On Their Sleeves: A Tale of Two Coaches (Part One)

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The Norton Mavericks traveled to Killington, Vermont in early July of 2004 to play baseball on one of the most beautiful little league diamonds I had ever seen. Bordered by tree-covered mountains on all sides, with fresh, white-lime baselines contrasting against the manicured purple clay of an infield that was surrounded by thick, deep-green perennial ryegrass, with a brilliant yellow sun beaming in the clear blue sky above, and with the red, white and blue of the stars and stripes waving nonchalantly just beyond the fence in center field; it couldn’t have been more perfect. It was after we removed our caps while standing and listening to the National Anthem, that suddenly it all appeared surreal to me, and in that flash of great clarity, I was momentarily overwhelmed. This field was a healthy slice of baseball heaven begging our indulgence.

Up 6-0 in the final game of the three-day tournament, and with victory clearly in sight, Brandon, our 13-year-old ace, was working on a no-hitter in the bottom of the sixth with two outs and two strikes on Killington’s last hope. Brandon decided to throw a changeup, the only one he threw all game. Up to that point, his 68 miles per hour fastball released from 46 feet had been unhittable. The kid made him pay for his poor decision and took him deep for Killington’s only hit and run of the game.

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Before we left Vermont with the trophy and bragging rights, I told  Killington's coach that we would be hosting a "Tournament of Champions" later that summer, in early August. He definitely wanted in. In a friendly but competitive way, we looked forward to facing each other again…

Two players from our tournament team were unable to participate in the “Tournament of Champions” and had to be replaced. While many of the kids vying for the spots had similar skill sets, I was more concerned with desire than ability when making my final decision. I chose Ryan and Teddy. They were both unable to play in the first tournament; Ryan traveled to the Carolinas on a family vacation and Teddy broke his thumb.

Both Ryan and Teddy desperately wanted to play in the “Tournament of Champions”. I could see it in their eyes…

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My first experience playing organized football was in 1967 on a Pop Warner team called the Sharon Red Devils, coached by Jack Cosgrove. The effect his coaching had on me then is still evident in everything I do today, some fifty years later.

At the time he was my coach, Jack was employed as a truck driver for the Whiting Milk Company, beginning each day before most people took their first poke at a snooze button. Mr. C, as we affectionately called him, was average in height and build, but his ability to motivate his young players was anything but. I always wondered where his motivation came from; unselfishly investing incredible amounts of time and energy in total strangers. It’s only after many years of coaching throughout the course of my own life that I began to understand the special place that kind of motivation comes from and how uncommon it is.

The Ames Street Playground football field where the Sharon Red Devils practiced and played their home games beginning in '67, was heavily worn; parts of it were used primarily as outfields for the four little league baseball fields whose diamonds were at each corner. Large portions of two infields were blended into the gridiron and when it rained we played in the mud. We played football for Jack Cosgrove and we were proud to say we did; the field conditions didn’t matter.

Before the regular season got underway, Mr. C and several volunteers, including my father, cemented goalposts made from threaded galvanized pipe, a requirement for participation in the South Shore Pop Warner League. 

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I looked forward to each and every practice; hustling, making big hits, and trying to get Mr. C to notice me. Everyone was vying for Mr. C’s attention; it made us a better football team. When Mr. C took you aside to talk one-on-one, you would return to your position energized and believing in yourself. He had a way of lifting any limitations or barriers you placed on yourself and then inspiring you to play with the confidence to achieve more than you ever thought possible. No one benefited more from this than I did…

To be continued…