Team sport? Nah,I won a title myself

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 17, 2007

Bill Cosby used to be a stand-up comedian.

No, it’s true. Before he played an actor as the perfect father in the perfect family setting in an enormously successful television sitcom, before he hawked Jello pudding, before he preached to other people how to live their lives while being sued by people of accusing him of how not to live his, Cosby did stand-up.

And before all of that, Cosby loved sports. He meshed his sports background with his wonderfully insightful musings with an unmistakable gift for comedy and turned that into some hilarious albums (kids, those are the 12-inch vinyl disks that were played by metal needles. Ask your parents. Or Google it.)

Anyway, Cosby had this wonderful routine about how men flat-out lie when it comes to recounting their sports exploits. His premise was how men would brag about scoring the winning touchdown in a high school football game. He called that a likely lie. His proof? He theorized that few guys actually played football, and fewer still ever scored a touchdown. From that small sample, even fewer actually scored a winning TD.

Simple mathematical deduction.

That high school football practice for the 2007 season has started, and that Little League World Series games in both baseball and softball have begun, I was reminded of my own true high school sports story, one that is so terribly embarrassing that I offer it as truth. No one would try to lie about such a thing. So here it is:

I single-handedly won my high school’s county baseball championship. True.

First, the set-up: My high school on Long Island was one about 70 that fielded a baseball team in a county with a population hovering around 1 million people. So, winning a county championship

was a pretty big deal, unless you count a marching band championship, but that’s fodder for another day.

So winning a championship in a team sport single-handedly must be a feat of great proportion. At least that’s how my mind has process it over the years.

In my sophomore year in high school, I made the varsity team, which was a fluke because I was no more ready to play varsity as a tall, skinny teenager as I was ready to be the drum major in the marching band. Oh, wait. I said that’s for another day….

In short, I played very little as a sophomore, and when I did I screwed up royally — which, if the team hadn’t been so talent-laden might have provided me with some cover for time to improve. But the team had some serious talent and couldn’t wait for me. Five senior starters went on to play college baseball in some capacity. In fact, we had one guy who would be voted the best player in the county . He was drafted by a Major League organization, but chose a college basketball scholarship instead. Flunked out early in his freshman year. Hey, the guy could play; he just couldn’t study.

Anyway, when you’re the low man on a team’s totem pole, there aren’t too many ways to contribute. You can pitch batting practice, which I did. You can warm up the relief pitcher, which I did. Or you can coach third base, which I did.

I could throw strikes for batting practice and could catch the relief pitcher. Coaching third base was new to me. That year was the only time in organized baseball that I wasn’t playing every inning and I found myself in uncharted territory.

There was one play early in the season. And I remember it was early in the season because it was quite chilly and I stuck my hands deep into the pockets of the wool letter jacket I wore while manning my unfamiliar position as third base coach. It was a close game and we had a runner on second base — a most aggressive player — less than two outs.

The batter lined a sharp single to center and the runner looked at me for direction whether to hold at third or try to score. I did nothing but watch the centerfielder. The runner rushed by me while saying something, then continued running toward home. I sensed trouble. The aggressive player was out by about a minute and a half.

All of that happened in a flash. What happened next remains in my memory bank in slow motion. Another player with his wool letter jacket left the bench and started jogging toward me with a most apologetic look on his face. He was assigned by our coach, disgusted with my lack of understanding of the coaching position, to replace me as third base coach in the middle of the inning.

Even in high school baseball, there are pinch-hitters, relief pitchers, substitute fielders. Seldom, however, are there replacement base coaches in the middle of the inning. As I took my familiar spot on the end of the bench — again — the coach was livid, storming the sidelines, yelling about one person’s lack of intensity could undermine the team’s effort. He was, of course, talking about me. Suddenly, the marching band’s drum major job looked pretty good on that chilly spring day.

But here’s how I won the championship: The coach, so disgusted with my efforts, decided to coach third base himself for the rest of the season. I still pitched a little batting practice, caught the relief pitcher’s warm-ups, sure. However, no more standing near third base. We won about 18 games in a row, blew through the playoffs and had pictures in the newspaper.

Amazing how I could accomplish so much with so little.

Good thing I’m over it.

PAUL McFARLANE is the Editor of The Tidewater News. His e-mail address is