The Key West High baseball team got off to a sluggish start Saturday night as it tried to sweep a two-game opening-season series against Rockledge.
The Conchs -- who had won, 2-1, the night before -- left the bases loaded in the first inning and two more runners on in the second. Then in the third, a double play wiped out any thought of a rally.
All this was of some concern to a small Rex Weech Field crowd that included, in his customary seat three rows up in the grandstand behind home plate, 68-year-old Jack Kearns.
Kearns -- outspoken in his Long Island accent when it comes to the team and the umpiring -- has missed only a few home and away Conch games in 32 years.
"He's got a good curve ball," he said of Rockledge's Mason Studstill to a few buddies who sat near him. Calling down to a Conch batter, he said, "Here comes the curve -- drive it."
In the top of the fourth, Rockledge's Gavin Spinnewebber hit a towering home run over the left-field fence against Conch starter Brandon Presley to give the Raiders a 1-0 lead. Then in the bottom of the inning, after Hunter Sellers walked and went to second on a sacrifice by Hugo Valdes, Jay Feathers and Anthony Henriquez struck out.
"We're leaving too many men on base," Kearns said, maintaining his concentration over the constant pounding of the metal stands by youngsters who kept running up and down them.
The Raiders increased their lead to 3-0 in the fifth, driving Presley from the box. Feathers came in from left field to get out of the inning, despite some shoddy defensive efforts. "Terrible," Kearns said.
Hard singles against Feathers by Austin Dennis, Matt Wiles, Drew Parrish and Studstill gave Rockledge three more runs in the sixth. The Raiders would have had more had it not been for a diving catch of a line drive by shortstop Greg Veliz, who, as the starting pitcher on Friday night, struck out 12 in five innings.
The inning had also featured a stolen base that fans found questionable. "No home-cooking tonight," Kearns said.
Key West took advantage of relief pitcher Michael Hall to cut the lead to 6-1. As the bottom of the seventh began, Kearns said, "All right, big comeback here, c'mon."
It wasn't to be. Three Conchs struck out against Austin Dennis, who had come in from shortstop to pitch, and the game ended 6-1.
"They hit the ball better than we did," Kearns said, taking off his glasses and earphones.
The Conchs had three hits -- two singles by Veliz and one by Steven Wells.
Afterward, as coach Ralph Henriquez talked to his players in left field, Kearns ambled out into the night. He shrugged. Win some, lose some. He'd be back soon.