LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL – New England eye surgeon Dr. Pierre Alfred corrects other people’s vision for a living.
But pardon him for rubbing his own eyes these days, as he can hardly believe what he sees sitting on his desk – the 2012 USSSA Men’s Major World Series championship trophy.
“When I first started playing softball, I never dreamed some¬thing like this was possible,” said Alfred. “It wasn’t even an ambition. But as time progressed, anything seemed attainable. After a lot of hard work and perseverance, everything finally paid off.”
Dr. Alfred is the lead sponsor of LaserVision/Annihilation/ Supreme/D2E/Easton, which won its first ever world champion¬ship at the Men’s Major World Series played Sept. 19-23 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Champions Stadium located at Disney World.
“We’ve been close several times before, finishing second in both the B and A (World Tournament), but for the first time winning a ring to come on the biggest stage in softball has been simply amazing,” said Alfred.
The ophthalmologist, who owns several Eye & Lasik Centers in western Massachusetts, began playing slow-pitch softball 30 years ago while in the military. He later got involved in local USSSA tournaments as a player, coach and then sponsor.
“As I developed professionally, I also developed my hobby,” said Alfred. “Our teams always had a need for more money, and when I got in a position to be able to support the game, that’s what I wanted to do.”
LaserVision had come close to the crown in the past. In 2011, the team run-ruled their first three opponents at the Major World Series, before getting crushed by Resmondo/Worth, 27-7, in the winner’s bracket finals. Then, LaserVision came out flat Sunday morning and lost to B team TaylorMade/Mizuno, 18-3, to settle for third place.
The year before, after finishing second at the Class A World Tournament, LaserVision lost its first game at the Major World Series, before battling back to win four games in the loser’s bracket to finish fourth. Prior to that, LaserVision went 2-2 at the 2007 Major World Series, and 0-2 at the 2008 Major World Series.
After the 2011 season, Alfred broke ties with his West Coast partner and revamped the team with input from manager Dan Fruwirth and captain Brett Helmer, a Hall of Fame player.
“We had been with Combat the past couple of years, and decided it was time to do something different this year,” said Alfred. “So when situation with Brett and Easton became an opportunity, we decided to go with it. Brett was very instrumental in pulling this team together.”
Helmer, a 41-year-old left-handed slugger, has had an illustrious career as one of the greatest power hitters of all-time. He was the anchor of the Dan Smith teams that won world championships in 2004 and 2008, as well as numerous runnerup and other high finishes. Helmer is third on the All-Time USSSA World Series Home Run list with 104 and is by far the leader during the Disney Era (2000-present). The huge yellow wall across the parking lot from the right field home run fence has been unoffi¬cially dubbed “Helmer’s Wall” because of his propensity for clearing the structure with mammoth home runs.
In selecting the 2012 squad, LaserVision focused on veterans Helmer had gone to battle with in the past. They started by luring infielder Bryan Baker and outfielder Brian Rainwater away from 2011 world champion Resmondo. Added to the mix were long¬time teammates Jason Kendrick, Dal Beggs and Brian Wegman, along with others from the 2011 LaserVision squad such as pitcher Geno Buck, speedy centerfielder Spike Baker and versatile Scott Kirby. Rounding out the team were the additions of shortstop Kevin Kennington from TaylorMade, third-baseman Sam Lopez from R&M Metals, and first-baseman Ryan Theide from EWS. Among the backups on the team was pitcher Billy Messina, who will be joining Helmer in the USSSA Hall of Fame this November.
The team was certainly loaded with experienced players with proven track records, but some wondered if the veteran group could be the best in the new era, where there is more of an emphasis speed, defense and athleti-cism than just brute power. LaserVision opened the year as the favorite at the Sin City Classic in Las Vegas, but stumbled to a fifth place tie. The team bounced back at the Hall of Fame Dual in Florida, going 14-4 to finish second in both events. Laser Vision then went 5-0 to win the Mike Turney Memorial in Kansas City in what would be their only championship of the Conference USSSA season.
At the end of the regular season, with the one cham¬pionship and six runner-ups among their 11 tour¬naments, LaserVision/Easton was a distance second behind Resmondo/Worth in the Conference USSSA Final Standings. Then, the unthinkable happened – BOTH LaserVision and Resmondo went 0-2 at the Conference Championships! Suddenly, the race at the World Series was thrown wide open.
“I was extremely concerned (after the Conference Championships),” said Alfred. “There is so much parity in the game these days. The so-called A teams are just as good as the Major teams. And because the A teams have more playing opportunities late in the year, they are what I call ‘tournament-tough’ at the end. Our confidence was certainly not as high as it needed to be.”
On the opening night of the World Series, both of the powerhouses put to rest any thought of a repeat from the Conference Championships, as Resmondo/Worth blasted Primetime/Easton, 23-3, while LaserVision/ Easton had a tougher time with scrappy BuziniSports. com/BWW/Worth, with a narrow 17-13 win.
The following night, after LaserVision snuck past Conference Championships winner Tyja/Suncoast/ Reebok, 25-24, Resmondo was upset by Class A world champion R&M Metals/Easton, 25-18. That turn of events left LaserVision as the lone Major team left in the winner’s bracket along with three A teams, while their nemesis Resmondo was sent to the shark-infested loser’s bracket that included the two other Major teams, plus Class A powerhouses such as Tyja/Suncoast, Shoppe/Team TPS and Team 454/Worth, among others. Suddenly, Resmondo was facing the challenge of having to win seven games in a row in a span of just over 24 hours if they wanted to claim their fourth world cham¬pionship in a row.
In the semi-finals of the winner’s bracket on Friday night, LaserVision/Easton throttled Reds Astros/TPS, 29-5, in the bottom half of the bracket, before local favorite DeMarini/Dirty/3n2 edged out R&M Metals/ Easton, 17-15. Then, in the all-important winner’s bracket finals on Saturday night, LaserVision/Easton knocked off DeMarini/Dirty, 18-13, to put themselves in the enviable position of having to win just one more game on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Resmondo/Worth began its run through the wretched loser’s bracket by beating BuziniSports. com/BWW/Worth, 22-6, on Saturday morning. They came back later the same day to defeat Shoppe/Team TPS, 21-17; Reds Astros/TPS, and R&M Metals/Easton, 17-8, to make it to Sunday morning. In the finals of the loser’s bracket, Resmondo put up 15 runs in the first inning on their way to a 31-12 win over DeMarini/Dirty to make it back to the championship.
Needing a pair of wins over well-rested LaserVision to win the crown, Resmondo got off on the wrong foot by losing the coin toss and having to be visitors. LaserVision got out to a lead in the first inning, and added to it over the next three frames. Resmondo was actually in danger of being run-ruled in the fifth inning, before an 11-run outburst put them right back in the game. The prospects of Resmondo pulling it out and forcing a winner-take-all “if” games seemed like a real possibility. But LaserVision clung to their narrow lead heading into the seventh. After the bottom three of the Resmondo lineup all reached base, the team was soon faced with two outs and the tying run at the plate. But LaserVision pitcher Geno Buck enticed an infield fly to end the game with a 27-25 victory, and the LaserVision celebration erupted.
“I want to thank all the sponsors, fans and players of LaserVision that made this happen,” said manager Dan Fruwirth. “It was a long year with a lot of ups and downs, and we all climbed the mountain but never reached the top (during the regular season).”
Fruwirth added, “We finally put it all together at the right time by playing one game at a time by beating whoever they put in front of us. And we beat the best program in softball history, Resmondo, and that alone is a huge task. For me, Pierre and Taz (statistician Bill Tasinari), it’s our first ring and it feels great.”
LaserVision/Easton, based in Helmer’s hometown of Cicero, NY, averaged 23.2 runs per game during their 5-0 run. Resmondo/Worth, based in Winter Haven, FL, averaged the exact same number in compiling a 6-2 record to finish second. DeMarini/Derty/3n2 from Orlando capped a breakthrough year by placing third with a 3-2 mark. R&M Metals/Easton, from Waterloo, Iowa, added icing to their Class A world championship season by finishing fourth at the Major World Series.
Reds Astros/TPS, a B team from Indianapolis, and Team 454/Worth, an A team from Glen Allen, VA, tied for fifth place, while Tyja/Suncoast/Reebok from Great Neck, NY and Shoppe/Team TPS from McKenzie, TN tied for seventh. Buzinisports.com/BWW/Worth, a B team from Jackson, MS, capped their first season of Conference ball tied for ninth, but their one win came over the team that beat them in the championship of the Men’s B World Tournament, Down2earthsports, and their two losses came to the two teams who finished first and second in the Major World Series. Other teams tying for ninth place were Line Drive Sportz, a B team from Detroit; West Coast Doerflinger/Easton, an A team from Los Angeles; and Team Combat, a Major team from Seattle.
Andy Purcell of Resmondo/Worth had one of the greatest individual performances in USSSA Major World Series history. In addition to being the best pitcher and most dominant presence in the game, Purcell was magical at the plate as well – hitting.738 with 15 home runs and 31 RBIs. In the championship game, Purcell was 5-for-6 with five home runs to help keep his team in the running until the very end. Purcell shared Co-Most Valuable Player honors with infielder Scott Kirby of world champion LaserVision/Easton. Kirby’s tournament was highlighted by a mammoth home run well over the 400-foot sign in straight-away center-field, reminiscent of the blast he hit completely over the scoreboard at the 2008 World Series. For the tournament, Kirby batted .773 with seven home runs and 13 RBIs.
Brian Rainwater of LaserVision/Easton batted .667 with six home runs and 15 RBIs and was named the Outstanding Offensive Player of the World Series, while Resmondo shortstop Don DeDonatis III was tabbed the Outstanding Defensive Player. Dan Fruwirth of LaserVision/Easton was named the Outstanding Manager. Rainwater was actually the Co-MVP of the 2011 World Series, while DeDonatis was the MVP of the 2010 World Series. Rainwater, DeDonatis and Purcell are the only players to ever win the MVP Awards more than once.
Players named to the All-Tournament team were Kirby, Kennington, Rainwater, Wegman, Lopez, Buck and Bryson Baker, of LaserVision/Easton; Purcell, DeDonatis, Bobby Hughes, Bubba Mack, Greg Connell and Jeremy Isenhower, of Resmondo/Worth; Adam Rockoff, Andrew Collins and Terry Baggs, of DeMarini/Dirty; Mike Umscheid and Reggie Schulte, of R&M Metals/ Easton; Wally Maybrier, of Reds Astros/TPS; and Chad Durick, of Team 454/Worth.
Durick was also the first place winner of the Home Run Derby held Friday night. The event was for the top power hitters in the sport, and was broadcast by ESPN3. The event was held as scheduled, despite almost contin¬uous rainfall at Champions Stadium. The most popular hitter in the contest was Christan Dowling, from Women’s B world champion Derby Girls. Dowling actu¬ally hit several balls over the fence and was rewarded with an ovation from the large crowd.
By Greg Huchingson, Managing Editor
About USSSA Florida Pride:
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