After a week of tough games against top opponents in the North Central League II, the Calistoga baseball team got back to winning on Friday, snapping a four-game losing skid by beating Rincon Valley Christian, 12-6, at home.
But the evening didn’t just feature a much-needed win for the Wildcats but also served as a celebration of the past.
Following the game, the 1977 North Coast Section Class A champion Calistoga baseball team was honored with a banner commemorating their championship season. Six members of the team, including head coach John Duby, were in attendance on Friday for the banner ceremony. Duby came prepared with the original scorebook from that season and that year’s team photo.
“We had hair back then!” one former player yelled as Duby showed the photo off to the home crowd during the ceremony.
Joining Duby were Jim Wycoff, Kevin Begley, Jeff Maxfield, Teddy Tamagni and Roger Pond. The evening was understandably nostalgic for the group. It had been close to a decade since many of them had seen each other and even longer for some since they had returned to the field on which they starred.
But once back in familiar territory, the memories came flooding back.
Duby recounted from memory, and with a little help from the scorebook, the game-by-game run the Wildcats went on to capture the section title in the 1977 season. Using a small-ball style of play that was dubbed “Duby Ball” by some, Calistoga handled Emeryville 17-2 in the first round and then beat Napa Valley foe St. Helena in a thrilling 3-2 comeback win to reach the finals against Hoopa Valley, who the Wildcats dispatched 5-2 to win the section.
While Duby called winning a section title “more than special,” it was the semifinal game against the Saints that he speaks of most fondly.
St. Helena and Calistoga had split their two previous match-ups that season and the Saints were considered the best team the Wildcats played that season. In their semifinal bout, St. Helena led 2-0 heading into the seventh inning when Calistoga dug deep and started a last-ditch rally.
Calistoga scored a run several batters into the seventh to make it 2-1 and had runners on second and third but were down to their final out.
“Two outs, Dave Gray hits a ball to the hole at shortstop, the shortstop backhands – going to be a real close play at first – ends up throwing in the dirt, we score two runs and it was mayhem,” Duby recalled. “After that, it didn’t matter who we played. We were winning the section.”
The Wildcats did so, and to this day remain the only team in school history to win the section in baseball.
Duby, now 70, retired and living in Shingle Springs in El Dorado County, coached 11 years at Calistoga. Returning to his old stomping ground was an emotional experience.
“It brings back all the memories, all the hours I spent on this field, planting grass and coaching,” he said. “Being back on this grass is a really special thing.”
Duby wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
“We had a special thing back then,” said Begley to his former coach. “We really did. All these years later, you’ve still got this connection. You come down, you see these guys, and it’s like you’re right back in high school again. It feels so awesome.”
This won’t be the last time Calistoga honors the past. Coming on the heels of the Calistoga volleyball team’s historic run to a section title this past fall, the athletic department has decided to honor past section champions. The school will honor two football teams this upcoming fall and two basketball teams in the winter. All the banners will hang in Calistoga’s large gym.
Wildcats get back on track
“We got our swagger back,” a Calistoga player yelled from the dugout as the Wildcats piled on the runs in their 12-6 win over the Eagles on Friday.
That was a welcome sign for current Calistoga head coach Earl Caruthers, who had witnessed his team near the brink of collapse over the previous week.
The Wildcats had entered Friday’s game losers of four straight, the last three of which came in run-rule fashion. Playing against several of the top small schools in the area in St. Vincent, Sonoma Academy and Technology, the Wildcats had been outscored 50-3 over their previous three games and morale was low.
Their fortunes changed on Friday, and now Caruthers said he feels his team has righted the unsteady ship heading into the last week of the regular season.
“We needed this,” he said after Friday’s win. “We needed this a million times over.”
Junior Jesus Rojas-Mendoza led the way with his 3-for-4, seven-RBI day that was highlighted by his grand slam in the third inning that broke the game open. He also doubled and scored two runs.
Freshman Jonathan Koffler also had a big day at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a triple and three RBIs. Koffler also got the start on the mound but was relieved by Adan Rodriguez, who pitched the final five innings of the game to earn the win. He allowed four runs and struck out six in his outing.
“I’m really proud of how the guys came together because a couple days ago, these guys were counting the minutes for the season to end,” Caruthers said. “So, for them to come together today, especially with these alumni here, to be able to put in a good performance was amazing.”
At 4-8 in the NCL II and 5-9 overall, the Wildcats won’t be hanging any league championships banners this season but will get their shot at the postseason. Caruthers said the Wildcats are 5-1 this year against Div. 6 opponents and will probably make the playoffs and could even host a game.
“All our wins, everything we’ve done well, has been in our division,” he said.
The Wildcats are now back to their winning ways, and got some extra motivation heading into the postseason thanks to the banner ceremony.
“Two days ago, they didn’t want to be in the playoffs but I think if I ask them right now, they’d be all in,” he said. “The ceremony helped. What coach Duby said (about getting a chance at the NCS playoffs) was right on point. I told these guys … not everyone gets to play in the NCS, so whether it’s football, basketball, soccer, whatever it is, take your shot.”
The Wildcats wrap up regular-season slate this week with games at Credo on Tuesday and at home against Upper Lake on Friday. The seeding meeting for the playoffs will be on Saturday.