SALIDA — For recent Turlock High graduate and UCLA-bound shortstop Kevin Kramer, it was a dream that turned into reality. Like most baseball players, he grew up dreaming about his shot at heroics — his opportunity to win an important game with one swing of the bat.
He has provided heroics before in his young career, but that doesn’t mean he’s immune to nerves. He lived out his childhood dream again Monday night, when his Modesto Babe Ruth 18-and-under team was down one run against San Benito in an elimination game of the Pacific Southwest Regional at Modesto Christian High. The bases were loaded and the left-handed Kramer had a full-count against him.
The pressure didn’t get to him, as he lined a shot off the San Benito pitcher’s glove to knock in two runs and capped off a three-run rally in the top of the seventh inning to give Modesto the 5-4 win in front of a Modesto-influenced crowd. He wasn’t finished there, as he pitched in the bottom of the seventh to earn the save.
“I felt like we put the pressure on them by putting guys on base and getting back to the top of the lineup, right where we wanted to be in that situation,” said Modesto coach Bobby Swedberg, who’s also a Pitman High junior varsity assistant. “I was confident that anyone of those guys would do the job.”
“I’ve been in that situation before and every ball player wants to be in that situation,” Kramer added about his game-winning hit. “Every kid dreams of that when they were little.”
However, Modesto fell 13-3 to Watsonville in the tournament’s final elimination game to fall short of a regional title and a World Series berth. Modesto played five games in four days.
Kramer and his teammates didn’t want to use fatigue as an excuse.
“A true ball player fights through fatigue,” said Kramer, who, along with teammate Klayton Miller, was named to the all-tournament team. “Everybody can put that aside. We were off. We didn’t play our game.”
The majority of the Modesto players will now focus on college. Besides Kramer, three of them have Turlock ties. Jeremy McDonald (Turlock High) and Brandon Cummings (Hilmar High) are headed to Cal State Stanislaus baseball, while John Westberg has one more year at Turlock Christian High.
This Turlock group all contributed throughout the summer and at the regional tournament.
Against San Benito, Kramer went 1-for-3 with two RBIs, Westberg scored as a pinch runner and McDonald finished with an RBI after going 1-for-2. As for Cummings, he started against Watsonville, which was playing in only its third game.
Once again, Swedberg and his Modesto team were looking to recapture the success of 2008, when the team advanced to the World Series and only lost in the final. Since then, Modesto has been stranded at the regional. But once again, Modesto made another solid effort with another talented group.
Modesto opened the tournament with a 9-3 win over Antioch before facing San Gabriel and Arizona State signee and recent Minnesota Twins draftee Adam McCreery — a pitcher Swedberg referred to as “the best pitcher in Babe Ruth in (the) four years” he’s been with the summer league. McCreery struck out 13 and allowed just two hits in a 1-0 win.
Modesto then bounced back in the losers’ bracket of the double-elimination tournament with the victory over San Benito.
“This was one of the best groups of kids I’ve had, as far as character go,” Swedberg said. “It was a pleasure coaching them.”
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