Dan Bloom’s life and the fate of the 1989 Janesville American Legion baseball team changed with one swing of the bat.
Playing Midland, Michigan, in a Great Lakes Regional winner’s bracket game, Bloom misplayed a flyball in the bottom of the eighth inning, allowing the tying run to score.
Dejected and sulking in the dugout between innings, Bloom was nearly inconsolable.
Jerry Davis knew exactly how to diffuse the situation. Putting his arm around Bloom, the coach told him there was no time to feel sorry for himself and that his time to shine was coming up. He was due up fourth in the top of the ninth inning in a 7-7 game. That next at-bat not only sent Bloom from the outhouse to the penthouse but was the springboard for Post 205’s berth in the World Series.
With Dan Milligan on third base and two outs in the top of the ninth inning, Bloom fouled off several pitches on a full count before belting a long home run to left field that gave Post 205 a 9-7 lead. It went on to win the game by that score and advanced to the championship game where it beat Steubenville, Ohio, for the Great Lakes Regional title and a berth in the World Series.
“After talking to Jerry, I was so focused that at-bat,” Bloom said. “I remember Danny Milligan hitting a bomb that I was praying was going to be a home run but it ended up being a triple. All I knew was that I had to get a hit to get him in. I knew I crushed it when I hit it, but I didn’t know it was gone until I saw the umpire give the signal.
“I don’t even remember running the bases. I think I just floated around. And when I got to third to high-five Jerry, I think I screwed that up because I was so pumped, and my hands were just flailing in the air.”
Bloom was hoping to have lifetime memories of the blast thanks to a video recording his dad made of each and every game that season, but that was not the case.
“As I was rounding third base and heading home, I looked up and I thought I saw my dad standing at home plate with the rest of the mob,” Bloom said. “But then I thought, that can’t be right, he’s supposed to be up in the stands recording the game. But he was so excited, he dropped the camera and somehow found his way into our dugout and onto the field.”
Bloom doesn’t have video of the home run, but he does have the ball. In an odd twist of fate, Bloom ran into the pitcher from Midland that allowed the homer in the elevator back at the hotel, and he gave him the ball back.
A 1988 Janesville Craig graduate, Bloom was a redshirt freshman in 1989 for Division III powerhouse UW-Oshkosh. Titans coach Tom Lechnir wanted Bloom to stay in Oshkosh and pitch during the summer of 1989, but Bloom knew the Janesville Legion team had a chance to be special and wanted be a part of it. Bloom was only going to pitch if he stayed in Oshkosh, but he would pitch and get to swing the bat if he came back to Janesville for the summer.
“I didn’t like redshirting and the fact that all I was going to do was pitch, but looking back, because I worked out with the team every day, I was probably in the best shape of my life back then,” Bloom said. “And I think that helped with the long Legion season, because my arm felt great and my legs never really got sore.”
Bloom played for Davis on the 1988 team and nearly quit. Davis and Bloom butted heads many times, especially on pitch selection.
After being taken out of a game for going against Davis’ wishes on pitch selection, Bloom threatened to grab his stuff and leave.
“Danny was a hot-head, no doubt about it,” Davis said. “I remember he threw his stuff in his bag and started walking out, and I told him that if he walks out that gate to leave his uniform behind because he was done.
“But he was also a fierce competitor, and those are the kind of kids you love to coach. How many kids do you know that could go from crying in the dugout to turning around and hitting a home run to win the game? There were so many big moments from that season, and that was certainly one of them.”
Davis’ message during his pep talk in the dugout in Danville has had a profound effect on Bloom—both athletically and at his job as a materials and production manager at Abitec Corporation.
“The one thing I took from that night, and from Jerry coming up to me and getting in my face and telling me just to concentrate on my next at-bat, is that it’s OK to fail,” Bloom said. “Things don’t always go your way, and you’re going to fail every day, which I do, but to keep trying and take advantage of every opportunity you get because things have a way of working out.”
That was certainly the case with Bloom’s walkoff homer.
“I think more than anything that home run really defined our season,” he said. “It seems like every time we faced a little adversity as a team, we found a way to overcome it.”
Bloom also said overall team chemistry paved the way for Post 205.
“I can honestly say that no player on that team was more important than any other,” Bloom said.
Perhaps not, but one play certainly defined the 1989 Janesville American Legion baseball team.
And Dan Bloom has the ball to prove it.