In one month, baseball season will be underway. Not just professionally, not just collegiately, but at the high school level. For the final two months of the school year, high schoolers will take part of America’s national pastime. And it will be awesome.
High school games are shorter, only seven innings. Games are generally won by strong pitching and aggressive base running. Games are generally done in the afternoon and everybody is usually home by 9:00, depending on how far away the game was. The start of a new season takes me back to when I was in school, serving as the manager for the junior varsity and varsity teams of John Bapst Memorial High School. Some say high school games are boring. Yes, to spectators, they can be. But when you’re a manager, it is far from it.
The game is a completely different level when you are down in the middle of all the action. Okay. Fine. Technically, managers actually aren’t on the field. They don’t get to play. They don’t get to wear a uniform with their name on it. They might get a nice shirt and a hat. Frankly, the manager of a high school team doesn’t do that much. The manager is usually a volunteer student. Some managers tried out for the team but weren’t successful. Others are shy so they sit in a corner and say nothing. So what’s in it for the manager? What do they get if they can’t play? Simple. They get to be part of something magical.
The manager can’t do much to help the coach but it can do a few things. Generally, one job is to keep the pitch count of the starting pitcher. Pitch counts determine how often a pitcher can be used. They can also keep the book if the team doesn’t have an assistant coach to do the job. Keeping the book is when the manager keeps score of the entire game for the two teams by writing down everything that happened, the hits, the stolen bases, the errors. It helps the coach figure out what the team needs to work on.
It could be argued that the manager usually isn’t that invested in the game as the other members of the team. Why should a manager be? The manager does not get to hit, run, steal a base, pitch, score a run, or do anything remotely physical that will help the team win the game. To some, it may seem like a completely nonsensical Why would anybody want to be a part of something if they really can’t do anything to help the team win? Why would they spend hours a week doing something they can’t be a true part of? What a pointless position. But it’s not. If any of those managers were anything like me, they loved every second of those dugout days.
I had no iota of physical talent to play baseball so I did the next best thing-I managed. Towards the end of my managerial career, the Bapst team finally had an assistant coach. I gave him my book. So what else could I do? Simple. Chemistry. Team chemistry. Team chemistry is the perhaps the most important part of the game. I was one of the managers who just loved being part of it all. I loved keeping pitch count and I loved that stupid book. There was something about my team.
Yelling yourself hoarse when your team is down by one run with the tying run on third and the winning run on second when there’s two outs in the bottom of the seventh is one of the most exciting experiences one can have. From the long, sticky bus rides to Ellsworth, to the absolute meditation of playing at Mount Desert Island with its cool ocean breeze. From winning nail biting games, to cursing the idiot umpires under our breaths, to cursing our idiot coach behind his back, to throwing the gloves, backpacks and anything else when our team loses, baseball meant something special to us. Then there’s the pig pile down the first base line that comes when your team walks off with a come from behind win. Playing home games at Husson or Mannsfield. From spitting sunflower seeds in the dugout, to the national anthem performed before the start of every game. Being a manager was something truly fulfilling. It gave me a sense of purpose and I will always remember it fondly. Play ball.