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By Michael Abramson
Special to The Almanac
Eric Byrnes walked away from baseball, but not the game. While the Portola Valley resident no longer plays Major League Baseball, he's still swinging the bat and knocking the ball around and out of the park.
The only real difference is that Byrnes no longer faces Major League pitching as a member of the Oakland A's, Colorado Rockies, Baltimore Orioles, Arizona Diamondbacks or Seattle Mariners. Nor does he play at the Oakland/Alameda County Coliseum, Coors Field or in Camden Yards.
These days, Byrnes, 34, is playing slow-pitch softball for the Dutch Goose in Menlo Park. To no one's surprise, opposing pitchers have been no match for recently retired Byrnes, who was cut by the Diamondbacks in January and picked up by the Mariners. In May, he was cut by the Mariners two days after missing a suicide squeeze bunt in a 2-0 loss.
Byrnes announced at that time he was done with baseball after 11 years, but that he would be playing softball -- and get paid doing it. Byrnes reportedly will be paid $11 million this season, $10.6 million by the Diamondbacks and $400,000 by the Mariners. That's not a bad retirement package.
Upon returning home, Byrnes decided to join the Dutch Goose softball team and has been nearly unstoppable since. He had three hits in his latest game, against the Barnes Brawlers, including a double off the wall and a towering three-run home run in the bottom of the last inning to pull his team within one.
While one might have certain preconceived notions about the talent level and semi-competitive nature of slow-pitch softball, watching the Dutch Goose team play quickly dismisses these stereotypes. Byrnes is joined by athletes such as Stanford grad John Gall, another former major leaguer, and other players with pasts in minor league and Division 1 baseball.
Many of the players have long histories with each other, playing together as early as their days with the Alpine/West Menlo Little League.
Byrnes describes the play as "real competitive, you play hard." But at the same time, "win or lose, it's not the end of the world."
The Dutch Goose has dominated thus far, compiling an 8-0 record on the season. Still, the players make it interesting, with four of their eight wins coming on walk-off hits, according to a Dutch Goose player.
The Dutch Goose next plays on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., against the Big Stix, and again June 30 (at 6:30 p.m.) against Vintage Construction.
The playoffs begin on Wednesday, July 7. All games are played at Frank Sequiera Jr. Field, located in Nealon Park at 800 Middle Ave. in Menlo Park. Games are seven innings and are held to a one-hour time limit.
Baseball or softball, the love of the game is still there for Byrnes. And while it's not the A's or the Giants, the Dutch Goose puts on as good a show as a slow-pitch softball team can. For now, Byrnes seems pretty happy with the team.
"It's all about coming out here, having fun, and playing some competitive ball with my buddies," he says.
(Michael Abramson will be a senior this fall at Menlo-Atherton High School.)