They seized the day.
Bayfield baseball players Matt Knickerbocker and Kelton McCoy woke up Sunday as carpe diem as possible. They put on the uniforms of the Farmington Strike Zone, knowing the coveted event-hosting berth in the 2014 Connie Mack World Series was within reach.
It required back-to-back beatings of the 4 Corners Club Sox, then two more wins over the Cardinals.
"It felt like two hours to get that final out!" Knickerbocker recalled Wednesday morning. "But I think that inning took only, like, three minutes! And we just started screaming, throwing our gloves.. It was definitely the most exciting game I've played."
"That's definitely.if it's not the most incredible feeling I've ever had, it's up near the top of the list," McCoy later echoed. "It was awesome, worth all the work we've put in during the summer."
And just to have that opportunity came with a bit of irony; in the Farmington City Tournament the night before, Strike Zone had to get past [and did, 6 to 3] many of Knickerbocker's and McCoy's fellow Wolverines on BHS boss Jon Qualls' Bayfield Bats roster. The Sox had dealt the Bats their first tourney loss the night before that.
"It was a good test. Bayfield played a great game," Cardinals head coach Adam Morrissey told the Farmington Daily Times afterwards. "They were scrappy and did really well."
Which didn't really come as a surprise to either Knickerbocker or McCoy.
"It was a little bit weird playing against them," McCoy said, "but I was still proud to be from Bayfield. And they really battled us; the radio guys were giving them big props."
"We've played 'em four times this year. And all four.it was kind of weird playing against my [BHS] teammates," said Knickerbocker, noting he'd committed to play for the out-of-state squad long before it was known Bayfield would assemble a Mack-grade team.
"But every single time-all four times-I did horrible! In that game, I struck out twice and grounded back to the pitcher! It was weird! But then in that championship.I went 4-for-6 with a walk!"
Knickerbocker then emphasized that in the opener against the Sox, batting second in the order, he and leadoff man Casey Dunlap of 4A Durango were a combined 7-for-7-alluding to the Zone's talent.
"We're solid. Every position. All week long our coaches were like, 'We're GOING to win!'"
"It was incredible," Morrissey recalled Wednesday afternoon via phone during a pause in practice, of the victory celebration. "Everything we'd prepared for over the weekend, they accomplished it to a 'T.'"
"We have two pitchers from Albuquerque," McCoy added, "and two from Queen Creek, Arizona, as well. And they've helped us out a lot; one of them threw both games on Sunday-threw 60 pitches in the first, then wanted the ball for the second.and shut them down again!"
"I caught the first game, and [DHS'] Isaiah Mayberry caught the other."
"I know our coaches will have us prepared [for the Series]," said Knickerbocker. "But if we blow it out of proportion we won't do well. So.that's the key to it-staying calm."
"It'll get our adrenalin going, for sure," McCoy said, anticipating the atmosphere about the San Juan County Classic's initial action. "Seven thousand people.. But we just need to stay focused on what we've been doing all summer."
Of course, that could be easier said than done for the potent Bayfield pair, knowing they and their newfound teammates will be expected by fans to emulate, if not replicate, last year's success.
In 2013, Strike Zone's run ended with a semifinals loss to eventual champs East Cobb of Marietta, Ga. But Morrissey exuded confidence in his 2014 bunch, McCoy and Knickerbocker included.
"Kelton's been catching a lot for us this year, and Matt's been playing everywhere-they've been a huge part of this team. I really love having those kids."
"Every year I tell our team that our goal is not just to show up," he continued. "This year's team is just as deep.we have as good a chance as any this year!"
"Sunday night, my phone was blowing up! I had all these random numbers of people saying 'Congratulations,' text messages." said Knickerbocker. "I was just in shock for the next two days: We're going to the Connie Mack World Series-something I've wanted to do ever since I was a kid!"
The World Series is Aug. 1-8 at Ricketts Park in Farmington.
"The juices will be flowing," McCoy said.
DID YOU KNOW: Ricketts Park was originally called Babe Ruth Park after a successful hosting of the 1963 Babe Ruth League World Series. The yard would be officially re-named after Orvil Ricketts-the man responsible for first swaying the city to reserve five acres of land for such a facility-in 1967.
DID YOU ALSO KNOW: Morrissey, long before coming to the U.S., was once the Australian Baseball League's youngest-ever player when he suited up at age 15 during the mid-1990s.
He would go on to play ten years in the minor leagues within the organizations of the Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics-with whom he spent three years on the 40-man roster before being removed in 2005 in favor of Tim Harikkala, who'd pitched for the Colorado Rockies in '04 and whose 6-6 record led the A's to claim him off waivers that October.
An infielder originally from New South Wales, AUS, Morrissey had been rated amongst Oakland's top-ten prospects just a couple years before, mentioned in similar sentences with future big-leaguers Rich Harden and Bobby Crosby.