Opponent 'Pinch Hits' as Translator

May 9, 2016

By Butch Harmon
Special for Second Half

ALLENDALE – A few weeks after Forest Hills Northern second baseman Mitchell Gumbko “pinch hit” to help Allendale pitcher Javier Gonzalez bridge a language gap during a freshman baseball game, their story of sportsmanship continues to spread around the Grand Rapids area and beyond.

Pitching in his first high school game as a member of the Allendale freshman baseball team against Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern on April 18, Gonzalez was in a jam. Not only did he walk the first batter he faced, but he then committed a balk. With the umpire coming out to the mound to explain the situation, the jam only worsened as Gonzalez – who has been in the United States for only just over a year – speaks very little English.

In a society where winning is a major emphasis in sports, Gonzalez, however, picked up a major assist from the Northern batter who was due up soon.

Gumbko has been in the Forest Hills Northern school district’s Spanish Immersion program since he was in kindergarten. With Gonzalez continuing to struggle, Gumbko made his way to the mound with the coaches and umpires to give his opponent some help.

“I didn’t realize their pitcher was struggling so much,” Gumbko told Advance Newspapers/MLive last week, “but Coach (Joe) Payne asked if anyone speaks Spanish on our team. I have been in the Spanish Immersion program since kindergarten so I told Coach that I’m fluent in Spanish.”

Gonzalez’ coach Chad DeWeerd was happy for the help from the opposing dugout.

During Allendale practices, DeWeerd has been counting on freshman Cooper Tolson to give all the help he can. But explaining the balk rule required a little more explanation than the rest of the Falcons could offer their teammate.

“Before the game I let the Northern coach know that Javier speaks hardly any English,” DeWeerd also told Advance Newspapers/MLive. “My kids know a little Spanish, but not enough to help in that situation.”

DeWeerd had told Payne beforehand about Gonzalez and the language hurdle. “As I was walking to coach third base, the head coach from Allendale warned me that his pitcher does not speak English and that this is his first time pitching,” Payne said. “I told him not to worry.

“The Allendale pitcher looked nervous and uncomfortable, and you can tell he was unfamiliar with pitching. After walking our first batter, the next pitch he balked, which advanced our runner to second base. I saw the field umpire trying to explain to the pitcher what he was doing wrong, but the pitcher looked at him with a blank look.”

Payne informed the home plate umpire about the situation. After a few more pitches, and with Gonzalez continuing to struggle with the balk rule, Payne called on his player to step in and become a language pinch-hitter.

At Ada Vista Elementary, all subjects are taught in Spanish beginning in the first grade. Gumbko has become fluent in his second language.

“I needed Mitchell to become his coach instead of his opponent,” Payne said. “I asked the Allendale coach if I could call time out and have one my players translate to the pitcher.”

This time the conference on the mound became a lot more beneficial for Gonzalez, who had someone with whom he could communicate – even though he was wearing the opponent’s uniform.

“I think he was pretty surprised and also happy to be able to talk to someone he could understand,” Gumbko said. “The umpire told me what to say to him because he was balking, and he did not know he was doing it. It was pretty awesome to just know that I can use (Spanish) on a daily basis and was cool to realize I was helping him out.”

“You can tell Javier was nervous and did not know what was going on, until Mitchell started to translate instructions to him in Spanish,” Payne said. “Javier’s eyes just sparkled. Javier just kept nodding yes, ‘Si,’ and at the same time agreeing in Spanish back to Mitchell and understanding what Mitchell was saying.”

While Gonzalez’ teammates are not as familiar with the Spanish language as Gumbko, they have been trying their best to pick up as much as possible.

“The team has really embraced Javy,” DeWeerd said. “The first day of tryouts when they were stretching and loosening up they started counting in Spanish.”

“Cooper knows a little more Spanish than the rest of the guys,” DeWeerd added. “He has tried to help him as much as he can. The guys also have an app on their phone that helps with translation, and they have a lot of fun on the bus rides. This is a really special team and they have embraced Javy, and he really is one of the kids.”

Gonzales and his family of five, who are originally from the southern section of Mexico, have been in the United States for a year and a month. While he also enjoys soccer and was a member of Allendale’s junior varsity soccer team last fall, he has been playing baseball since he was a child and enjoys pitching the most. Along with pitching, Javy also plays right field for the Falcons.

Since the Northern game more people in the Allendale community have learned about Javy’s story – and offered assistance.

“Our 8th-grade Spanish teacher, Mrs. (Lynne) Burns, found out about Javy’s story and sent an e-mail to our athletic director offering to come and help,” DeWeerd said. “She is going to be at our next game. It’s not just the team that has helped out Javy, but the whole school is helping.”

Having Gumbko step up in that first game, however, was an act of sportsmanship that will be remembered for some time.

“I just stopped and realized this is why I am a teacher,” Payne also said in the Advance Newspapers/MLive report. “This is why I coach, for moments like this.”

PHOTOS: (Top) Allendale freshman baseball players Javier Gonzalez (left) and Cooper Tolson. (Middle) Gonzalez jogs on the field during a recent game. (Photos by Butch Harmon.) 

No Runs, No Hits: East Jordan Aces Toss 4 Straight Shutouts, 3 Straight No-Hitters

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

May 17, 2024

Playing shortstop this year for East Jordan High School admittedly has become rather boring at times.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThere hasn’t been a whole lot of action at what’s usually the busiest spot in the infield — no matter who is playing it.

Junior Eli Burns knows that better than anyone. He is the Red Devils’ regular shortstop. He also pitches.

Ryder Malpass knows what it’s like to play short this season as well – he’s normally in the spot when Burns is on the mound.

But he also has a feel for how little the shortstop does regularly for the Division 4 No. 16 Red Devils from his usual spot at catcher – receiving behind the plate for a pitching staff averaging almost two strikeouts per inning. 

Just recently, East Jordan put together three straight no-hitters and four straight shutouts.

“It’s good,” Burns said of playing short. “When you have confidence with your pitchers you don’t have to worry about the ball being hit to you that much.”

Ryder Malpass keeps an eye on a runner before making his move toward the plate. Malpass, a junior, started the shoutout string himself with a 4-0 win over Bellaire last week, when he earned the win throwing 5 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts while going 2 for 3 at the plate with a double and RBI. Junior Korbyn Russell closed out the game.

Then Burns started the no-hitter run in the second game that night with Bellaire, a 6-0 Red Devils win. Burns had 10 strikeouts and just a single walk allowed. He also tripled in the game.

This week the no-hitter string continued with 1-0 and 2-0 wins over Boyne City. Russell and senior Lucas Stone threw the Red Devils’ third and fourth no-hitters of the season.

Stone threw a perfect game across six innings. He struck out 12 batters on just 70 pitches and also went 2 for 3 with an RBI against the Ramblers. Russell earned the 1-0 win over Boyne City with 5 1/3 no-hit innings behind 11 strikeouts and with just a lone walk allowed. Stone followed Russell to pick up the save for the Red Devils, now 13-9-1 overall on the season and 6-4 in Lake Michigan Conference play.  

Russell is 6-2 on the season with two saves. Going into Thursday’s game with Charlevoix, he had struck out 92 batters over 42 innings while compiling a 0.86 ERA. Stone is 5-2. Before suffering his second loss of the season to the Rayders, his ERA was 1.17 and he had fanned 38 in 36 innings of work. Burns has racked up 17 strikeouts so far in just over 14 innings.

“It’s pretty special to be a part of something not many teams can do,” Russell said. “We have a special group of pitchers to get the job done.”

Stone credits the Red Devils’ defensive play for the pitching staff’s success.

“Our defense has helped the pitching a lot because they don’t make a lot of errors,” Stone said.  “It makes it a lot easier when you know they are going to make plays behind you.”

Korbyn Russell prepares to unload a pitch.East Jordan came into this week beginning to approach the state records for consecutive shutout innings and games. That ended yesterday in twin bill losses to Division 3 No. 11 Charlevoix. But the Red Devils still can chase the national record of nine no-hit games in a season. (No official record is kept for no-hitters by a Michigan high school team in a season.)

There is also no known record of any East Jordan team racking up three no-hitter wins in a row.

“I don’t think there’s been any stretch with three no-hitters in a row, so that is pretty special,” noted East Jordan coach Adam Grybauskas. “We’re kind of picking up where things were last year and trying to build on last year’s success and make it even better this year.”

The Red Devils captured a Division 4 District championship in 2023 and then a 9-6 Regional Semifinal win over Gaylord St. Mary. The season came to an end in the Regional Final with a 2-0 loss to Painsdale Jeffers.

Russel, Stones and Burns were on the pitching staff last year as East Jordan made that run. The Red Devils will host the District tournament this year as familiar opponents Bellaire, Central Lake and Ellsworth will vie to stop East Jordan’s attempt at repeating as champion. The doubleheader loss to undefeated Charlevoix ended the Red Devils’ hopes of sharing the LMC title with the Rayders.

“I think we’ve played a little bit better competition this year,’ Grybauskas said.  “Our focus this year is taking each doubleheader at a time, and try to get better each week.

“It’s really been game by game and week to week,” he continued. “You’re always looking to do better than last year so obviously that will be something we’ll talk about in the future.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) East Jordan’s Lucas Stone winds up during a game. (Middle) Ryder Malpass keeps an eye on a runner before making his move toward the plate. (Below) Korbyn Russell prepares to unload a pitch. (Photos courtesy of the East Jordan athletic department.)