Written by - Posted 2015-07-08 00:47 in News

Following the All Star draft conference call Tuesday night I was doing some social media monitoring to see how it went. (All signs point to a success.)

While doing that I noticed a tweet from HRL that they were going to periscope their NWLA practice session. So, out of curiosity, I clicked the link and watched the practice for a few minutes. It seemed like your standard practice session, all looked good.

On one pan of the camera, being held by Vlade I think, I noticed a blue backstop behind the batter. It could have been bad lighting, it could have been something I Imagined in my head, but I’d say I was 90% sure it was one of the two blue backstops I had shipped out there for the Regional.

I’m not one to quibble over a backstop that costs .1% (yes point 1 percent) of what the tournament costs to operate each year. In fact, I would have gladly left or donated the backstop to them if they had asked.

However, from my hard working staff I had sent to Minnesota (I was busy getting arrested by the Park Police in DC that Sunday) I had received a report that one of the two backstops didn’t get shipped back because it was “broken”.

Now, the staff were too generous to HRL, (magnificent hosts, couldn’t have asked for anything more) to blatantly call them liars, or thieves, about the backstop. But, the staff was pretty sure the backstop was in fine working order, and they were claiming it was broken and were just going to take it to the trash in order to keep it for themselves. “Broken” was figuratively and literally in air quotes.

Now, in a crazy scheme to make money, I’m sure the company that makes the backstop makes thousands of these. And it’s possible it wasn’t the “broken” blue backstop I had sent out there. It could have been a backstop HRL purchased, legally, on their own. I don’t want to make accusations based on circumstantial evidence…but I’m going to.

You see, it wasn’t the first time HRL has stolen from the NWLA. There were two other notable examples I’ll explore now as evidence.

2013 NWLA Flag

As everyone knows, we have flags for each of the leagues at the tournament, and we also have a few (security concerns won’t allow me to disclose how many) NWLA Tournament logo flags we fly.

For the 2014 season, HRL made a promotional video as one of their required news stories. It featured video from a practice session. Watching the video (I generally watch all the videos and read all the stories, but I skip all the podcasts) I noticed hanging on their fence was an NWLA flag.

It seemed odd, since I hadn’t given them one, that they’d have one. I posted a social media comment about it, and obviously HRL demurred.

Shortly thereafter though, a twitter account sprang up for NWLAFlag. It’s profile biography “I was born in Washington DC, but grew up in Columbus, OH and now live in the Twin Cities. Wifflers love me. I’m high… in the air.”

Obviously, HRL had stolen a flag. For sure one in 2013, and possibly another in 2014. Which, again, not something I’d quibble about. I would have gladly given them an $85 flag if that’s what it took to make them happy. In fact, I have given them, multiple $85 flags to date, some I don’t even know about.

For HRL though, I think it’s the theft part they like. In some weird Thomas Crown-esque moment of quickly lowering the flagpole before anyone notices, and walking off with the flag. (The Russian security guard only works 8 PM to 8 AM each night of the tournament.) It’s probably classified in the DSM-5.

Backstop, flag…these are small potatoes. Victimless crimes, unless you count me as a victim. I do not. Don’t worry about me, I’ve got plenty of flags and backstops.

These aren’t even my favorite two HRL theft stories. My favorite is the one that makes them the most mad. It’s the time they got caught stealing, and had to pay the price for it.

Third Base Against WSEM

Imagine the scene if you will. You are three wins away from winning the 2014 NWLA Championship. You can almost taste the shitty beer you bought falling out of the cup into your mouth. You’re the #2 seed, and you’re in your second tournament, and ready to win.

You’re playing the #6 seed, WSEM, having already dispatched the 2013 champion, TBW, in the previous game. If you win, you face the very overrated SWBL, and you’re basically being handed the Championship.

It’s the bottom of the third inning, you’ve got a man on second, Tyler Flakne, two outs, and you’re trailing 2-1. Austin Bischoff, pitching for WSEM, having just given up a hit, and struggling with command, seems human for the first time all tournament. Travis, they call him “two bat”, Heyda is at the plate. He gets four balls on him. Flakne can smell the get it over pitch coming from Bischoff, who’s K’d 6 to only 4 walks in the game, and knows Two Bat is going to rip the single that scores him to tie the game.

On the pitch…Flakne leads off, takes 2-3 steps toward third base, anticipating the contact from a swing, and wanting to be ready to score.

WAIT! It’s a ball, Two Bat takes the pitch, maybe Bischoff is human. But…with no swing, and no force moving him to the next base, Flakne is just standing off base, in the middle of no mans land, with his pants down. The ball didn’t make contact with the bat, and he wasn’t forced to third base by a walk with first base open.

He was trying to steal third…but he is CALLED OUT by the umpire for leaving base.

Later HRL would claim he was off base to tie his shoe, or to adjust himself. But, the video doesn’t lie, he wasn’t walking around, or adjusting anything. He left base on the pitch, to try to get an advantage. He cheated a little, we all do it, he just got caught in a critical situation.

The right call was made, and it’s a momentum changer in the game. HRL never recovers. They are mentally shot. OCWA eliminates them the next game. WSEM…well…they took advantage of that weak SWBL team, and beat TBW, who HRL had already beaten, to win the Championship. I had to present the trophy to Alex Shore of all people.

HRL snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Partly to blame from their habit of stealing.

It wasn’t the times they got away with stealing that had the most affect on their NWLA history, it was the one time they got caught.

Enjoy the flag fellas, and the backstop. Everyone else, watch your belongings.

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