It Was the Worst of Times, It Was the Best of Times

To tell the story of the final weekends of the Scouts 2017 Campaign? That lofty enterprise would require a full field of idioms, metaphors, and subtle exaggerations that no account could do realistic justice to. For Scouts Cranks it must suffice to hear the story of that journey in the familiar motif of an epic descent and return, for that is the manner by which the story of the recent exploits of the Stewart’s Creek nine might best be related.

The saga picks up with our last dispatch, which related how much was ventured but nothing was gained or revealed to the Scouts in their late summer twin tilt with the Brentwood nine. Their position in the Cup seedings remained undecided after a split pair of matches to that plucky Traveller Club; and so the Scouts found themselves embarking on another rigid ascent up the Cumberland ridge, only to face the daunting descent hitherward to the Sixth Cavalry grounds.

At this point the Scouts, though hopeful, could be forgiven for abandoning some of that hope as they faced off against the formidable Mountain City nine. This latter bunch, having tasted nary a drop of the bitter tonic of defeat over the course of the long campaign, were looking to cement their standing in league history as the Association’s first undefeated side. The Scouts had much to play for—most directly, a favorable seeding in the upcoming Sulphur Dell Tournament—and so were to slow to abandon those hopes as they entered those steamy grounds.

Their wizened leader, Uncle Jessie, did much to buoy the hopes of his motley band of ballist pilgrims. Despite his gentle Virgilian encouragement and, later, his overt cajoling, the Scouts showed little spirit. And so his side showed uncharacteristic clumsiness afield in the early frames and little punch at the dish throughout.

The result? Yet another victory to the Mountain City bunch, this one by a comfortable 8-3 margin, and so they seemingly drove yet another nail in the coffin of the Scouts’ once-promising season. As the last out was recorded the Chattanoogans exulted in their hard-won glories and the Scouts took another step toward the abyss, finding their spirits diminishing as their standing likewise dropped in the Association’s tables. The events of the following day, with the noble Maroons besting the formidable Farriers, would confirm what the Scouts most feared—that they’d miss their accustomed favorable positioning come tournament time.

Inhabiting then the depths of deepest despair, the Scouts turned toward the grim work of preparing themselves for the Sulphur Dell Cup, held this weekend past at the Carnton’s Plantation. For those unfamiliar with this gala event, it serves the Association’s yearly celebration of the Campaign’s conclusion, with all twelve clubs taking the field to determine the Cup Champion.

It is hard to tell what set the events into motion that led to the Scouts’ unexpected and, to them, exultant result. Some might credit to the events of the previous year, with that defeat by the Maroon nine. Some might credit it to those unfortunate developments in the Campaign’s later weeks, when the Scouts experienced some ill luck and also brought their misfortunes upon themselves with their errant play. Indeed, it was difficult to discern where the tides turned to orient fortunes of the Oaklands side favorably. It was perhaps even begun in the wake of the Chattanooga debacle, when a member of the local side brought a new family member into his home and—perhaps presciently?—bestowed the moniker “Scout” upon the young feline fellow.

The Newest “Scout”

Indeed, somewhere along the line the trajectory turned and the Scouts emerged from that season-ending Inferno of their own making, embarking upon a Purgatorial journey that would end with a small glimpse of the ballist’s moment in Paradise—that ever-elusive chance to raise the Cup in celebration of hard-fought victory. Denied the chance to experience that exultant moment last year, the Scouts likewise tested, and then tempted, the Base Ball Fates as they strode uncertainly toward this elusive goal.

The first obstacle stood in the form of the emergent Cumberlander Club of the Hermitage Grounds. Advancing their prospects with a succession of aces in the contest’s early frames, the Scouts looked toward their next foes as that contest reached its later stages. Alas, that glance ahead was premature, as their opponents plated seven aces before the butterfingered Oaklanders managed to record the final out in a 12-10 victory that was too close for any of their collective comforts.

A Formidable crew of Farriers were their next barriers, that bunch also looking forward to their own brand of redemption to close out their own successful season. Both sides approached each other warily, looking for that precise occasion to capitalize on a moment of weakness. And for the Scouts that moment came in their seventh inning, when Tick-Tock’s timely two-bagger recorded the two tallies needed to secure the win by a margin of eight tallies to the Farriers five.

With those two victories recorded, the Scouts gathered at the Associations grand ball that night ready to celebrate the successful campaign despite enduring their own collective purgatorial journey. Within those uncertain terrains the Stewart’s Creek nine still maintained the slightest shreds of faith in their own capacities and the slightest glimmer of hope in their prospects. Even as they celebrated the Bunyan’s (As In PAUL BUNYAN’S) reception of the side’s Most Outstanding Ballist award, the Scouts understood that yet another showdown with the mighty Mountain City Nine was in the cards. To a man they dutifully maintained the manners of celebration despite their collective tumult within, each mindful of the next day’s grim spectre, and each soon retreating to a night of fitful, uneasy rest.

To repeat: it is hard to tell when the Base Ball deities turned the Fates in the Scouts favor. But once those forces were set into motion, they stayed in motion. The dark gulf between the Scouts and their hopes seemingly grew to a yawning chasm that in their early innings of the next day, as the Chattanoogans took an early lead. But with their resolve and their tolerance for adversity tempered by the rigors of the long campaign, the Stewart’s Creek saw their chance to shed their collective history and accept whatever fates awaited.

To this end, the side battled back and gained uneasy advantage as the hard-fought, spirited contest proceeded toward its latter frames. A trio of aces was enabled with timely strikes by Mitts, Tick Tock, and Haybale, ensuring a margin that their mighty opponents were unable to surmount. More relieved than exultant in their 7-5 victory, the exhausted Scouts took to the shady barriers knowing that yet another motivated adversary—the Maroons—waited ominously in the wings.

It is hard not to find some fortuitous serendipity in those developments, as those two very sides had squared off in last year’s Cup final with the Maroons justly taking the grand prize. And yet, it is also hard not to note hints of a providential design in that contest’s result. For in last year’s final, the Scouts took an uncertain lead into the contest’s late frames, only to see their highest hopes undone by some timely strikes and stellar play afield by the Maroon stalwarts.

The 2017 Sulphur Dell Cup Champions

This year, however, the outcome would be different. Falling behind early, the Oaklands nine equalized with a single tally in the third frame. Fortuitously gaining and then padding their lead in the later frames, they remained fully aware of the likelihood of yet another Maroon onslaught. Though they drew blood continuously on this day, the Maroons’ mortal blow remained undealt as the Scouts clung grimly to the spectre of sweet victory, ultimately showing themselves unwilling to have the moment of glory wrested from them once again. Working through the same scenario as the previous final, this time the Scouts held their margin—and in their endeavors they shattered those mind-forged manacles that had previously separated the side from its ultimate moment. With the last out finally recorded in their 11-7 triumph, the Stewart’s Creek Scouts had thus forged a new identity—that of the 2017 Sulphur Dell Cup Champions.

The Final Tally

Readers throughout history have marveled at the detail, symmetry, and message of Dante’s Divine Comedy. But few readers have ever wished it any longer. In that spirit we’ll append our closing to this too-lengthy account, remarking also that as Dante’s Pilgrim emerges from his epic journey, in which he’d encountered both the depths of the abyss and the elusive glimpses of ultimate promise, and from which he yet returns to the world, he becomes mindful of the new responsibilities demanded of him. So too do the Scouts also realize that new mandates emerge from their unlikely triumph, recognizing also the duty, now doubly imperative, to assert the Association’s values and to live up to its ballist’s credo.

Finally, as the attentions of sports cranks turn away from the newfangled sport of base ball and toward the more familiar interests of the sailboat races, the equine derbies, and the ars pugilistica, the Stewart’s Creek Scouts wish to thank their cranks and their opponents—their brother ballists—for their kind congratulations and good wishes, and also the Association for the grand campaign recently concluded. Likewise thankful for this moment of good fortune, the side will begin preparations for the 2018 Campaign, ready as always to remind all Association cranks and attendees of next year’s matches: “pro vestra exhortatione sellam aut stratum adduce et cibum libamentisque pro nutrimentum tuum.” See you next Spring!

The Old Man Joins Tick Tock in Celebration