Getting older isn’t an easy thing to do. It’s difficult to believe how quickly time passes and the milestones, such as reunions, only make things seem a bit more surreal.
To be totally honest, reunions of most any kind typically make me anxious. The thought of reliving some events from my youth is not something I’m often eager to do. High school, for example, was not exactly the best time of my life. Oh, I can’t say it was an awful time, unless I start to think about my lackluster grades, anxiety about what the future would hold or my complete lack of social skills whenever girls were involved. Come to think of it, it was an awful time!
Last year, my high school class decided to do an impromptu class gathering. Somehow, don’t ask me how, I got involved in the planning process and was nominated to serve as the new class “president”. My presidency, however, was a puppet regime and several others actually made all of the decisions. That was fine with me, by the way.
As part of my role as class president, I was assigned the task of making a few opening comments at the beginning of the dinner. I opened the proceedings by expressing my anxiety over the entire affair and went on to say, “This is the first reunion I’ve attended since graduation. I never wanted to attend a reunion unless I had a good job, drove a nice car and lived in a nice house. Over the last year, however, I lost my job, I had to give back the car that came with the job and I got kicked out of my house. So what the Hell?” I suppose there comes a time in life when these superficial things in life just don’t matter a whole lot any longer and I think I’m there.
This past weekend, I attended a gathering of a different sort. My Little League team from 1972 held a 40-year reunion. I was very fortunate to somehow land on a team of highly skilled young ballplayers that managed to make it to the Little League World Series which was, and still is, played in Williamsport, PA. Forty years is a long time, but that time certainly has flown by.
Little league baseball wasn’t nearly as sophisticated back in the early 1970s as it is today. From what I remember, it was relatively low key without a great deal of parental interference. The parents certainly supported our efforts; however, when it came to running the team there was no doubt who was in charge; that would be Coach Pete and Coach Joe.
Coach Pete’s involvement with the team is somewhat of an interesting story in itself. In 1968, Coach Pete had a son about to enter the entry-level "pee wee" league. The story goes that Coach Pete took his son to the tryouts, took a look around and observed some of the talent on the field. At that point, or so I’m told, Coach Pete announced that he was claiming the right to manage the league’s All-Star team five years from then. The reason being that he believed he could take this group of boys to the Little League World Series in 1972.
The next few years passed and players developed, but Coach Pete never lost sight of his goal. Coach Joe’s league team won the Edison Little League championship in 1971, which entitled him to manage the 1972 All-Star squad. In a gracious and classy move, he agreed step aside and serve as the assistant coach to Coach Pete. When 1972 arrived and the team was chosen, I remember sitting on the outfield grass and listening to Coach Pete after one of our pre-tournament practices….a practice session that he wasn’t particularly pleased with. At that time, he told us that we would have to perform much better than what he had just observed once we got to Williamsport. A few of us just sort of looked at each other and rolled our eyes, as the thought of going to the World Series wasn’t realistic. Keep in mind, most of the players back then never even owned baseball cleats but instead played the games wearing gym shoes!
As the All-Star tournament began, our team started off by winning some games in a convincing manner. Before long, the players started to buy into the idea of going “all the way”. In time, the team developed a confident swagger, but never one of over-confidence. The coaches would have none of that. Coach Joe developed a pre-game infield drill that was, I think, unparalleled to what other teams displayed. The term “snap and pop” was bandied about as he fired off ground balls to the infielders in rapid fire motion. As a first-baseman, there was never a break as baseballs were constantly screaming toward me. When the outfield was brought into the drill, their line-drive-like throws to whatever base called for landed in the infielder’s glove with a “pop” and with great authority. There were times, after a victory, when the opposing coach would come over and congratulate our team and quietly whisper to our coaches that they knew they were in trouble during our infield practice session.
Our team went on to play in the Little League World Series, subsequently losing the final game to a team from Taiwan. Regardless of the outcome of that final game, which was a 6-0 defeat, Coach Pete’s prediction from 1968 came true. Not too shabby!
At the reunion party this past weekend, I told Coach Pete that many of the things he would tell us back then, I still remember today. Coach’s response was, “Oh yeah? What were they? I’m writing a book and need some material.” Yes, I also learned sarcasm at an early age. Whenever Coach Pete would see someone that appeared to be somewhat disengaged during a practice session or make some sort of a mental gaffe, he’d calmly walk toward us, look directly into our eyes and in a very low and gravelly voice say, “Hey….keep your mind in gear.” Enough said.
To this day, whenever I’m watching a baseball game on TV and I see some player make a foolish play based on not being prepared; my reaction is to scream at the TV, “Hey! Keep your mind in gear!”
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