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Batter up!

Yamakazi takes the crown in Fair Lawn softball league

As the Jewish community focuses on whether Milwaukee Brewer Ryan Braun will play on Yom Kippur, some other Jewish ballplayers are making history on a more local level. The Yamakazi won its first championship in the Fair Lawn B’nai B’rith Softball League two weeks ago. The game carried special meaning for the team’s manager Jeffrey Herrmann, who played a major role in creating the league more than ‘0 years ago but had never won a championship.

Although members enjoyed playing the game with their friends, Herrmann acknowledged that the Yamakazi "never got close" to winning a championship before.

"We had good years, we had bad years — mostly bad years," said Herrmann, who also plays right field and, sometimes, second base. "We went through a long wandering in the wilderness."

The Yamakazi managed a last seed in the playoffs but it looked like another championship might pass them by. In a stunning upset, though, the Yamakazi beat out the Goniffs two of three playoff games to earn a shot against the Renaissance Men in the championship.

In the championship game Aug. ‘6, the Yamakazi quickly gained a three-run lead in the first inning. But the Renaissance Men closed the gap to one run and in the seventh inning, a line drive would have put the Renaissance Men ahead, but pitcher George Hiller scooped it up and quickly threw it to third baseman Neil Herrmann, who threw out a Renaissance Man heading for third. Neil Herrmann, who usually plays outfield, stepped in at third base for the game because the regular baseman called in sick. He wasn’t looking forward to playing the position at the beginning but was awed when the Yamakazi triumphed 3-‘.

"We’ll see if we can send his cleats to Cooperstown," Jeff Herrmann said of his ‘5-year-old son, who started league play at 17 after growing up watching the games. The elder Herrmann credited the score to "just very good pitching."

Neil Herrmann noted that the low scores were unusual in a softball game. The Yamakazi scored all three runs in the first inning and didn’t get a hit the rest of the game, which the younger Herrmann described as "pretty odd."

Neil Herrmann now works for a nonprofit in Philadelphia and misses more games than he attends, he said. But he looks forward to coming back next season when he can.

As president of the B’nai B’rith Lodge in 1986, Jeff Herrmann was looking for a way to bring in new members. "I wondered," he recalled, "Why don’t we have a softball league?"

The league started in April 1986 with eight teams and has now expanded to 14 teams in the Koufax and Greenberg leagues. Its players come from shuls around Fair Lawn and each one has his favorite baseball team to follow, but as Herrmann noted, "It’s sweeter to actually be part of a championship yourself."

As for next year?

"I hope everybody is well and healthy and playing again," Herrmann said. "If we can do that, it’ll be good. We’ll worry about winning ballgames once we start playing."

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