My near-championship season began in a normal way, by attending try-outs. I had already made up my mind to ask one of the fathers with an athletically outstanding son to become my assistant, and he agreed, and then we jointly picked the rest of our team. The assistant was important because he actually knew something about baseball, having grown up in Ridgewood.
Our season opener was a ghastly nightmare. My assistant picked the pitcher, and by the top of the first inning we were behind 19-0 with no outs. All I wanted was for the pitcher to be removed and the inning to end. However, my new assistant wouldn’t remove the pitcher, being of the opinion that it was a good learning experience for him. I tried to explain that what he was providing for this boy was a nightmare that would come back to haunt him the rest of his life. Finally, I asserted my managerial authority, replaced the pitcher, and blessedly, after three easy outs, the inning came to an end. My assistant manager quit. Great baseball minds do not always agree.
The rest of the season proceeded remarkably smoothly. We lost a few games, but mostly we won. We won enough games to make us contenders for our division championship. I was surprised at how much emotion that generated, and I worked hard at producing perfect batting orders. We lost the last game of the season to the champions, but I really always thought of it as our championship season, although we didn’t quite make it.
The next season was a disaster. I had decided for sentimental reasons that it was silly for boys to play against their neighbors and best friends. So, when tryouts came up again in March, I selected a team made up entirely of neighborhood kids I knew and liked, as well as Josh’s friends. Among Josh’s friends was David, a boy who lived across the street as part of a musical family. Under the guidance and encouragement of their mother, he and his brothers had sung the lyrics to a nationally broadcasted cat food commercial. David was small, and whatever musical talent he possessed hadn’t transferred to baseball. I had to do something with him however, as everyone had to play. I put him out in left field where he wandered around looking for a four leaf clover. Occasionally, a ball would be hit in his direction and we’d all yell, “David! David! David!” and David would wake from his reverie and yell back, “I’ve got it! I’ve got it!” while looking up and running, glove up high, and then the ball would fall to the right of him, or to the left, or behind him. But that was the kind of team we had that year.
We went an entire season without winning a single game, except for the last one, and David was its hero. He showed up with a portable tape recorder on which he had recorded Bizet’s March of the Toreadors, the theme music from The Bad News Bears. No one missed the joke. Listening to that tape changed the mood of the team. The game became fun again, and somehow, we won that last game of my managerial career.