserunners the entire night. He carried a perfect game through three innings, before Havoc center fielder Brendan Pounds reached on a single to start the fourth. However that did not last long, as catcher Derek Pizzaro fired a strike to throw out Pounds attempting to steal second on the next pitch.  

“People need to start reading the scouting report on (Pizzaro),” said Radcliffe. 

Sylvia finished the night striking out 10 hitters, and he now leads the Mocka Rays’ staff with 17 this postseason. This was his first win this postseason and second complete game. 

Justin Sylvia enters game two with 70 career strikeouts (including postseason). Photo by Dan Field

“I’d say my curveball helped shutdown the Havoc,” said Sylvia. “I was able to throw it over the top for a 12:6 curveball, and at times changed my arm angle to make my curveball look like a slider to throw off the batter. It seemed to work well, so I stuck with it.” 

The Mocka Rays’ rotation have allowed two runs or less in eight of their nine postseason contests, while striking out 57 batters along the way. They have complied a 7-2 record in the process. With this 2-0 victory, the Mocka Rays have now outscored the Boston Havoc (formerly the Boston White Sox) 11-0 in their last three postseason matchups.   

“Each of us just need to keep being a team player,” said Sylvia. “Having each other’s backs defensively and offensively, and keep taking it one pitch at a time.” 

Game two of the series is currently in progress at Pierce Playground in Middleboro, MA. 

Bulls 15-run Outburst Ties MSBL Masters Semifinals  

Leading up to Friday Night’s Contest in Lynn, the story of the night was poised to be scattered showers moving into the area and threatening to postpone game two of the Boston MSBL Masters semifinals series between the Bistro 781 Bulls and Boston Dodgers. Instead, only a few brief drops of rain fell, and the Bulls wasted no time jump-starting their offense.  

The Bulls scored runs in five of the six innings on the night in route to a 15-2 route. Their biggest inning came in the fifth inning, where they entered leading 8-2, but broke the game open scoring five runs. The game would end in the sixth inning, because of the slaughter rule policy, which states that if a team is leading by more than 12 runs after 4 and a half innings, the game will be called, according to the Masters (38+) Rules and Regulations

First baseman Steve Busby and catcher David Lightbody had a busy night on the bases finishing with seven hits, eight RBIs, and four runs scored to pace his offense. The Bulls finished with 15 hits, six walks drawn, and eight different players finished with at least one RBI.  

This game marked the seventh time this season the Bulls have scored in double figures this season (including the playoffs). They lead the MSBL Masters division in both runs scored (41) and hits (55) this postseason. During the same stretch, they outscored their opponents 39-17. 

The Bulls ended the 2021 regular season ranked first in OPS (.913) in the MSBL Masters division. Photo by Whitney Dowds

“We have depth throughout our whole lineup,” said Busby. “Our bottom of the lineup could top of the lineup guys for other teams.” 

That was more than enough run support for starter Jeff Fucarile, who fired a complete game, allowing just two runs on six hits and striking out two Dodgers and improving to 1-0 this postseason in the process. This was the seventh time this season he has surrendered two runs or less in an outing. 

“He threw a ton of strikes and gave us opportunities to make plays in the field,” said Busby. “He kept them off balance and then we were quickly getting up to bat again.” 

Game three of this series is scheduled for tomorrow night at 8 p.m. with the game location yet to be determined. The Bulls and Dodgers have split the first two games of this five-game series. 

The Red-Hot Spinners Extend Winning Streak to Nine Games 

The Cambridge Spinners (17-5) have won nine straight games dating back to August 1. They outscored their opponents 78-9 during that stretch. Their last defeat came against the South Shore Spartans (18-3) on July 28.  

On September 14, they closed out the regular season with a 4-0 victory over the Somerville Senators (6-15-1). In that contest, pitching and defense took center stage.  

Spinners’ starter Dan Blomerth fired six shutout innings, surrendering just one hit, walking one, and striking out two, earning his third win this season. Matt Lassard pitched a scoreless seventh adding two more strikeouts to complete the shutout. 

Blomerth is ranked third on the team in wins and Lassard is second on the staff in runs allowed (5) and strikeouts (24). Both pitchers have combined to allow just four runs since the beginning of August. 

This game was a ground ball clinic, as 11 ground ball outs were induced. More importantly for Cambridge, Blomerth managed to escape three bases loaded jams to keep the game scoreless. 

“They played a hell of a game behind me,” said Blomerth.  

Offensively, right fielder Sean Merrigan led the way by reaching base all four times, including two hits and a run scored. Seven Spinners finished with at least one hit. Ricky Salvia, Adam Johnson and Derek Richards were responsible for scoring the other three runs for Cambridge. 

The Spinners knocked in 157 runs this season, second behind the Boston Bombers at 193. Photo by Whitney Dowds

The Spinners are locked into the third seed in the MSBL 28+ division playoff seedings and set to face the Bay State Pirates (12-10) in the first round. 

“I think if we go out there and throw strikes and we don’t make mental mistakes out in the field, I think there is really no reason why we should get to win this whole thing,” said Blomerth. 

Visit http://www.bostonmabl.com/ to view the upcoming postseason schedule for Boston Men’s Baseball League. 

Meet Mike Knell, the Middleboro Mocka Rays’ Singles Machine

When examining the defending champion Middleboro Mocka Rays 13-2 start to the 2021 season, you will see Mike Knell’s offensive dominance right at the heart of the action. He has led his teams in both hits and RBIs this season. His 17 hits and 19 RBIs has earned him a 2021 Boston Men’s Baseball League All-Stars selection for the MABL 18+ division in addition to being awarded the Offensive Player of the Month in June. 

Knell entered the league in 1999 with Boston Braves, after turning down an accounting job at the firm Coopers and Lybrand, where the manager, Jeff Gauthier, referred him to this league.  Knell currently works as the Chief Accounting Officer at Charles River Laboratories. In addition, he is currently in his 19th season coaching his children’s soccer and basketball teams.

Knell is currently playing in his 23rd season in the Boston Men’s Baseball League with his fifth different team, which has resulted in six championships. He played every position on the field and currently has 432 career hits, scored 272 runs, and knocked in 280 RBIs in the process. 

“I played on a lot of great teams hitting in the middle of the order,” said Knell. “Hitting is contagious. When you are playing with a lot of great players, you get a lot of extra at-bats.”

His advice to players who are struggling offensively is to “not think too much” at the plate and “to go back to basics and hit some line drives.”

Playing on the third team of his career, he won two championships with Netherfield Reds from 2005-2009, winning the titles in 2006 and 2008. He recalled that his favorite championship from that time period came in 2008 when his team pulled off a surprising upset of the Boston Tigers team that entered the matchup with a 24-2 record to open the postseason. The Reds entered the series as an underdog with an 11-13 record and only 10 players qualified to play in the postseason. 

The teams split the first two games in convincing fashion. The Reds won game 1, 11-5, while the Tigers pitched an 8-0 shutout three nights later in game two to even the series and set up a win or go home matchup in the series finale.

The Tigers mounted an early 4-0 lead heading into the fifth inning. The Reds flipped the script, scoring all 11 of their runs in their final three innings and surrendering just three runs in the bottom of the seventh to cap the scoring. Knell finished the game with three hits and three RBIs to help pace the offense. 

They proceeded to complete two “grueling” five-game series against the Senators and Athletics to complete the championship run with each series going the distance. Netherfield was undefeated in elimination games that postseason with a 3-0 record.

Knell recalls his favorite personal performance came game three of the 2008 championship series against the Athletics where he fired a complete game, surrendering just two runs on three hits and striking out seven hitters along the way. He escaped a bases-loaded no-out jam in the first to keep his team in the game, helping his team to earn a close 3-2 win to give his team a 2-1 series. This performance was critical because no other pitchers were available for the Reds at the time.

“It was one of those (games) where everything goes our way and it was sort of destiny,” said Knell. “You sort of had a magical feel about that team.”

Offensively, he added a .320 average and lead his team in both hits (16) and RBIs (12) that postseason, marking his best offensive postseason performance of his career in both categories. Knell’s teams earned playoff berths in 20 of his 22 previous seasons. This included four championships between 2012-2020 with the Cambridge Spinners and Middleboro Mocka Rays.

Knell’s top performances of this season came during back-to-back games against the Boston Jakes (2-11), and Waltham Cutters (9-4) on June 20 and 24. He combined to go 5 for 8 with seven RBIs and one strikeout during that stretch helping the Mocka Rays outscore the Jakes and Cutters 31-3 in the process. 

76% of Mike Knell’s hits this season are singles. Photo by Whitney Dowds

“Any time you can bring a player of Knell’s caliber to a team it’s a big get,” said Mocka Rays manager Tyler Ferdinand. “His veteran presence as well as being a proven MABL champion has helped us get over the hump we were stuck on the last couple of years.”

Unfortunately, two days later he would suffer a torn upper left quad against the Singing Surgeons. As a result of two games being postponed due to inclement weather, he only missed one contest against the Boston Jakes. His doctor informed him the injury would heal in about 4-6 weeks.

“I hit a gapper and was thinking a home run and I was about to round first and I heard a loud pop,” said Knell. “Getting old sucks.”

He returned to action in Friday night’s contest against the Waltham Athletics, finishing 1 for 3 with a single, but was thrown out at second base trying to stretch it to a double. However, a complete-game shutout by Athletics’ starter Alec Christian spoiled his return as the Mocka Rays were defeated 1-0, snapping a six-game winning streak. 

Mike Knell and the Mocka Rays will seek redemption in the team’s rematch against the Waltham Athletics at Nipper Park in Waltham on Wednesday night. The first pitch is scheduled for 8 p.m.