Fans Treated To A Bizarre Head-Scratching Play As Chatham Claims Home Opener

By: Brad Joyal

Topics: Orleans Firebirds , Chatham Anglers

Chatham first baseman Caden Grice from Clemson, right, holds Orleans outfielder Chase DeLauter (James Madison) on base during Monday's game at Veterans Field. BRAD JOYAL PHOTO

CHATHAM – It doesn’t matter if you have been around the game of baseball your entire life. Perhaps you played for years or coached for decades or have attended hundreds of games over the years. It doesn’t matter if you are a lifelong baseball disciple or a casual fan, there are many unknown wrinkles of the game that are waiting to be discovered.

Those in attendance at the Chatham Anglers’ home opener against the Orleans Firebirds Monday night at Veterans Field witnessed one of those once-in-a-lifetime wacky moments when Orleans infielder Jace Jung, the Big 12 Player of the Year, was called out for leaving the base path during his home run trot.

Although some spectators will likely remember the game because of that peculiar play, the Anglers will recall Monday as the night they got back into the win column for the first time since 2019 after they held off the Firebirds for a 6-3 victory one night after tying Falmouth 7-7 in their season opener.

“Now we’re just starting to get into our rhythm,” declared Lyle Miller-Green, Chatham’s right fielder from Chipola College who went 1 for 4 with a three-run double in the bottom of the fifth. “Obviously last night it sucked that we tied, but now we’re in the win column so we just have to keep it moving.”

Moments after Miller-Green’s bases-clearing double gave Chatham a 4-1 lead, he crossed home plate on an RBI double by center fielder Jake DeLeo from Georgia Tech.

Those insurance runs came after Chatham first baseman Caden Grice (Clemson) tied the game at 1 in the bottom of the fourth with a towering solo home run over the center field fence. The home run was nothing new for the 6-foot-6 slugger — he hit 15 homers as a freshman this spring — but it was the Anglers’ first blast of the summer at Veterans Field and it sent a celebratory jolt through the home crowd.

“I got a fastball that I was looking for,” said Grice, who said he’s seen right-handed pitchers routinely try to beat him with their changeups while lefties favor their curveballs through the team’s first two games.

“It felt great,” he continued. “It’s always good to hit one hard, especially if it leaves the ballpark.”

The Anglers (1-0-1) used five pitchers in the victory, starting with Austin Vernon, 6-foot-8 righty from North Carolina Central. Vernon didn’t allow a hit in his three innings pitched, and he struck out four batters and walked one while facing 10 in his debut.

“I knew what I was getting into when I entered the game,” said Vernon, alluding to the fact the team’s starting pitchers have each aimed to pitch three innings to start the summer. “I knew my job was to get to three (innings) and give us the best chance to win the game.”

Chatham manager Tom Holliday first turned to Cy Nielson (Brigham Young University) out of his bullpen and the lefty surrendered the first run of the game — a fielder’s choice hit by Jung (Texas Tech) that plated Jared McKenzie (Baylor) to give Orleans a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth.

Jung returned to the plate to lead off the sixth inning against Nielson. Facing a 1-2 count, he launched a drive to deep center field that sent DeLeo back to the wall.

It was clear the Chatham outfielder had a chance at making the grab, but when the ball finally landed few were sure whether DeLeo actually caught it. That group of uncertain onlookers included Jung, who rounded first and headed for second before eventually turning to his left onto the grass inside of the diamond before pausing and ultimately returning to the base path.

The umpires looked as confused as the spectators in the stands when they first conferenced near the mound. After a few minutes, two umpires walked over to Orleans (1-1) manager Kelly Nicholson to break the news that Jung was out. The third umpire did the same with Holliday.

“I don’t think they gave a really good home run call,” said Nicholson. “I think they will give good home run calls in the future. But talking with Jace in the dugout, he can’t leave the base. I think he learned something and I think the umpires learned something tonight.”

Both managers agreed they hadn’t ever seen a player get called out for leaving the base path during a home run trot.

“It’s a silly thing but it happened,” Holliday said. “As soon as he left the base path and went onto the grass, he was out. I feel bad about it. I mean, everybody in the ballpark knows he hit a home run.”

Jung began another rally in the eighth by plating Jordan Sprinkle (UC Santa Barbara) with an RBI single, cutting Chatham’s advantage to 5-2. Tyler Locklear (Virginia Commonwealth) made it 5-3 with an RBI single that plated McKenzie, but then Trevor Martin (Oklahoma State) entered in relief with the bases loaded and struck out Connor Kokx (Long Beach State) and Julio Marcano (New Jersey Tech) for the final two outs of the inning.

Johnny Castagnozzi (North Carolina) hit a solo shot with two outs in the eighth to give the Anglers their final run before Martin closed the door with a scoreless ninth, ending the game by getting Jung to swing and miss.

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