The tremendous national coverage the Westport's Little League All-Stars received in pursuit of the World Series championship is well-deserved and served as a platform for keeping our town famous around the globe. As exciting as this year's competition has been, however, it brings forth from the recesses of my mind one of the most humbling experiences this writer has ever had.
Way back in the 1970s, I had the privilege of serving as a manager of a Westport Little League team, an unforgettable assignment that taught me the true value of humility in sports and in life. That memorable season put the lie to Green Bay Packers' Coach Vince Lombardi's historic motto "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing.!"
Some observers say that Lombardi's fixation on winning was just a motivational tool to inspire his players. I believed in that until I launched my coaching career in Westport. (Full disclosure. I wasn't really qualified to coach. I had never played baseball. Not in Little League, not in middle school, not in high school, not in college.)
Instead, I opted for football, basketball and track -- and, most importantly for my future, writing about all varsity sports in college for the Daily Dartmouth.
For those of you who are sports buffs and of a certain age, my youthful ambition was to be another Jimmy Cannon, the tough-guy sports columnist for the old New York Post. (I later met him once at a bar in a hotel in Puerto Rico and was greatly impressed with him.)
Every column Cannon wrote began with the cautionary phrase: "Nobody asked me, but ...' and he would follow with one-line opinions on just about everything from sports to politics.
I adopted that somewhat arrogant philosophy with the Little League team. I had watched baseball, including Little League games in Westport. When my son, James, became old enough I persuaded (more liked ordered) him to try out.
He liked playing, except for catching the ball. That talent eluded him, so when I filled out my lineup for our first game, I put him in right field. He soon drifted over to position himself behind the center fielder in order to avoid fly balls. Good enough, I thought. The team needed his big bat -- he had great power and hit more towering home runs than anyone else on the team. Opposing pitchers feared him when he came up to the plate. It was like pitching to Babe Ruth, I swear. Any day I expected to see a Major League baseball scout would show up to watch him hit.
Having blocked out that "Bad News Bears" season in my mind, I find it difficult to remember my players' full names. But I clearly recall that Joe Bloch was the other coach with me and helped me a lot. His son played first base as I recall, a rangy, excellent fielder and outstanding hitter.
As I dimly recall, I placed a kid named Shavwitz at shortstop because he fielded every ball hit in the infield, whether it was to him, third base or first base. He was better than Phil Rizzuto and Derek Jeter combined.
At third base, I placed a nifty hitter and smooth fielder by the baseball-appropriate name of Diamond.
As catcher, I put Ari Horowitz, a diminutive kid who could handle every pitcher with ease. A take-charge guy.
The outfielders, except for my son, elude my mind, maybe because there was mayhem out there when balls were hit there.
Anyway, my team began to develop a reputation as "losers." I was getting booed by the kids' parents in the stands, and even my players began to sulk. I kept telling them that "winning isn't everything" and that a great deal can learned from losing.
That line did not work. By the time we reached the last game of the season, we had not won a game. My kids asked to talk to me privately. They gently asked me to step aside in favor of Joe Bloch. I think this was the first time baseball players ever fired the manager!
So, what happens in our last game? Joe Block skillfully used the talent he had, and miracles of all miracles -- we won! Joe had a pizza party for the kids at his house after the game. He told them they were "winners" after all and they all cheered.
I stood quietly on the side munching on a slice of pizza, just happy that the team felt good. That was very satisfying.
You can learn something by losing: genuine humility.
Woody Klein is a Westport writer, and his "Out of the Woods" appears every other Friday. He can be reached at email@example.com