FinkstonballXX had everything a person could need to be fully entertained throughout the weekend without ever leaving the parking lot. Fans, teams and staff had an entire weekend of great weather, exciting games and a heck of a lot of fun together. There was camping out behind homeplate, food trucks, and live music every night. Those there for the music woke to the crack of a bat every morning and rolled out of their tents for a coffee and some exercise chasing foul balls. After a day in the dust, players joined the music lovers at the main stage and at the field for singing, dancing and making new friends. Work hard/play hard is definitely the theme of the weekend and the key to what makes Finkstonball a success year after year.
Started 21 years ago as a team fundraiser, Finkstonball has become a competitive, friendly tournament where official competition restrictions, such as nationality rules, are lifted but the rules are still firm. The tournament runs on a strict time schedule, with mercy beginning in the 3rd inning. Teams of a variety of levels of play work hard against one another but they also work together. Where players came in from clubs that are still learning the basics, you could hear base coaches yelling out lead off direction. If a player made a fielding mistake that could be costly, the opposition minimized the risk when the game wasn't on the line. And players from either side were happy to explain the better strategy for next time that play comes around.
In fact, the worst thing about Finkstonball’s history has been the consistent appearance of rain but some might say it wouldn’t be Finkstonball without a little moisture to cool things down and this season was no different. After a scorching Saturday, Sunday’s cool temperatures and consistent drizzle hardly phased players or fans as they enjoyed the action on the field. Though rain is present nearly every year, and has occasionally resulted in shifts of the schedule, in the history of the event only 2006 was ever a complete rainout.
One of the most special things about Finkstonball is the prize. The main trophies for both the softball and baseball championship winners are homemade. Carved of wood by different members of the Attnang Athletics baseball team, the winner gets to take the trophy home for the year. When a team wins the tournament three years in a row, they get to keep the trophy and another one is made. The current trophy is only 2 years old. Germany’s Bad Homburg Hornets acquired the previous sculpture, a ball inside a glove, in 2014 after winning the 2012, 2013 and 2014 events. They are the only team to have won three in a row in the history of the tournament. This year’s trophies, the baseball player, and home plate for softball, were each made by a different set of hands and required hours of dedication. This is just one of the many special details that the Athletics community have shared with those willing to join them for Finkstonball.
This year’s games were played round robin with two groups of four teams apiece. The placement round was determined by the first place team of each group playing against the second place team of the opposite group.
Unable to take advantage of their seating last year’s champions, the Darmstadt Whippets, were sent home early following a 1-1 showing. After having demolished their first three competitors to win their division, the International All Stars were sent packing by the Austrian national team in the semi-final round. The Sissach Frogs quietly fought in every game they played going 2-1 in the first round of play before being eliminated by the Attnang Athletics in the semi-finals.
The statue this season went to the host team the Attnang Athletics who beat out their own national team for the title. The Athletics lost just one of their game 5 games over the course of the tournament. Monday’s weather, along with the public holiday and local rivalry, was the perfect end for the nearly 500 fans in attendance.
Tournament MVP David Brandt hit .714 over 14 plate appearances. He had 11 runs off 10 hits with a double, 2 triples and 3 home runs. He drove in 7 for a 1.714 slugging percentage. On the field he posted a 1.000 fielding percentage with 4 putouts and an assist in 5 opportunities.
Watching Brandt play there was no doubt he was having a good time. Fun on the bags was really the key to an outstanding event. There were certain players that were as much fun to watch as the action itself.
You couldn’t wipe the smile off Croatia’s Damjan Zlatarek face. BK Vindija were eliminated early but he had as much fun as possible while he could, playing his normal spot at short as well as 3rd, 2nd and pitching throughout the weekend. His bat was cold but he was untouchable on the mound. He accumulated a 0.00 ERA in the two innings he pitched giving up nothing and walking only 1 batter while striking out 3.
On the Austrian national team Christian Tomsich handled his business as hurler. He accumulated a 0.00 ERA over 5 innings where he struck out 8, walked 3 and gave up just two hits. Against him batters were posting a .118 average throughout the tournament.
On the softball fields the tiki bar was an outstanding addition to some great competitive play. There are few things better than being stretched out on a lounger in the warm sun, cold beverage in hand, watching a competitive matchup. The women definitely gave us plenty to watch. The teams were the Budapest Reds, Austrian national team, Vienna M-Stars and the All Stars. The Reds and Austrian national team were both comprised of younger players who were eager to be in competitive matchups.
The M-Stars and All-Stars, who played for the win, were well matched but it was the All-Stars that came away with the plate. Perhaps that is a fitting trophy as it was their gal at the plate who was responsible for shutting the M-Stars’ offense down. Catcher Allyne Clark had 11 putouts on the day on defense. She, and the other half of the battery, pitcher Paige Crawford, teamed up for a combined 5 hits and 4 runs as well as 3 RBIs on offense while Crawford took care of 10 herself from the mound.
Players weren’t the only ones having a good time. Saturday’s heat was intense but the kids knew what to do. After an on-field promotion where they got to toss water balloons at one of their favorite good-sported adults, the children confiscated the remaining balloons and began sneak attacking the grown ups. When the adults decided to join in the fun, a stadium-wide water balloon fight ensued. They took it to the lawn behind the stands and whenever an unknowing person crossed the path time was called. That’s just one of the really great things about this event. Kids and adults alike are having fun but not interfering with anyone else’s ability to enjoy the game in whatever way best suits their needs.
For some teams Finkstonball is a learning experience, a chance to play against competition outside of their homeland where they may have just one or two other teams. Other teams know they are there to show how much fun baseball and softball can be, win or lose, and they lead by example. Still, Finkstonball couldn’t exist in just any stadium across the continent. It is the people involved in the tournament and at the stadium that make this event something beyond just another friendly tournament.
In order to play with the Athletics you have to work shifts at one of the many jobs any baseball stadium provides. From grounds crew to concessions, trash pick up to promotions, every player, on every team, is assigned to shifts once they are old enough. They lead by example, doing the work and working together. They, and fans alike, benefit from their efforts. The facility is in pristine condition and the experience is fantastic. The Athletics don’t just invite a fan into their baseball community they welcome them into their home. The home they built together with nothing more than their own two hands, the sweat off their brows and their love for the game.