a-perfect-season

Ah, baseball. 'Take me out to the ball game' was one of America's favorite songs. But what happens when nothing a manager does turns out right? Read this story and you'll find out.

Warning

Don't even think of becoming a Little League manager unless you are willing to contend with torn pants, day-dreaming outfielders, and rabid fathers who believe their sons are star performers even when they can't hit, field, or throw.

I spent a season managing a Little League team in Phoenix, AZ. We had a perfect season. Well, almost perfect. I'll tell you more about that latter.

All I can add is...

...thank God for alcohol and poker. It helped me retain what little sanity I had left after the season ended.

baseball_has_always

Baseball has always been one of my primary passions. I grew up in the shadow of Forbes Field, the old home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and was a Pirate fan from the time I was old enough to walk. I even organized my own sandlot baseball team, using neighborhood kids to play teams within a 20-mile radius of my home town.

After moving to Phoenix and taking a job as a reporter on a daily newspaper, I saw a classified ad calling for managers for local Little League teams. The children were nine-year-olds and no experience was necessary. I applied, filled out an application, and was accepted.

Feeling like a future Casey Stengel or at least a Danny Murtaugh, I summoned my beer-drinking buddy Dave Molina, who was a copy editor on our newspaper, and asked if he would be my assistant manager. He agreed!

The following Saturday I showed up at a large sports complex where hundreds of kids and adults, many of them in baseball uniforms, were milling about. Everything seemed in a state of confusion...

...but I finally found someone in charge who directed me to where my future team was waiting. Ironically, the team's name was the Glendale Pirates.

Several parents were with the kids. One, a young mother of a sullen faced redhead, was very sweet. She told me she had brought along a case of soft drinks that was at my disposal. Wonderful, I told her.

"Good luck," she said, smiling. "Are you experienced at this?"

I thought of lying but decided against this. I told her it was my first season at a manager and that I hadn't played baseball in years.

Her husband, a tall thin man who worked as a computer programmer, said, "You must be awfully brave. You're gonna need a lot of luck."

The other managers, many of them veterans, were all organizing their teams. They seemed to have a no-nonsense attitude toward their players, and acted like they were bound and determined to win.

I walked into the center of my team. There were 15 players of various sizes, shapes and descriptions. I introduced myself and shook hands with all of them

I also promised them that I would treat them to a free Dairy Queen after they won their first game. That brought a cheer!

when_it_was_our_turn_to

When it was our turn to take one of the fields, I tried to divide the team members into pitchers, infielders and outfielders. Then I asked how many of them were pitchers. Four arms shot into the air.

Rodney was a skinny kid with glasses who looked pretty small to have much of a fast ball. He threw his first pitch over the head of the catcher, an overweight lad named Tony. He threw the second ball over the backstop. I could tell it was going to be a long day.

Before the practice session came to a close, I managed to give all the kids 15 swings at the plate. At the end of six hours Molina and I were exhausted.

"I need a drink," he whispered to me.

"So do I," I whispered.

Our first game was the following Saturday at 1 p.m. We broke open the case of refreshments and passed them out to the team. The mother of the red-haired third baseman who had brought them congratulated me.

"For what?," I said weakly.

"You seem to be so much better organized than the other managers," she said.

Was she serious? I stared at her and found not a trace of guile. I mumbled thanks, and after Dave and I had put the bats and balls away in the storage lockers, we bee-lined for the nearest bar.

The first game was a disaster! We lost 13-3.

Alice, the mother of the redhead, treated us with another case of Cokes. I promised her the team would do better next time. She beamed expectantly. Her husband just shook his head.

The following Saturday we lost 7-1. My second baseman ripped his pants going after a ground ball and burst into his tears.

Fortunately...

...one of the mothers had a sewing kit in her station wagon and managed to make emergency repairs. After the game, Molina and I found another bar.

The third, fourth, and fifth game had the same results. We lost 10-4, 6-2, and 9-5.

tony_my_perspiring_catche

Tony, my perspiring catcher, came up to me after the fifth game. He was accompanied by Rodney and two other team members.

"Um, we were wondering if maybe you would treat us to that Dairy Queen," he said. "I know we haven't won."

"Yet!,'" declared Rodney emphatically. "We're scoring runs."

"Just not enough of them," said the redhead, whose name was Jeremy.

I bought all the kids Dairy Queens. After they headed for home, Dave and I found a country western club on Grand Avenue and ordered a drink.

As the season went on...

...I developed a great relationship with the kids and their parents. From the beginning, I had urged them to have fun and not worry that much about winning. I also stressed good sportsmanship and my team members practiced it to the hilt despite our losses.

A day before the final game of the season, we had a perfect record -- 0 and 13. That morning I awoke with a temperature of 103 and chills that racked my body. I visited the VA Hospital and after tests was diagnosed with the flu.

Feeling miserable...

...I called Alice and told her I wouldn't be able to make the game. She conferred with her husband and he said he would be happy to take my place. They both wished me a quick return to health.

The following day I was in bed taking my prescriptions when the phone rang. It was Rodney.

"Mr. Lawrenzi," he said, breathlessly. "We...we...we WON!'

And that was the end of my career as a Little League manager.

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