So the Pelicans lost on Monday, but there was also a tie at Lynchburg’s City Stadium. Pelicans reliever Ben Henry and Lynchburg reliever Matt Chaffee entered into a duel before the game even started, one that ended in a truce well after the game came to an end.
The contest was a bullpen standoff, not something unknown to relievers across the Carolina League. The Pelicans have engaged in these standoffs with several teams, including Wilmington and Carolina, but only once before had one actually carried into a game itself. So now the burning question…what is this standoff thing?
“We saw a YouTube video of a rain delay,” Henry said. “Two teams had a standoff and we said, ‘you know what? We can do that.'”
The two teams in the video stood and stood and stood. It was a game of endurance not dissimilar to an immunity or rewards challenge on the TV show Survivor. Cole Hamels’ wife, Heidi, became very famous for how she was eliminated from one of these such challenges on the show. The way the Pelicans game works is that the bullpens remain standing with relievers sitting down as they tire. The team with the last guy standing wins pride and whatever reward the two ‘pens may have wagered against each other.
Sunday’s game in Lynchburg featured one of these standoffs. The rules are: When the teams line up for the National Anthem the players stand at attention. You must then remain at attention. That’s the game. Sunday’s game ended quickly because Lynchburg’s pen lined up on the foul line and thus very much in the way of play. But on Monday, the bullpens lined up just along their benches…and the challenge was on!
NOTE: Zach Osborne did not participate in the challenge. One reliever from each team was left out in order to help warm up their right and leftfielders respectively.
The game lasted at a 6-on-6 deadlock until the fourth inning. Jimmy Reyes, pretty sure he was going to pitch in Monday’s game, sat down first, wanting to rest his legs. The rest of the bullpen followed and the same occurred for the Hillcats. Each side left one man standing.
“Since I threw yesterday I was designated as the guy who would stand the whole time,” Henry said. Keeping in mind Henry has previously identified himself as the official team comedian, he immediately fessed up that he volunteered for the role.
Now keep in mind, as much as they really are a part of the game (the whole last issue of the Baseball Hall-of-Fame’s magazine was about pranksters and characters in baseball), sometimes antics are frowned upon. That can be especially true in the minors, where organizations try to instill discipline and a serious approach. But that’s what makes this particular game great. Several executives from the Atlanta Braves front office were present…and they were aware of, and okay with, the challenge. The Pelicans coaches were cool with it too. In fact, pitching coach Brad Holman passed words of encouragement through the bullpen phone and trainer Jeff Bodenhamer brought water to the pen in the third inning.
“As soon as Brad said that I was like ‘game on,'” Henry said.
Henry and Chaffee stood standing at attention all game. They stood at attention after the game. Joe Van Meter brought Henry his portion of the postgame spread to keep him nourished. The Lynchburg grounds crew even drove Henry, still at full attention, from the away bullpen to the home bullpen once the stadium emptied.
“When you get done,” Henry asked the grounds crew as they manicured the bullpen mound postgame, “can you drive me around to the other pen?”
The grounds crew obliged and drove the Gator right up to Henry. The righty reliever stepped up onto the cart, which drove him around the warning track and dropped him off next to Chaffee. The game was more than a half hour over and fans remained in the park watching the duo stand still.
Fans snapped pictures. Lynchburg’s beat reporter wrote the duel up in his game story. Players, already dressed and showered, stood watching while chowing down on a barrel of cheese puffs. The Pelicans even had arraignments set for Henry to get back to the hotel in the event that the bus left while the standoff continued. That, however, was unnecessary.
“Chaffee looked at me and asked how we were going to end this,” Henry said.
It was at that point that the players decided on a truce. After three hours and twenty two minutes of standing still, the challenge was over. Henry and Chaffee both won. Now let’s just hope Tuesday’s game doesn’t go into extras and require either pitcher to throw an exorbitant amount of innings in a pinch.