Softball at AYF Olympics is a happening. All day Saturday, folks gather from other cities for an old-fashioned Armenian picnic with kebab, traditional live music and action-packed games of this American pastime. It is the excitement of chapter competition loved by the players and fans (family and friends) alike. Softball at the AYF Olympics has become a grand and wonderful day at the AYF Olympics.
The weather was perfect on Saturday. The food, plentiful and delicious. The Mideast Beat of Wisconsin provided background music. There were two games going on simultaneously for a large measure of the day. It was packed and everyone enjoyed it all.
For everything I have just written, the day is still about softball. There is nothing like AYF Softball. The teams are co-ed. They play three-pitch softball. You pitch to your own team, and each batter only gets three pitches. So, the games are short and exciting. The excitement comes from great plays, great hits and heartbreaking errors. It is the only team-based competition of Olympic weekend. And… there are no points. The teams play for fun, spirit and pride. They play for the fraternalism that is the AYF. It is a friendly competition. But it is a competition. Everyone still wants to win.
The day began with three games. Chicago played a mixed team of players from chapters not able to field their own team. Providence and the Western Region Team were pitted against each other, while Manhattan and Washington squared off. Chicago won 17-5. Providence made easy work of the Western Region team, and Manhattan won 16-6.
This was the first softball win, ever, for the Manhattan Moush Chapter. “Everyone was so excited by this first win!,” exclaimed Chapter President Audrey Mardoian. When asked of any special performances, she noted, “Our catcher, Christina Mehranbod, caught a pop-up and tagged a runner out at home! Haig Bedros is from Haleb and never played baseball until that game, but his cross-fit training had him getting hits and running the bases surprisingly well.”
Alek Surenian of Chicago said, “We are not a traditional power in softball. As the host chapter, we wanted a good showing. Getting a win is always a good thing for us. Advancing to the next round lifted the spirit of everyone in the chapter.” He went on to note that everyone in the chapter played in these two games. For a sizable chapter, that is pretty cool.
In the second round, Boston faced Philadelphia and bested them. Last year’s champs, Los Angeles, the runner-up Detroit, and New Jersey all had byes in the first round. LA faced Manhattan and easily beat them 22-3. New Jersey played Chicago who put up a valiant effort. New Jersey’s vaunted defense held them off with NJ winning 12-2. In the last game of the second round, Providence upset a rebuilding Detroit team 21-14.
In the semi-finals, it was Boston versus LA and Providence versus New Jersey. In a display of offense, LA beat a very good Boston team. New Jersey, again with a good defensive effort, besting Providence 14-6. Manager Ara Sarajian of New Jersey said, “Providence was the surprise this year. We watched them against Detroit and knew we would have to play our best to beat them. I believe they will be a contender next year in Worcester.”
For the past few years, the top softball teams have been LA, Detroit and New Jersey. With Detroit’s early exit, it seemed only fitting that LA and New Jersey would be in the finals. It was a great game. The teams were both scoring. Coach Sarajian stated, “A big turning point for us was when we had the bases loaded with one out. They were able to stop us from scoring. Then it became the Eddie Hovannisian show.” In his next two at bats, Eddie Hovannisian blasted two three-run homers to left center, clearing the 25 foot there. It was awesome. They jumped out to a huge lead over Jersey. LA teammate Varak Ghazarian noted, “The first homerun just energized the entire team. Everyone started hitting.” It looked like there might be an early departure due to the mercy rule in the version of softball played here. But, really, we are talking about New Jersey. They are one tough and scrappy team and were not about to go out that way. They made a gritty run, but in the end, they still lost to a very good Los Angeles team.
When asked about his two homeruns, Eddie said it was really fun but went on to give his teammates credit. “Varak is just a super athlete, there is no other way to describe it.” He went on noting, “Armen and Seran Krikorian are great assets to the team. Everyone just played well and enjoyed the moment.” Varak said, “This was Armen’s last year. It was good to win a championship for him.”
AYF alum and softball godfather, David Najarian noted, “The games this year were just as competitive as the past several years. The weather was perfect. It was great to see New Jersey get back into the finals after being denied by Detroit last year. Let’s see if Detroit can rebuild from having missing some of their key players. Lastly, it was great to see a resurgent Providence team.”
After each of the games, the players all shook hands, hugged and took a group photo of both teams celebrating—basically the reason we all gather each Labor Day weekend: being together as friends, being Armenian and being AYFers. This wonderful combination of spirited competition and fraternalism is why softball has completely transformed Saturdays at the AYF Olympics into something special. Looking forward to softball next year in Worcester.