Baseball Is For The Birds
After a conclusion to the 2023 Williston Keybird baseball season, let's take a moment to reflect on the group of fine young gentlemen who went on an improbable run.
Rewinding back to the beginning of June, a group of young men came together to dawn the orange and black that are the Williston Keybirds. Some would be wearing their jersey for their last year, while others would be donning it for the first of many.
The season started out full of promise, taking the heavy favorites and eventual state champions to the wire in the season opening double header. The first few weeks were full of exciting games, exciting wins, close losses, and promise for the year to come.
However, things took a turn and the Keybirds slumped, and what a slump it was. Like how a bad cold makes its way around an office, everyone seemed to catch it, turning "We'll get them next time" into "I hope we can figure it out."
No one was doing anything wrong, just nothing was going right.
An unexpected highlight that came out of the season when things were going sideways, was what started out as a punishment for a couple of the players, turned into a highlight for many. During non-conference games players would get rotated up into the booth to provide color commentary. Some could take it or leave it, others asked if they could be up in the booth more often.
It's not often that you realize that a tradition is being born, but coaches willing, it will be a tradition that continues on KEYZ for years to come, and other teams have said that they will be adopting it as well.
While the results weren't what was hopped for in the back half of the season, the team was committed. Committed to the team, their coaches, and each other.
Then rock bottom hit.
Right before the post season hit, the team took a one game trip to Dickinson at the site of the state tournament. The worst loss of the season came when it could be ill-afforded.
Through the last two-ish weeks of the season, they Keybirds limped into the playoffs 9th out of 10 in the standings standings.
Game 1 - It took extra innings to get through the #8 seeded Dickinson team, avenging the earlier loss.
Game 2 - #1 seeded Fargo Post 2 proved that they were every bit as good as advertised and blanked the good guys, sending Williston into the losers bracket.
Game 3 - A match-up against #5 Jamestown ended in a 10 run rule and the second win of the tournament for the Keybirds, and something started to spring forth. Whether it was belief, grit, determination, or a simple desire to keep this group of 15 friends together, you could feel it palpable around the team.
Game 4 - A battle against a bitter rival in #2 Minot had the feeling of "This is our championship game", and what a game it was. Everyone was locked in, back and forth, big plays for both teams until the final frame, when the Keybirds won in dramatic walk off fashion to send home the Vistas.
This no longer felt like an ordinary run, it felt special.
Game 5 - #4 ranked Bismarck had taken 3 of 4 from the Keybirds in the last week of the season, but you wouldn't know by watching the game. Williston was dominant, cruising past into a semi-final match-up against what the eyeball test would tell you as the second best team in the state.
Game 6 - There was a buzz at the stadium in Dickinson before the game against #3 West Fargo. The Patriots struck first and took an early lead, but this Williston team knew they would not be denied and answered back quickly, and did more than enough to take home the win and to keep the improbably run alive.
Coming around the losers bracket to make it into the state championship game did two things:
1. it gave these kids, coaches, parents, and fans more time to enjoy the season, and
2. The Williston Keybirds punched their ticket into the Regional tournament in Rapid City, which would start just a few short days later.
Game 7 - The Keybirds, who were once again up against Fargo Post 2, would have to win two straight to be crowned state champions. However, the team once again found themselves at the receiving end of an offensive juggernaut. At one point trailing by 10, the Keybirds battled back and looked to have Post 2 on the ropes, but the rally came too little too late.
Despite finishing the state tournament with a loss and accepting their plaque with a pit in the bottom of their stomachs, they had done something magical.
The state sports-sphere was basking in what the Keybirds had done. An improbable story of a team that didn't luck into it, they earned one final chapter.
If you ask anyone that was there in Rapid City for the Keybirds two regional tournament games they would tell you that despite they team dropping both games, this team competed and proved that they deserved to be there.
It has been a long, frustrating, exhilarating, emotional ride through the 2023 Keybird baseball season, and I am glad that I got to be there for (almost) every game.
To the coaches and the WPRD for allowing me to go on this amazing adventure.
To the parents for raising such upstanding young men.
To my wife for being so supportive of my crazy travel schedule.
And most importantly to the 2023 Keybirds. You not only represented yourselves, your family, and your city with class and dignity, but you served as a reminder in an oft bleak world that hard work eventually pays off, that there is a reason the baseball is America's past time, and that the journey matters more than the destination.
And to the Keybirds who have finished up their career, any time you are back home and find yourselves at Affedt Stadium, you have a headset waiting for you in the booth next to me.
Until next time sports fans.
30 Hilarious Minor League Baseball Teams That Sound Fake, But Are Actually Real