Features — 26 June 2019

I was with Camalote football, as manager of the club, for three years, and all of them we finished as bridesmaid. After the second runner-up finish, I decided no más, and went outside of the village to strengthen the club. We had a good squad, but we were too young; we needed some hardened bones, some good mature players, so I recruited Joe Hinds from Esperanza, to sweep; Charles “Siete” Jones from Unitedville, to run the middle; and Lloyd “Cotton” Jones from Georgeville, to strike.

I did my best for the club, gave all the focus I could give, but it didn’t go as I’d hoped. Those boys wanted to win, the entire village wanted to win, so I put out a team that could do that. Personalities are a hell of a thing and I got a full dose. The older players on the team resented losing three places on the field, and our most important senior player, maybe in solidarity with the aggrieved players, decided to put away his boots for the season.

When that happened I knew that year would be my last with the club. It’s my DNA. I would do anything I was asked to do, I would try and fill any space that needed a hard working fellow, but I wasn’t going to fight anybody in the village to hold the top dog position. My best role was to fill the gaps, and help the young ones to develop. When it came to leadership, if anybody wanted it, it was theirs.

Another thing happened that season that made me decide that win, lose or draw, Camalote would have to find another manager. One of my super talented young players told me that I was driving him to excel because I hadn’t been blessed with the talent to do it for myself. I wasn’t mad with him, but he was so wrong. My dedication was all for them.

So, after the football season, I was out of there. At the time, I was a pro-tem village councilor. At the time, Camalote softball was just finished serving out a suspension. The village had had two teams a couple years back: one, the national champions, the other a bunch of youths who couldn’t find a space on the big club. The teams couldn’t get along, and the Cayo committee thought it best that Camalote stay out of softball for a while.

You really can’t keep Camalote out of softball, and most of the girls on the big team having gone to Belize City to play, or gone into retirement, the young players regrouped and entered their team in the local competition. The manager of the team, Mrs. Virginia Neal, now deceased, had recruited me for the village council, and now she dragged me into the management of the club, as her assistant.

Ahem, I think I have set the table. I told you about my competitive nature, in sports. I wasn’t the leader, so I wasn’t about to lose any sleep, but they were going to get every ounce I got. As assistant manager I was perfectly placed.

My first job for the team I believe went unnoticed, but it was critical. Anthony Fuller, the pitching coach of our team, Camalote Duurly’s Cristal, was old school, dictatorial. One of the senior players, Bridgette Flowers Fuller, wanted to join the team, but Anthony didn’t want her, because she didn’t tolerate his bullying. Anthony declared that if Bridgette, my comadre, his sister-in-law, was on the team, he was out.

The team needed Anthony. The team needed Bridgette more. The best scene here would have been for Bridgette to stay out for a while, until there was some rapprochement between her and Anthony. That would have been best, but I had learned a lesson while managing the football club that I would never forget. I had had the opportunity to sign Kenton Graham, one of the best players in the football league at the time, a player we needed at the time, and I lost him because I sat him on the bench for a noble reason.

I told the manager that we shouldn’t take any chances with Bridgette. She was a dynamite player and there wasn’t a team in the country that didn’t want her. I told my manager we should sign her, play her, and play it from there. When the season opened, Bridgette, the best shortstop in the country, arguably the best player in the country, was on our diamond, and our brilliant young pitching coach, Anthony, was outside the fence, hanging out on the sidelines.

The players needed extra work, so I helped out on the field. Between the manager and her head coach, Linsford Reneau, there were two pairs of hands, and I became a third pair, chasing down balls, helping out with batting practice, whatever assistance they needed. Keneshia Sutherland, our pitcher, was a super talent, but she didn’t care to put in the work. I became her personal trainer, on duty whenever she was ready to put in some sweat.

The girls really wanted to win, so we started working out twice a day. I was there at five every morning to help the manager put them through their paces, and in the evenings I was there taking directions from her and her head coach.

Camalote Duurly’s Cristal wasn’t favored to win anything that year. Esperanza Wolverines was the defending national champion, and Roaring Creek Grace Kennedy was hot on their heels to dethrone them. Our girls won the championship. We won again the following year. We were a well-oiled machine, with Bridgette Flowers Fuller at shortstop, and the brilliant young pitching coach, Anthony Fuller, coming back on board, now and then, to train our ace pitcher, Keneshia Sutherland, and our second baseman/back-up pitcher, Francine Salazar, now and then.

The third year we ran away from the crowd, an undefeated season. That was the year I got the manager to agree that we call a committee meeting and ask for the league to accept a playoff format. We both knew the risk. At the time we were like 8 wins and 0 losses and had already sewed up the title. Now we were putting it on the line, and make no mistake we knew our opponents were no pushovers. Wolverines had the best batters in the league, Grace Kennedy was loaded, and both were extremely well coached.

That year, Camalote Duurly’s Cristal closed out the season with 10 wins and 0 losses, and we faced Roaring Creek Grace Kennedy, the second place team, in a best two out of three format for the crown. Roaring Creek’s ace, Josephine Meighan, was an outstanding pitcher, one of Belize’s best. They had no weakness in the field. Dana Cruz, their outfield leader, was a superstar; their infield, led by heavy hitting Stephanie Mckoy, was vacuum tight; their catcher, “Bernet” Smith, was a gold glove, and as I said, they didn’t lack for coaching.

Our team had perennial All Belize catcher, Patricia Thimbriel, with Molly Coye, a gold glove, at first; Francine Salazar at second, Bridgette at short, and Emogene Coye at third. We had a bright young star, Shadine Salazar, in left; a gold glove fielder, Frances Coye, in center, and an All World five tool star, Angela Andrews, in right field.

That year Keneshia was going to school in Belize City, and during the week she was being trained by an All Belize softball player, a young man called Dragon. I used to be one of her practice catchers, and I can tell you that young man, Dragon, took her to a level she had never been before or would ever reach again. She always had a great riser and sinker. The improved Keneshia, I couldn’t put a glove on her breaking ball and her change up, while not at the level of a Mona Peters or a Margaret Usher, was good enough behind her fast pitches to fool any batter.

You bet we had the best team in Cayo that year, the best team in all of Belize, but nerves were on me. Things can go wrong in sports. They say you don’t play the game on paper.

Now, I never interfered with the manager and her head coach when they set their team, and I seldom went by the dugout during games. When the umpire yelled, “Play Ball,” I was a fan, and fans suffer the most at ball games. Players and managers can do things; fans can only pray and cheer.

This fan had persuaded the manager of Camalote Duurly’s Cristal to go for a change to a playoff format AFTER we had already clinched the title under the format set before we started the season. I knew that a lot of people weren’t happy with the decision, and that she was carrying more risk than I was. I wasn’t comfortable. We absolutely needed a convincing win in the series opener.

I was standing outside the inner fence of the stadium, sipping a rum and coke, taking in the electric scenery at the packed stadium, when I saw Bridgette come through the gate and I went straight over to meet her. I knew she was a winner but I wanted to make sure she had a full grasp of the urgency of the situation. I didn’t mince words.

I will tell you that if it was football, and a man said what Bridgette said to me when I spoke to her, he would have found out how gud I kud kos. As I think about it now, I know the colors that would have been in my mind and it would have been no rainbow, it would have been all high heat.

When Bridgette smiles, her eyes twinkle, and when she speaks she makes a merry sound. You don’t have to be a student of psychology to know that somewhere inside her lives a very mischievous person. Today, our club’s management wanted, needed no excitement.

“Bridgette”, I said, “blow out. Blow them out.”

She and her teammates had other ideas. She smiled. “No, Mr. Colin,” she said, “this will be a boh-naz. One to nothing. We want to hurt them.”

It was the last glorious age of softball in Belize, the 1990s, and Camalote Duurly’s Cristal was one of the finest in the land. Our girls had the game all planned.

From her first pitch I knew Keneshia was on, that she would be dominant, near unhittable. I think we got our run in the second.  Then the show began. In the third, Bridgette cleanly fielded a weak grounder to short and, instead of making the throw to first, she casually flipped the ball to third, to Emogene, who gunned it across to first for the out. In the fourth, one of Grace Kennedy’s players bunted straight back to Keneshia who fielded, twirled and made an underhand toss to short, to Bridgette, who held the ball tantalizingly long before firing across the diamond for the out. That was the kind of game.

Those girls, those girls they were feeling it, and I, I was suffering. It wouldn’t have been right for me to get drunk in public, so midway through the game I switched from rum to Belikin. That’s what propped me up until our centerfielder squeezed a pop fly for the last out, putting the seal on their boh-naz.

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Deshawn Swasey

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