Memories Of Getting Benched In A Championship Game
The Ocean County Baseball Tournament championship game will be played this afternoon and it brings back both good and bad memories from my high school days.
If was my senior year at Central Regional in the spring of 1973. Prior to practice beginning head coach Al Kunzman approached me and asked if I wanted to help him out as the team’s third base coach. While I did not play baseball Kunzman knew I was a sports freak and many of my good friends were on the team. In addition to being the third base coach I was expected to be at practice every day and help out in whatever capacity was needed. As for my compensation, well I got uniform #8 to go along with the #8 being worn by then Mets manager Yogi Berra.
There were some interesting stories during the season but I’ll leave them for another time. This was the second year of the Ocean County Tournament and it would run the same time as our senior class trip in Montreal. The seniors had to vote on whether we were going away or fully committed to the OCT. We opted for a chance to win the county title and sure enough advanced to the championship game against Toms River North.
That day in school Coach Kunzman called me into his classroom to inform me I was being benched in favor of a young John Gardi who was the freshman coach at that time. He said all the right things but it was still a blow to not be a “part” of what would be a Golden Eagles historic victory behind a stellar pitching performance by the late Dick Gabriel who shutout the Mariners 3-0.
The disappointment would not last. Kunzman would become a dear friend until his passing in 2005 at the age of 71. I would also build a nice relationship with Gardi who would go on to coach football at Central and later become the athletic director at Lacey High School.
I’ll be at the OCT today when Donovan Catholic takes on Southern ironically at what is now Al Leiter Baseball Park at Al Kunzman Memorial Field. First pitch at 4pm.