Number 1 Youth Coach of the Year
In this era of 8-figure compensation packages, performance enhancing substances, and glory seeking headlines, the occasional show of personal integrity represents a refreshing change of pace. Recent statements made by Ryan Howard and Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies, in the wake of their healthy contract renewals, come immediately to mind. When interviewed, both players spoke more of comradeship and team loyalty than anything else, and that makes front page news anywhere in sports these days.
Less heralded but no less laudable include the efforts of countless coaches, team managers, and league administrators across the national baseball landscape who volunteer their time on behalf of young players of all ages. They are the ones who organize the leagues and the teams that give thousands of youth in Every Town, USA the chance to compete in the best game on earth.
One such local hero of youth baseball is Rich Mason, Head Coach of the West Jersey Sliders of the Phillipsburg area in New Jersey. All you need to know about Rich appears in a letter written by one of his nine year-old players nominating him for Youth Coach of the Year. Which year, exactly, does not matter. The sentiments of one young player for the inspiration and guidance that a beloved coach provides says it all.
Who can argue with testimony like that?
Characteristically, Rich Mason himself can, and does. Humble to a fault, Coach Mason talks about the efforts of his players to always improve their skills on the field, and about the untiring efforts of his assistant coaches to make travel/tournament baseball the highest quality it can be.
In 2005 the Phillipsburg Area Baseball Committee formed a travel team to compete in official Little League play. That taste of organized play has given rise to the West Jersey Sliders Baseball Club, a youth independent travel team comprised of some of the best young players from the Phillipsburg area. The Sliders’ goal, according to Coach Mason, is to compete with the best teams that will take part in Cooperstown Dream Week in 2008.
Front Row: Matt Macanally, Chris Trent, David Wodzisz, Mark Carducci, Tyler Woscek, Quinn Adams
Second Row: Tyler Troxll, L.J. Reboli, Eric Drzewicki, Billy Beyer, Nick Tauriello, Chris Figler
Third Row: Head Coach Rich Mason, Ass’t. Coaches Joe Carducci, Billy Beyer, Mike Trent
“Community response,” says Coach Rich, “has been outstanding. Word of expansion and tryouts for next year has spread widely through word-of-mouth.” A fund raiser dance held at the Alpha Fire House on Saturday, March 2007, drew in excess of sixty supporters, including New Jersey Baseball Magazine (NJB). NJB informed Coach Rich that night that it will contribute $100 to the cause of West Jersey Sliders Baseball.
Owner of Apache Trucking, a business he started twelve years ago, Rich “got the taste for playing” baseball in recreational, American Legion ball and later while in the Army. He once had a two-day tryout with the semipro Allentown Ambassadors, but found the competition against “lots of younger players” for a roster spot to be beyond his skill level. Still, he regards it as “an accomplishment to have gotten that experience.”
For Coach Mason, the experience of playing baseball goes far beyond the playing field. This comprises the essential message that he and his coaches convey to their players. In addition to learning to hit “with the proper technique,” Sliders’ players learn values that translate as well in the game of life as in the game of baseball.
For instance, in accepting that they “can’t win every time they take the field,” they nonetheless will build confidence by always playing well, by getting along with each other, and exhibiting good behavior.” With a team “emphasis on defense, where the pitcher always backs up 3rd while the catcher always backs up 1st, and everyone has an assignment” they will also learn the value of competing fairly and hard.
“In life, as in sports,” Coach Rich concludes, “you have to work twice as hard for what you want, but realize that you do not always get what you want.” With all those values in mind, they “won’t know losing.”
NJB Magazine salutes Rich Mason, his coaches, and the countless other adults who give of themselves to help our youth appreciate the richness there is to gain from playing the greatest game on earth. Those of us who have had the good fortune to play baseball and to learn the values it teaches are indeed richer for the experience.
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