In an outcome which helped only one club - the league-leading Munich Caribes - the Gauting Indians and Ellwangen Elks played to a split on Saturday. In two tense contests, the hosts Gauting won the first one 2-0, but fell short as the visiting Elk narrowly held on to a 6-5 win in the second game.
The results - on a weekend when there was no other baseball in the Munich area - left Ellwangen with a won-lost record in the Regionalliga South-East of 7-5 and Gauting with 6-4. So the outcome did nothing to help either team try to close the gap with the Caribes who stand alone at the top of the 8-team table with a perfect 10-0 record.
For baseball fans, the contests in Gauting were rewarding to watch. Both sides played fundamentally solid, if unspectacular, baseball, demonstrating how difficult a game it can be when two well-coached and evenly-matched teams go against each other. Good running catches on flyballs in the outfield, steady infield defence, and some effective pitching were on display. With few exceptions, runs did not come easily but had to be earned.
Gauting, under player-coach Bernhard Huber, who also pitched the first game, took advantage of a few tiny mistakes by Ellwangen to scratch out their two runs in the first game. And a base-running mistake by the Elks - one that the alert Gauting outfield-infield defence quickly punished - cost the visitors a chance to get on the scoreboard and possibly do even more damage late in the game.
In the second game, it was one mistake in the Indians' infield defence that Ellwangen exploited to break what at that point was a 2-2 tie. Gauting allowed a simple Ellwangen pop fly on the infield to drop for a basehit. Instead of what should have been an easy out to end the inning, the runner reached base while another runner reached third base. The Elks, given a second life, punished the hosts for that one mistake with a number of clutch base hits to take a 5-2 lead.
They later expanded the lead to 6-2, before Gauting narrowed to 6-4. And the game finished in high drama in their final at-bat. With two outs, Gauting scored again to make it 6-5, with the third and final out coming on a controversial call when Gauting runner Andre Salcher tried to reach second base but was called out by the field umpire. The Elks celebrated with a sigh of relief at having just barely salvaged the victory, while the Indians were fuming at the umpire's decision.
The fans - many weekend cyclists stopped by to watch the action on a beautiful ballfield on the outskirts of Gauting - saw two entertaining games by two teams who, the way things have shaped up so far, will be vying to see which finishes second behind the Caribes in the Regionalliga. On June 8th, the league-leading Munich club will be going to Gauting, with the Indians certain to try to spoil the Caribes' run of victories.
If I weren't a Caribes guy, I could quickly become a fan of Gauting simply because of their ballfield. Like the English and their nostalgia for old-fashioned "village cricket", we Americans have very much a soft spot in our hearts for small-town baseball. The Gauting ballfield, nestled between blossoming meadows and lush forests on the edge of town, could well serve as a bucolic setting for a Hollywood-style "field of dreams" film - Made in Bavaria.