San Jose 11, Sacramento 1

Father Son magic in the air

San Jose finishes strong, wins title

Salt River Diamondbacks Field 4, Oct. 27, 2013 – It’s not how you start – it’s how you finish.

Exhibit A in support of that theory is San Jose — the newly crowned, Father-Son American Division champions.

Against long odds, Rich Zuvella’s team ended its tournament run with an 11-1 win over the Sacramento Mud Dogs in the championship game at the Salt River Diamondbacks complex in Scottsdale.

San Jose stumbled through round robin play with a win and three losses. “We really struggled atthe beginning of the week with getting a crucial two-out hit or with guys in scoring position,” Zuvella said.

On Friday, San Jose lost an 11-10 game to the Sacramento Mud Dogs, and then endured an 18-8 thrashing at the hands of another Sacramento-based team – the Capital City Cardinals.

A lesser team would have poured antiseptic on their boo-boos and called for mommy – but not these guys.

By the grace of tournament mathematics that eliminated just one team from the five team division, San Jose backed into a seminal playoff game against the top-seeded So Cal A’s. They backed in and promptly backed over the stunned A’s team 9-2. Chris Chambers, a son, started and threw five strong innings. The ageless Mike Denevi entered in relief. Murray Brown and tournament MVP Matt Zuvella each hammered two run doubles in a breakaway fourth inning.

The Mud Dogs, meanwhile, powered their way to a 3-1 round robin record, but things got dicey in their semifinal matchup with the Capital City Cardinals. Entering the final frame with a 5-1 lead, Capital City came back and tied the game.

Mud Dog slugger John Daly Jr. stroked a walk-off single to score Mike Baker in bottom of the ninth to clinch the deal. Daly stroked an inside-the-park homer in the fourth inning of a game just a day earlier.

San Jose was just getting warmed up in the semifinals, and by the time they got to Salt River for the finale against the Mud Dogs they were practically on fire.

For the second time in two days, Chris Chambers and Mike Denevi tag-teamed the opposition. “They just pitched their hearts out,” Zuvella said. Sacramento scored its only run of the game in the first inning when Taylor Welz scored on an RBI single by John Raymond. Raymond collected four of Sacramento’s seven hits.

Meanwhile, San Jose scored twice in the first inning with Todd Leffler stroking a two-run single to score Matt Zuvella and Denevi.

San Jose took a manageable, 3-1 lead into the top of the fourth inning and nine batters later had scored five times to stretch the lead to 8-1. Matt Zuvella delivered a two run single. San Jose sealed the deal in the ninth with three runs – two on a Don Chambers gapper.

“In the last two days every time we needed somebody to get a two-out hit or get a guy in from third we did,” Zuvella said. “It wasn’t just two or three guys. It was everybody in the lineup. Sometimes you come down here and it’s difficult to get everybody at bats, but this group just came out here to have fun and play for a ring. Everybody contributed and it was just a great experience.”

“You’ve got to tip your hat to San Jose,” said Mud Dog skipper Gary Stonebrook – no stranger to the winners circle himself. “They’ve got great hitters. They put the ball in play, and they took advantage of us on the bases. We had a couple of opportunities early to keep the game close and we didn’t. You’ve just got to tip your hat. They’ve been around for a long, long time and you can’t ever count those guys out.”

While winning is nice, the Father-Son Division continues to stand out as the one tournament where, in so many ways, nobody loses. That’s because when fathers and sons become teammates, there is magic.

Matt and Rich Zuvella felt it.

“We’re both outfielders,” said Rich Zuvella. “It’s a lot of fun when you’re going after a fly ball and your son is calling you off. It’s not like anything else. It’s so much fun playing with your kids.”

“It’s the best thing in the world,” said Tim Denevi, the University of Maryland writing professor who traveled across the country to play with his dad, Mike.
“Life is short,” Tim Denevi said. “You don’t get to see the people you love very much. And to be next to them when they are doing what they do best is a special, special moment in your life.”

Mike Denevi, 60, has collected 13 rings at the MSBL World Series and has a reputation as a bulldog competitor. He played this year with protective goggles in the field and a face mask at the plate to protect a fractured eye socket. That was not lost on son Tim. “When it’s as tense as it can be, that is the moment when he performs the best. And to see that is something I’ll always remember and always take with me – and father-son is what offers it. It fills me with pride and love.”