Stephens: Baseball delivers a game only baseball can deliver

Brad Stephens

Years from now the players that fought for 18 innings Tuesday in Bowling Green Ballpark will be long gone, most of their names forgotten.

But for WKU and Kentucky’s players, the 150 or so fans that stayed all six hours, the concession stand workers, the radio guys, the writers and anyone else that was there, WKU’s 3-2 win last night was something we’ll never forget.

Six hours. 18 innings. 37 players used. 553 pitches. 33 runners left on base. And a walk-off home run hit by Trevor Lowe, a freshman with just one career home run going into Tuesday.

All in all, the game was the longest that’s been played in Division I all year. The scope of this marathon went well behind the on-the-field stats.

Think for instance about food, or lack thereof.

The Topper players got to the park at 3 p.m. to begin stretching. By the time the game ended at midnight, none of those guys had eaten in about 10 hours.

Not that they or anyone else could find much to eat, though. I paid the lone concession stand still open a visit in the 12th inning, about four and a half hours into the game. No hot dogs. No brats. No chicken. No pizza. The concession stand was as depleted as both teams’ bullpens.

All that was left were nachos, popcorn, chips and candy.

There were also no drinks of the alcoholic variety. A crowd that was decently inebriated before the seventh-inning alcohol sales-cutoff was nearly sobered up as the game ended.

Those that stuck around were the hardliners, the real fans, the ones who’ve taken the respectable “I won’t leave a game until it’s over” subconscious pledge at some point during their lives.

That group included president Gary A. Ransdell, himself. Seated three booths to my right in the BG Ballpark press box, he and play-by-play man Randy Lee worked the pregame show, six hours worth of a baseball game and finally the postgame segment.

Ransdell and Lee spent all six hours discussing strategy, analyzing plays and trying to entertain whoever the heck had stayed up listening to them on 1450 AM. Holy moley, indeed.

And the play on the field was a little wacky.

UK scored a go-ahead run to grab a 2-1 lead on the 13th. The Cats scored in large because WKU right fielder Jordan Cessna dropped a routine fly ball with two outs off the bat of UK’s Austin Cousino. A.J. Reed followed with an RBI double.

So after Cessna’s error nearly cost WKU the game, last night’s logic meant that of course Cessna would be the one to benefit from something similar. Sure enough, with two outs and the bases full of Toppers, Cessna hit a grounder to shortstop. But Matt Reida’s throw pulled the first baseman off the bat, allowing everyone to be safe. Tie game.

Then there were the blown chances. WKU blew a gem of a chance in the 14th, loading the bases with no one out. Two strikeouts and a groundout later, the Toppers and Wildcats were heading to 15.

In the 17th, Reida made amends for the 13th inning error with a leadoff triple. Three outs later he ended the inning standing right there, stranded once again.

It was finally in the 18th when Lowe, the former Warren Central Fire Breathing Dragon, pulled a curveball into the Topper bullpen, about 10 feet inside the foul pole.

The way the night ended can cause one to philosophize about the game of baseball. After six hours of pitching changes and pinch hitters, the game ended on a line drive hit over the fence by a freshman not known for his power.

That’s just the kind of ending baseball can provide. Perhaps the rules of baseball even encourage such a strange marathon.

There’s no other American sport in which a regular season game can last for six hours, only to be ended in an instant. Basketball, football, hockey all have clocks to prevent such a game.

But baseball lets the players on the field determine how long a game will last, giving the teams nine untimed innings to produce a winner. And there aren’t any ties in baseball, so if it’s knotted after nine, they’ll play as many innings as needed for someone to break it.

That’s why baseball, more than any other sport, can create these types of games.

Years from now, anytime Lowe, Cessna, Ransdell, the concession workers or myself are watching a game that creeps through a few extra innings, our thoughts will turn to the events of last night.

Tuesday night in Bowling Green Ballpark we watched WKU and Kentucky play the longest baseball game of which most of us will ever be a part.

18 innings. Six hours. And a ballpark full of new memories.