In the first inning of the first game between the Butler BlueSox and Slippery Rock Sliders there was a bench clearing brawl. No punches were thrown, no lips bloodied, no oxen charged the field, but from amid the chaos emerged the Route 8 Rivalry.
It was announced Wednesday that the Rivalry had reached its end. The Sliders are moving to Springfield, Ohio and becoming the Champion City Kings.
Pennsylvania’s Route 8 connects West Virginia to Erie, but a 17-mile stretch links Main Street in Butler to Main Street in Slippery Rock along the way. The trip takes a half-hour if there is traffic, which is rare, and was an oft-made journey by BlueSox and Sliders fans the past five summers.
When the Prospect League was formed in 2009 the BlueSox and Sliders were the League’s easternmost teams as well as the League’s closest teams. Of the pair only Slippery Rock has advanced to the post-sesaon, which they did by winning the season’s second half title in 2011. On the other hand, the BlueSox were able to best the Sliders in the standings four out of five years. Head-to-head Butler prevailed 56% of the time–it’s a majority, but not by much.
In that first game, things settled down after the players returned to their benches and Slippery Rock was able to squeak out a 2-1 win. The following night at Jack Critchfield Park, Butler was able to hand the Sliders their first home loss by squeaking out a single run off a sidearm reliever named Justin Thomas. Three years later Thomas became the BlueSox pitching coach and helped a staff that finished second in the League in strikeouts.
The following season the two teams played 20 innings in a single day when the nightcap of their double header went into extra innings. Though double header games are seven inning contests, neither team allowed a run for seven frames as the game stood at 4-4. Finally in the top of the 13th, AJ Miller knocked a ball over Pullman Park’s fence and Slippery Rock held on for the win and split the twin bill.
The Rivalry unquestionably peaked in its closing innings over the final two days of the 2013 season. Not that BlueSox fans will want to hear the tale retold, but Butler entered the season’s final two days with a magic number of one over Chillicothe. The BlueSox traveled to Slippery Rock on Saturday night, and the game entered the seventh inning with the Sliders leading 3-1. Butler scored four runs in the seventh to take the lead, only to watch the game slip away with an agonizing combination of wild pitches and bloop singles.
Chillicothe took care of business in their final two games, including a 1-0 win in Lorain in ten innings on Sunday afternoon. But despite having been eliminated from the race for over a week and a half, the Sliders once again refused to make anything easy for their rivals. Butler put up nine hits on Sunday evening, but the Sliders forced them to strand runners in seven different frames to claim the shutout, the victory, and in the last game the team would ever play, eliminate their Route 8 Rivals from the playoffs.
The media has begun to invent new rivalries in an attempt to increase interest in lame games, but that was never the case in the Route 8 Rivalry. I had the pleasure to watch over 50 games between the BlueSox and Sliders, and while the players changed from year-to-year, while both teams struggled at times, the special rivalry that these two teams never fell off its pace. Come spring the BlueSox look forward to playing (and beating) the Kings, but we will miss our good friends and rivals up in Slippery Rock.
This post was written for ButlerBlueSox.net and published in October 2013.