There was no question who the Most Valuable Player was for the Ottawa Arrows as they captured the Class AAA American Legion State Baseball Tournament championship on Sunday at Grant Complex.
If you look at the box score, Becker’s name is nowhere to be found. He wasn’t even suited up for the Arrows’ thrilling come-from-behind 7-5 victory over the hometown McPherson Post 24, which was hoping to win a second straight state title.
The many times during the week when it was looking bleak for the Arrows, it was Becker’s image that ignited the team.
You see, Becker wasn’t with the Arrows physically in their finest hour, but he was there spiritually.
“He’s battling lymphoma and he’s in the hospital fighting,” said Ottawa coach Brian Long, who is a 1994 McPherson High graduate. “They (the team) take that same kind of spirit that he’s fighting with. We’re out here on a baseball field playing a game and he’s back in (the hospital this weekend). He came for the second game. We carried his jersey and they hung the medal on the jersey and everything at the end... you have a little bit more ambition to win. These guys were up for any kind of challenge and we didn’t bat an eye when we fell down there.”
McPherson had snapped a 1-all tie with four runs in the top of the sixth inning, but undaunted, Ottawa stormed back with a half-dozen runs in the bottom of the frame and then held on in the final inning to set off a wild celebration, with Becker certainly remembered during the dogpile.
The Arrows certainly displayed Becker’s grit throughout the week. They outlasted Garden City 4-3 in the first round and then nudged Wichita 7-6 in the second round.
That matched them with McPherson, which had won a high school matchup between the teams in May, 4-0. This time as Legionnaires, McPherson again triumphed 7-5 to force Ottawa to face the uphill climb in the losers bracket.
On Saturday, Ottawa was in dire straits as it trailed Wichita 4-0 in the sixth inning, only to score three runs. In the seventh, the Arrows came up with two runs, the last coming on a walk-off sac fly by Clayton Evans. It was Evans who ignited Sunday’s six-run rally with a two-run double as he had fallen behind in the count and was just trying to protect the plate.
“We’ve got a couple of kids on the team that may not have had the easiest road in baseball and Clayton is often is the guy who gets overlooked or loses his spot because of a numbers game or whatever,” Long said. “For him to come up in that situation, he’s come up huge all season for us. This just catapults him to having a big senior year.”
Ottawa had forced Sunday’s second championship game by defeating McPherson 13-5 on Saturday. Again the sixth inning was the key, as the Arrows broke a 4-all tie with four runs, then added five in the seventh for good measure.
The respect shown by the teams during and especially after the game proved that sportsmanship is still alive and well, even in this day and age where down-to-earth family values seemingly have changed. Even though Ottawa was euphoric after winning the championship, the teams joined together at the pitching mound with their arms around each other — McPherson players and coaches with their arms around Ottawa players and coaches and vice versa — and they said a prayer for Becker, hoping that he’ll beat his disease and return to having a happy and healthy life.
There were definitely no losers on this day.