Colorado Springs Thunder 19, Fresno Hardcor 10
’28 Years in the Making’
Starting later than normal, the Colorado Springs Thunder gathered a roster of 20 players to compete in the 2023 MSBL National World Series (Cactus Division) in Phoenix, AZ. The team always plans to carry a heavy roster to promote an even workload and prevent potential injuries. This year, the same principle was adhered to with the deepest pitching bullpen they ever had, or so we thought!
While the MSBL of Southern Colorado was completing their league postseason, members of the Thunder roster were preparing to travel to Phoenix. Each Wednesday night we met at D-bats of Colorado Springs for hitting.
During this process, one of the new pitchers we had developed shoulder pain that became persistent and caused him to have to withdraw from the team. Then another new player from North Carolina who was picked up to supplement the pitching staff and outfield gave us some bad news that he had to pull out due to a family member’s diagnosis of cancer. This caused the deep staff to go from 12 pitchers to 10 in a matter of a couple of days. Then during a workout, another pitcher and outfielder went down with knee injuries bringing us to eight pitchers.
Going to the player pool, we made a couple of calls and picked up a couple of players that proved to benefit the team and promote success. With these calls, we were able to pick up two Outfielders, one of whom could pitch.
So we decided to stick with what we had and go with a team size of 15 players, 12 local players from Colorado and three players from outside the state, a strong hitting group of players with a strong pitching staff. This meant a lot of plate attempts, but not a lot of rest. We could not bring the talent we normally bring so we had to be selfless, we had to be consistent, and we had to play as a team.
Knowing we needed a couple of days to get a few players to Arizona, we coordinated a 1-2-2-1 game spread with the National Office. This meant we had to be very wise in our use of pitchers playing two doubleheaders in two consecutive days.
The tournament started on Sunday, 15 October so we intended to rely on our pitchers from Arizona to carry us through the first game. However, one pitcher did not show and the starting pitcher, Mario Padilla struggled in the first inning and ended up hitting four batters and needed to be replaced by the sixth inning. However, the remaining pitchers were effective.
The Colorado Springs Thunder defeated the Austin Express 12-6 at Fitch Park in Mesa. The winning pitcher was Mario Padilla who pitched six innings. Clay Wade provided middle relief and Dan Seale earned the save.
Notable offensive efforts include John Brandenhagen (2-4); Clay Wade (1-1); John Miley (2-2); Abel Vizcarrando (1-1); and Bud Maison (1-2). Thunder moved to 1-0 in the round-robin play of the 2023 MSBL World Series.
On 16 October, the second day, the tournament consisted of a doubleheader at the Rockies spring training facilities, the first time the team had played at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. In game one, the Thunder faced the Sacramento Capitals.
Colorado Springs Thunder beat the Sacramento Capitals 17-7. Winning pitcher was Dan Seale. Notable offensive efforts were John Brandenhagen (4-5); Bart Jennings (3-5); Jim Martin (3-4); and Dave Kranz (2-2). The Thunder moved to 2-0 in the MSBL World Series.
Game three was our stadium game at Salt River Stadium, one of the better stadiums in the tournament. The Colorado Springs Thunder beat the UTEX Warriors 19-1 in 7 innings.
The winning pitcher was Dan Clemens. Notable Offensive efforts include Chris Dahl (2-3); Bud Maison (2-2); Andrew Washburn, Bart Jennings, and Jeff Bonacquista (2-4). The Thunder moved to the top of the Cactus Division 3 with a 3-0 record by the end of day two of the tournament.
On 17 October, the Thunder reported to the Red Mountain Complex in Mesa to play the second doubleheader in two days. The Colorado Springs Thunder beat the Seattle Steelheads 22-7. The winning pitcher was John Miley. Notable offensive efforts include Dave Kranz (4-5); Bart Jenhnings (3-3); Andrew Washburn (2-4); John Miley (2-4); and Eric Lengberg (2-5). The Thunder moved to 4-0 and played the Sonoma County Cubs next.
Falling flat in the fifth game, the bats went quiet facing the Senoma Cubs whose record indicated a subpar team that was handled well by teams the Thunder had previously played. This was not the case. The Cubs were a good-hitting team that took the lead on the Thunder and never looked back.
The Colorado Springs Thunder lost to the Sonoma County Cubs 12-6. Notable offensive efforts include Eric Lenberg (4-4); Bart Jennings (4-4); Andrew Washburn (2-3); John Brandenhagen (2-4). Although they lost, the Thunder stayed at the top of the Cactus group 3 at 4-1 and were the number two team in the Cactus Division. They were scheduled to play the NSEW Connection team next and with a win would earn a bye into the playoffs to play at 12:30 pm on Thursday. Notable efforts went out to Bart Jennings who was 3-4 and Eric Lenberg who went 4-4 with two doubles.
The final day of the round-robin play of the tournament called for the Thunder to report to Legacy Park, an all-turf field that does not permit steel cleats.
The Colorado Springs Thunder beat the NSEW Connection 24-7 and finished up as the #2 seed in the Cactus Division of the MSBL World Series round-robin play with a run differential of 62, outscoring their opponents 102-40. The winning pitcher was Eric Lenberg. A bye was earned by the Thunder to move into the second round of playoffs. The Thunder was scheduled to play at 12:30 pm.
Notable offensive efforts include John Brandenhagen (4-5); Jim Martin (4-5); Jeff Bonacquista (3-5); Bart Jennings (3-4); Bud Maison (4-4); and Andrew Washburn (5-5). These individuals drove in 15 runs, had 5 stolen bases, and hit nine doubles in one game.
Staying at Legacy Park for the playoffs, the Thunder earned a bye for the first round being ranked 2nd overall. Other teams who earned a bye were the Chicago Pinch-Hitters, SoCal Indians, and Arizona Cubs.
After winning their first game in the playoffs, the Ventura Dodgers faced the Thunder in the second round. The Colorado Springs Thunder defeated the Ventura Dodgers 10-4 in round 2 of the 2023 MSBL National World Series. The winning pitcher was Dan Clemens who threw a complete game. Notable offensive efforts include Eric Lenberg (2-3); Chris Dahl (2-4); Bart Jennings (2-3); and Andrew Washburn (2-2). With this win, the Thunder moved to the semi-finals and were scheduled to play the Sacramento Capitals at Tempe Diablo Field 2 at 9 am on 20 October.
On the final day of the tournament, the Thunder were required to report to the Tempe Diablo Baseball Complex to play against a divisional opponent who worked hard to get to the semifinals and face the Thunder. But the Thunder handled the Capitals well, beating the Capitals 12-6, and moved to the National Championship versus the Fresno Hardcor.
Dan Seale was the winning pitcher and Dan Clemens got the save. Jeff Bonacquista was the player of the game going 5-5 with three doubles and two singles. Other notable offensive efforts include Jim Martin (2-3); Dave Kranz (2-5); Chris Dahl (3-4); Andrew Washburn (2-3); and Abel Vizcarrando (3-4). This was the second time in three years the Thunder appeared in a National Championship game, appearing in the NABA National Championship World Series in 2021 where they finished as a finalist.
So the Thunder made the walk over to the stadium to play in the National Championship. Relaxing in the shade and watching the 50+ Desert National Championship, noting a few players moving over, giving them the indication of who they would face, the Fresno Hardcor.
The Hardcor started the game on top and continued to build the lead on starting pitcher John Miley. However, a pitching change stopped their momentum and gave the Thunder a bit of light. Thunder came back from a 10-1 deficit starting in the sixth inning scoring two runs, and then adding two more in the seventh. In the bottom of the eighth inning, the team gathered in a huddle and talked about what was at stake. Manager Bud Maison looked them in the eyes and called the team to rally, “Nothing matters up to this point; we need to live in the moment to ANSWER NOW! Be disciplined at the plate, make them throw pitches, and drive the ball!! ONE…TWO…THREE, THUNDER!!!”
A pitching change came in for the Hardcor in the bottom of the eighth inning and the tide turned. The Thunder displayed discipline and made the Hardcore pitching staff throw strikes.
The Hardcore struggled and went through five pitchers while the Thunder came back and went through the batting order twice, scoring 14 runs in the bottom of the eighth inning. Mario Padilla shut down the Hardcor lineup enabling the Thunder to score 18 unanswered runs to beat the Fresno Hardcor 19-10. Notable offensive efforts include John Brandenhagen (3-5); Jim Martin (3-5); Eric Lenberg (3-4); Chris Dahl (2-4); Bart Jennings (2-4); Bud Maison (2-4); Andrew Washburn (2-5); Abel Vizcarrando (3-4); John Miley (1-1); and Dan Seale (1-1). The Thunder scored over 145 runs batting .473 in nine games in the World Series tournament while playing nine games over six days.
In the end, they played selfless baseball; they moved runners up into scoring positions when needed; they overcame errors by answering with hits; they supported each other and played great team baseball. It took 28 years to bring the Trophy to Colorado Springs. Dave Kranz said it best, “We made some lifelong memories that led to lifelong friends!” The final offensive stats for the tournament are reflected below.