2021 73+ National
USA Volkers 6, North County Mudcats 5
‘Starnes Shines in the Ninth, at the Plate and on the Bump’
The USA Volkers played their first World Series in the 73+ division this year and managed to prevail 6-5 in the championship game over the North County Mudcats. The USA Volkers had previously won the 65+ National division championship in 2016 and then moved to the 70+ division winning the National division championships in 2018 and 2019.
The 73+ division proved to be the most competitive of all, as any of eight teams could have emerged with the title. This was apparent in the first round of the playoffs as both the seventh and eighth seeds defeated the first and second seeds. Five of the seven playoff games were decided by one run and literally went down to the final pitch. The competitive balance is what teams are looking for and it certainly exists in the 73+ division.
The USA Volkers were led by third baseman and “closer” 76-year-old Ray Starnes, outfielder Fred Krause, shorststop Sam Park, DH Geno Baratta, and team captain Billy Jacobs. The USA Volkers edged out the Sacramento Solons in a 6-5 quarter-final battle thanks to the outstanding defense of Fred Krause and his clutch hitting as well. Pitcher Steve Kosuda held the Arizona Scorpions scoreless in the semifinals.
The USA Volkers tournament MVP pitcher Howard Elson not only won the Sacramento game but threw eight outstanding innings in the championship game yielding only one earned run. The Mudcats were down 5-1 entering the bottom of the eighth but Volker misplays combined with three clutch two-out hits managed to tie the game 5-5 entering the top of the ninth. The Mudcats replaced starting pitcher John “Hopi” Hopkins, who pitched a very solid eight innings, with the team manager and ace reliever Jim Teeter.
The USA Volkers were able to manufacture one run thanks to a base on balls and a Mudcat error. With one out and two on, the Mudcats elected to intentionally walk DH Geno Baratta, bringing up Ray Starnes. Starnes rolled a force out up the middle bringing in the go-ahead run. Starnes was then asked to hold the slim one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth. He responded by getting a ground out to short and then fanning the final two Mudcats with a 70+MPH fastball which is amazing velocity for a 76-year-old pitcher.
The 2021 73+ division was truly a passion play of what the sport of baseball is all about. Certainly, the quality of play has greatly diminished over the years but the competitive spirit shines brighter at this age than perhaps at any other. Players realize that their competitive playing days are close to the end and the appreciation for the game becomes more prominent pitch by pitch. Every player walked away a winner in one way or another. Thanks to MSBL and the vision of Steve Sigler, we can ALL look forward to 2022 and celebrating the 35th MSBL World Series.