It’s been said that the hallmark of a true champion is finding a way to win even when one’s not at the top of their game.
Pitted against its arch-rival, the Mudsharks, and with the championship on the line last week, Island Towing proved far from flawless. But even a spate of rare errors in the field and missed opportunities at the plate couldn’t keep the perennial powerhouse of the Island Rec co-ed softball league from scratching out a victory, or prevent the players clad in those teal blue t-shirts from claiming a 10th consecutive league title, on the heels of a narrow 8-6 win.
That’s right, 10 in a row. And it just might be the last.
“It’s been a phenomenal run, no two ways about it,” said Gene Wilson, mainstay on the mound of the team that bears his company name and arguably its center of gravity, and, who, after a decade of dominance, is calling it quits.
“I made up my mind this year, actually I made it up three years ago,” he said, noting flexibility and eyesight wane with age. “I’m overdue.”
Longtime infielder and Wilson’s wife, Kelle, hung up her glove, for the most part, a year ago. Shortstop Frank Finch, arguably the most feared player at the plate over the past decade, is considering abandoning the ball field for the golf course, and Molly Finch is leaning toward retirement as well. Although Amber Kleine made her presence known both behind and at the plate, husband and longtime Towing star slugger Shawn sat out this season.
Whether Towing returns next season, either as a shadow of itself, or at all, remains to be seen. But its record stands for itself: 88-5 in league play, 10 consecutive league titles, 23-1 in off-island tournaments (with as many as eight games each), two off-island tournament titles and one second-place finish.
Some will say it’s practice, and getting players to consistently show up, that’s led Towing to near perfection.
“They keep most of their regular players from year to year and they get people to show up for practice,” the Mudsharks John Roberson said. “And it shows. If you give them a chance and make errors they’ll capitalize on them.”
Others will point to fresh blood, like the additions of former high school standouts Michael Knowles and John Cornell, and the man on the mound.
“Gene’s a good pitcher, and they get good, young players every year,” said Steve Porten, who pitched against the Towing lineup for years.
Still others, like Molly Finch, note that having talented, reliable, experienced female players has been pivotal to the team’s success (league rules require an equal split of ladies and men on the field, five each).
“A big part of our success is having good girls,” Finch said, “and having a good pitcher.”
Wilson believes Towing’s winning ways may have more to do with chemistry than anything else. Playing as a “team” makes all the difference.
“We played a ton of teams with a lot more talent than we have, where we were outclassed… and we beat ‘em,” he said. “We’re a team. Those guys, they like each other.”
And, they enjoy winning as well.