To reach the Universe series, the Tatooine Podracers had defeated the Battlestar Galacticas in six games and the Starfleet Alfas had knocked off the Yautja Predators. In the Universe Series, the Tatooine Podracers and Starfleet Alphas swapped wins for the first six games. The championship game came down to a gripping Game Seven that would feature each team’s top pitcher in an exciting battle for the Emperor’s Trophy. The Podracers were managed by C3PO, who would match wits with Data, manager of the Alphas.
Here were the starting lineups:
· CF—Geordi La Forge--La Forge had an uncanny ability to track a fly ball to the far reaches of the outfield, almost as if he had a sixth sense and could just “feel” where the ball would end up, rather than using his eyes. Because of this ability, he was one of the best defensive center fielders in the league. He also had a surprisingly good batting eye and made a good leadoff hitter.
· 3B—Montgomery “Scotty” Scott--“Scotty” wasn’t the most coordinated player on the team. He was kind of the scrappy type of player who looked unconventional at the plate, running the bases, and in the field, but somehow found a way to make it work.
· SS—James Tiberius Kirk--The team captain, Kirk was a shortstop with good hands but limited range. Before making it to the IGBL, Kirk had played for a number of teams in his home state of Iowa, including the Dyersville Dennycranes.
· RF— William “Number One” Riker--Riker was a cocky, swashbuckling player who was known to be quite popular with the ladies. In fact, the original left fielder for the Alphas was Deanna Troi, but an on-again, off-again relationship with Riker caused problems in the clubhouse and Troi was traded away mid-season. When the team brought up Seven of Nine from the minor leagues, they put her in left field and told center fielder Geordi La Forge to keep right fielder Riker away from her. Pitcher Jean-Luc Picard often referred to him as “Number One.”
· 1B—Worf--Known for his constant scowl, Worf was the no-nonsense enforcer on the team and also the team’s best power hitter (who scared the heck out of rookie second baseman Wesley Crusher).
· SP— Jean-Luc Picard--A veteran hurler with years of experience, Picard could mix and match pitches with the best of them. Some thought he may have been doctoring the baseball, similar to MLB Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry. An investigation of Picard’s locker revealed a surprising amount of K-Y Jelly, but the evidence was considered circumstantial and he was never caught with a foreign substance while on the mound.
· LF—Seven of Nine--Called up from the minor leagues to replace Deanna Troi, who had been traded away mid-season, Seven of Nine was the most athletic player on the team but didn’t seem to have much passion for the game. She was very even-keeled, not getting too excited when things went well and not too upset when things went wrong. It was almost as if she had difficulties expressing human emotions.
· C— Hikaru Sulu--Small for a catcher, Sulu was quick and agile behind the plate. He had great speed for a catcher on the base paths and was a creative signal-caller behind the dish, but did have a tendency to call for the backdoor slider a little too often.
· 2B—Wesley Crusher--After being unable to establish himself in two previous attempts with the Alphas, Crusher was finally starting for the Alphas in his third season, but still had rookie eligibility. He struggled at times with immaturity. Early on in this season, he was not well liked by the team’s ace, Jean-Luc Picard, who had no use for rookies.
· Closer—Spock--Spock had a supernatural calm about him even in the most high-leverage of situations. Whether closing out the game by striking out the side or giving up a walk-off homer, his demeanor never changed. He was best known for a devastating Vulcan grip split-fingered fastball.
· Manager—Data--Data was an artificial intelligence and synthetic life form with a positronic brain that gave him incredible computational capabilities. Without the hindrances of human emotions, Data was able to make moves from the dugout that gave his team the best probability of victory. The only drawback with Data was his willingness to let Picard overrule his suggestions.
· 2B—R2D2--The Podracers leadoff hitter, R2D2 was a compact and scrappy little second baseman in the mold of Phil Garner of the 1979 World Series Champion Pittsburgh Pirates. Garner, appropriately enough, was known as “Scrap Iron.” To the Sand People in the right field bleachers, R2D2 was, literally, scrap iron. He was known for routinely taking shots to the body, leading the league in Hits By Pitch every year of his career. He was very good buddies with manager C3PO. Some called them the “Bert and Ernie” of the IGBL.
· SS—Luke Skywalker--Skywalker was a young, slick-fielding shortstop who started out as a right-handed hitter but learned to switch-hit after injuring his right hand in a fight with this father. Luke was discovered on Tatooine by the veteran Kenobi and immediately rushed to the big leagues without spending any time in the minors. It would prove to be a mistake, as young Luke was overmatched in his first exposure to major league talent. He was sent down to the minors to play in Dagobah under the tutelage of a seasoned old player-manager that everyone simply called Yoda. With Yoda’s help, young Luke sharpened his skills on offense and defense.
· RF—Han Solo--Han Solo was a bit of a renegade on the baseball diamond. At the plate, he showed disdain for any manager that gave him the bunt sign. He would often ignore it and swing away. On the bases, he gave himself a green light and would steal whenever he felt like it. In right field, he would sometimes make wild, diving attempts to make a play when it would have been prudent to be a little more conservative, and he often overthrew the cutoff man on throws to the bases. Still, he was so talented that you had to put up with his flaws.
· 1B—Chewbacca--Chewbacca was Solo’s best friend on the team and his regular drinking buddy. He won the Wookie of the Year award in his first season and had matured into a veteran slugger with power to all fields who also struck out often. He was known for occasional bouts of frustration and his angry roar could be heard throughout the stands. During the season, he had finished second in the league in ejections behind teammate Solo and torn the arms off of six umpires. Manager C3PO strategically placed Chewbacca between Solo and Fett in the batting order after the latter pair had a few scuffles during the season.
· CF—Boba Fett--Fett was probably the best athlete on the team. He had an amazing ability to levitate when going after fly balls in center field and led the league in robbing opposing hitters of home runs. At the plate, he was one of the top hitters in the league, lining laser-sharp hits to all fields. Longtime baseball fans said he was the spitting image of his father, Jango, who had starred in the IGBL many years before.
· C—Darth Vader--In the mold of Johnny Bench, Vader was a great-fielding catcher with a big bat. In fact, Vader had such strong hands that he eschewed the traditional catcher’s mitt in favor of simple black gloves. He was also one of the first catchers in league history to wear a mask behind the plate. He also had the uncanny ability to influence the umpire’s ball-strike calls in his favor.
· 3B—Obi-Wan Kenobi--In his prime, Kenobi had been an All-Star shortstop and one of the league’s top players but when Skywalker came up from the minors, Kenobi saw the potential in the youngster and moved over to third base so Skywalker could play short. He had a calming, veteran presence on the team.
· SP— Lando Calrissian—Hutt had spotted Calrissian pitching for the Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings and signed him to a big free agent contract before the season. Calrissian was a bit of a mercenary. He routinely went where the money was. On the mound, he was a very good pitcher, if sometimes a bit cocky.
· LF—Leia Organa--Leia was a young player getting her first start of the year in the season’s most important game. Leia wouldn’t have started this game if not for the sudden disappearance of starting left fielder Biggs Darklighter. Biggs was on the field during warm-ups, then never seen again. No one’s really sure what happened to him; kind of like Chuckie Cunningham from the Happy Days TV show.
· Closer—Yoda--When the games were tight and the Podracers needed a shut-down guy out of the bullpen at the end of a close ballgame, Yoda was the guy. He was the Mariano Rivera of his time, with an amazing amount of movement on his pitches. It was almost as if he would throw the ball, then wave it left, right, up, or down with his mind.
Manager—C3PO--A humanoid robot, C3PO had excellent computational abilities and his knowledge of over six million forms of communication made him a good manager of a team with players speaking different languages. His biggest weakness was a tendency to worry and fret too much, which greatly annoyed right fielder Han Solo.
With the lineups set and the fans done filing in to Palpatine Park in Theed on the planet Naboo, it was time for the Universe Anthem by Diva Plavalaguna. The Diva was on point with her singing, delivering one of the most haunting renditions of the Universe Anthem ever heard. It’s sad to remember that she ultimately died some years later during a performance on Fholston, but at least she was able to give the stones to Korben, before her death, which helped Korben and Leeloo save the planet Earth from the great evil just seconds before it would be destroyed.
After the Diva was escorted off the field it was time for the delivery of the first pitch by U.S. astronaut Howard Wolowitz. While practicing for the event, Wolowitz discovered that his throwing ability rivaled that of Mariah Carey and 50 Cent, so he designed a robot to “deliver” the ball to home plate. At first it seemed like a good idea, but the robot took a ridiculously long time to roll towards home plate and the fans started to get unruly. Up in the stands, Mork, Alf, and Beldar Conehead were downing beers and eager for the game to start. As the robot continued its glacial pace, Beldar stood up and yelled, “Unacceptable!” Finally, an impatient Chewbacca walked out to the field, grabbed the robot, and flung it into the bullpen where it unfortunately landed on one of the red shirt-wearing Starfleet players, name unknown, killing him instantly.
Finally, the game starts. In the early going, Lando Calrissian and Jean-Luc Picard are dominating on the mound. Neither team could even muster a base runner through the first three innings. In the top of the fourth, Calrissian gets cocky. With two outs and James T. Kirk up, Lando attempts to pull a stunt he had been known to do while pitching for his previous team, the Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings. He turned to his fielders and instructed them to come in so he could pitch against Kirk with no fielders. Upon seeing this, the fans started cheering but catcher Darth Vader would have none of it. He stormed out to the mound and picked up Lando by his neck saying, “Don’t make me destroy you.” Lando got the idea and the fielders returned to their positions.
Perhaps rattled by the visit from Vader, Lando gives up a two-out double to Kirk. Cleanup hitter William Riker then steps up to the plate looking to give the Alphas an early lead. He lines a clean single into left-center, driving in Kirk. As Riker nears first base, Picard yelled from the dugout, “Take two, number one!” and Riker heads for second but is gunned down on a great play by Boba Fett. Still, the Alphas take a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth inning.
After the play, Kirk says to Scotty, “Well, that was . . . unconventional, but . . . it worked.”
Scotty responded, “I’m giving it all I’ve got, Captain!”
With two outs and a runner on third, Chewbacca strikes out to end the inning and releases an angry roar. Up in the stands, Alf lets out a loud, “Ha!” and Beldar once again yells, “Unacceptable!”
Angry at himself and getting booed unmercifully by the Sand People in the right field stands, Solo charges the group and they scatter. At shortstop, Skywalker and Kenobi are taking this in and Kenobi says, “The Sand People are easily startled, but they will soon be back, and in greater numbers.” It was true. Within a couple innings, the right field stands were overflowing with Sand People. They had multiplied like Tribbles.
With two outs and runners on second and third, and Sulu stepping to the plate, C3PO comes out of the Podracers’ dugout to talk to Calrissian and Vader. Weak-hitting rookie Wesley Crusher is on deck. C3PO says to Calrissian, “Sir, although the run expectancy matrix suggests that intentionally walking Mr. Sulu in this situation would increase the expected runs scored from .570 to .736, the batter on deck, Wesley Crusher, is a much inferior batter so I would suggest the appropriate move in this situation would be to walk Mr. Sulu and pitch to Mr. Crusher.” Lando looks at C3PO, then at Vader, and says, “Here goes nothing” and they walk Sulu to load the bases.
Leading 2-0 with two outs and the bases loaded, Starfleet has a chance to break this game wide open but it will be up to rookie Wesley Crusher to come through in the clutch. The count runs to two balls and one strike when Crusher crushes the ball deep to left field. Leia makes a great read on the ball, runs back to the fence, and makes a leaping catch at the wall to end the threat. Up in the stands, sitting next to U.S. astronaut Howard Wolowitz, Sheldon Cooper stands up and yells, “I so loathe you, Wesley Crusher!”
Through six innings, Starfleet pitcher Jean-Luc Picard had allowed only a hit and a walk. Because of a double-play, had faced just one over the minimum number of hitters. Still, he only had three strikeouts so Data knew that his Batting Average on Balls In Play for the game was an unsustainable .059. Data also knew Picard was about to face the heart of the Podracers’ lineup for the third time, so he had Spock and his Vulcan Split-Fingered fastball getting loose in the pen.
Luke Skywalker leads off the home half of the seventh with his second hit of the game, a ringing single past a diving Kirk at short. After rounding the bag and returning to first, Skywalker lets out a yell and claps his hands, cheering on Solo, who responds, “Great, kid. Don’t get cocky.”
On the mound, Picard isn’t fazed. He strikes out Solo on three beautiful curveballs. Up in the owner’s box, Jabba the Hutt says, “Han, ma bookie, keel-ee calleya ku kah (Han, my boy, you disappoint me). Picard then strikes out a very angry Chewbacca, who slams his bat in disgust.
The next batter is the ever-dangerous Darth Vader. With the score tied, Data is calculating the best possible move and decides it’s time to bring in Spock. Data heads out to the mound to remove Picard but Picard would have none of it, passionately refusing to be removed from the game. Data doesn’t understand Picard’s behavior. The best possible move is to bring in Spock, why would Picard refuse to come out of the game? With Picard standing firm, Data returns to the dugout. In the bullpen, Spock turns to backup catcher Leonard H. McCoy, who everyone just calls “Bones” and says, “Humans make illogical decisions.” Bones mutters under his breath, “Logic? My God, the man’s talking about logic…”
Darth Vader steps up to the plate and they play Jay Buhner’s walk-up music as the crowd cheers. The count goes to 2-and-2. On the ensuing pitch, Vader launches one deep to left but Seven of Nine tracks it down at the warning track and the game remains tied going into the eighth inning. As Starfleet returns to the dugout, Kirk and Riker battle each other to be the first to give Seven of Nine a congratulatory pat on the butt.
With the top of the order due up in the eighth inning and about to face Calrissian for the fourth time, C3PO goes to his closer, Yoda, to keep the game in check. Yoda dazzles the crowd with a Luis Tiant-esque display of pitching, delivering the ball from every possible angle as he strikes out the side on nine pitches.
Leading off the bottom of the eight, Obi-Won Kenobi attempts to bunt for a base hit down the third base line but a surprisingly agile Scotty rushes in, fields the ball bare-handed, and fires to first to nip Kenobi by a hair. Kenobi jogs past Yoda on his way to the dugout and mutters, “Well, I tried.”
Yoda responds, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Kenobi glares at him.
Yoda steps into the batter’s box and lashes a ball over the first base bag and into the right field corner. Riker fields it and fires to Crusher, who relays it to Scotty, but Yoda’s wheels get him a stand-up triple. Data heads out to the pitcher’s mound to, once again, attempt to remove Picard from the game. “Captain, by my calculations, Starfleet’s win expectancy would increase if you were removed for Mr. Spock.”
This time Picard agrees, saying, “Make it so.” He walks off the mound to a round of applause as Spock trots in from the bullpen. Data instructs the Starfleet infielders to play in to cut off the run at the plate while Leia looks down at third base coach Wicket the Ewok, who is gesturing wildly.
Spock comes to the set position, then fires to home as Yoda takes off from third. The pitch comes in fast and hard but Leia is able to get the squeeze bunt down to score Yoda and give the Podracers a 3-2 lead. R2D2 follows with a ground out to short to end the inning.
Of course, there are still three outs to get. Yoda finishes his warm-up tosses and Riker steps in the box. On a 1-1 count, Riker lines a single to left. Worf follows with a sharp single of his own, as Yoda’s magic seems to be fading. He is nine hundred years old, after all. Down by one with runners on first-and-second and nobody out, the mind game begins again. Data considers the run expectancy of a sacrifice bunt while C3PO considers the benefits of having the first and third basemen charge the plate to get the force at third.
Yoda comes to the set position, then fires to the plate as Kenobi and Chewbacca charge in to field a possible bunt. The batter, Spock, squares to bunt but pulls the bat back as bench coach Admiral Ackbar yells from the Tatooine dugout to the Podracers’ fielders, “It’s a trap!” Spock swings away and hits a sharp ground ball into left field to load the bases.
Seven of Nine saunters up to the batter’s box, looking to keep the rally going. Unfortunately for her, Yoda spins a succession of sliders, each just a bit more off the plate, and Seven of Nine strikes out swinging for out number one. Hikaru Sulu steps up and Yoda sticks with his slider to get two quick strikes but then makes the mistake of trying to get Sulu to chase a high fastball. Instead of swinging through it, Sulu connects and sends a fly ball to Solo in right field. Riker tags up as Solo makes the catch and comes firing home. The ball sails over the cut-off man’s head as Riker scores easily, with both runners moving up a base on the over-throw. It was a reckless play by Solo and C3PO let him know, calling from the dugout, “Sir, the possibility of successfully throwing out the runner on that play is approximately . . . “
Before he could finish, Solo angrily cuts him off with, “Never tell me the odds!”
The score is tied with two outs and runners on second-and-third. Rookie Wesley Crusher is due up, but Data looks down the bench and selects a pinch-hitter—Hugh the Borg. The crowd goes quiet in anticipation of the matchup between Yoda and Hugh, but C3PO wants none of it and instructs Yoda to intentionally walk Hugh to load the bases.
With Spock on the mound and a one-run lead, Starfleet is just three outs away from being Universe Series champions. Luke Skywalker leads it off with a sharp grounder just to the right of second. New second baseman Hugh the Borg smoothly glides to his right and makes a backhanded grab, turns and fires to first for out number one. Up next is Han Solo, who’s having a rough game. He’s struck out twice, grounded into a double play, dropped a fly ball that led to a run, and sailed a throw over the cut-off man’s head that allowed two runners to move up.
Boba Fett takes his place in the batter’s box, waving his bat menacingly, the number A0050 on the back of his jersey. Spock looks in, cool as Hoth. The first pitch is a ball, just off the outside corner. The next pitch comes in tight for ball two. Spock does not seem perturbed and fires in a nasty split-fingered fastball for strike one. On the next pitch, Amidala takes off for second. Fett swings through another nasty split for strike two as Sulu receives the pitch and fires down to Hugh the Borg . . . but it’s too late, Amidala is safe at second with the tying run. Starfleet manager Data then calls time out to talk to Spock as the catcher Sulu comes out to the mound from behind the plate. Data goes over the win expectancy calculations based on pitching to Fett or walking him to pitch to Vader and Spock nods. Sulu then leans in and whispers something to both of them. The ump breaks them up and Data heads back to the dugout.
With the count two-and-two and the tying run on second with two out, Sulu stands up indicating an intentional walk. Spock throws the ball high and outside for ball three while Fett considers pulling a “Kelly Leak” and taking a hack at the pitch. He holds back so the count is full. Again Sulu stands up to indicate an intentional walk but as Spock delivers the pitch Sulu squats back down behind the plate. Unlike Johnny Bench in the 1972 World Series, Fett is ready for it and takes a mighty swing and connects, sending the ball deep to center field. Catcher Sulu yells, “Ohhhhhhh Myyyyyyyyy!” as centerfielder La Forge races back to the wall, leaps . . . and comes up empty! Fett’s second homer of the game is the game-winning blast and the Tatooine Podracers win the Universe Series of the Inter-Galactic Baseball League!