I got this e-mail recently…
How are you. My name is “Coach” Steve Mandl
I coach at the legendary George Washington HS in NYC, where we have had 7 Major Leaguers since my career began about 30 years ago. We are a storied program and Im sure you know much about the program.
I, like you am a Jew, a proud Jew. I wear #32… due to Sandy Koufax.
I have a very long resume that spans not only here but over most of the world. I am a member coach of USA Baseball and was planning to coach with them this summer. The past few summers, in addition, I coach with Bobby Valentine and the All American team.
“Coach” Steve Mandl
Hello, again, Ladies and J-Birds, let us begin, today, with an exercise… Let’s say… you, for example, want to get involved with Israel, or baseball, or any combination of the two, who would you contact? – That is correct, you would contact the King of Jewish Baseball. But no one garners the attention of the KOJB without paying a tariff, no one! – If you’ve spoken to me even just once, you are an official lifetime member of the Jewish Baseball Magicians Institute. That’s right, Steve, in exchange for an introduction to the world of Jewish Baseball, I, King of Jewish Baseball, trade you… one blog post.
Steve is in his 30th season at George Washington High. So I thought it only noble that I pay him a visit at his fiefdom.
I told Steve I’d be there at 3, when school lets out, to discuss the ever-growing kingdom of Jewish Baseball. After getting lost in Washington Heights, I arrived at 3:30, late.
GW! A majestic sight! A palace, if I don’t say so myself, on a hill, in Washington Heights, waaaaaaaaaay uptown Manhattan, with the sun shining on it, and inside, with a large front hall, and gold banisters, and lots of security, fit for… a King.
Steve’s office is a small room in the basement covered with photos and posters of Jimi Hendrix and a huge, signed Manny Ramirez, and Kurt Cobain, and framed team pictures from each of his thirty years there. And I looked at Steve and thought, yes, here we go, the King of George Washington High.
GW has been one of the best high-school teams in the country for nearly Steve’s entire career. From what I can gather – please remember my resources are limited to the internet, direct e-mails to Steve, time travel, and all of nature – GW has won 28 of the last 29 League Championships, 3 city titles, they’ve put 7 players into the Major Leagues (including their most well known alum, Manny Ramirez) and countless others into college and minor league baseball. Last year alone they had two high draft picks.
Steve told me if the baseball team played the football team in football, the baseball team would win. Then he told me if the baseball team played the basketball team in basketball, the baseball team would win that too (and claimed it was once happening until the basketball coach stopped the game).
What I really wanted to do was observe practice, see the kids play, and watch the master at work.
Since I was late, I was sure I was going to interrupt, that they would have already started. But the security guard took me downstairs. Steve was sitting with a player, or former player, or father, or another coach. The gentleman kindly bowed and exited. Steve said practice would start in about 5 minutes. I felt rushed and as if I were rushing him though he did not seem at all hurried.
Practice never really “started”. Or maybe it had never ended. Steve said they practice from about 3:30 – 7:30 every day. He did not eventually call everyone together, which is what I am accustomed to, the official signal of the beginning of practice. Instead, we walked out to the hallway outside his office. Players came and went, dressed in Diamond Backs and Blue Jays and Yankee gear. Eventually, they began running down the hall and up a flight of stairs and out of sight, a lot of them, a group of around 40. A red Gatorade had leaked from the bottom of a garbage can in the middle of the room. Players jumped over it or around it as they ran by. We looked at the weight room. You could hear the team now running their laps overhead, pounding footsteps in the hallways and the stairwells.
Warm-ups took 40 minutes. Every exercise I have ever seen, done 3 times, in sets of 10, and it made me think of my teams when I was young, an infield routine with 8 baseballs in flight at once, all the push-ups, the yelling. The kids were banging out jumping Jacks like it was the damn Olympics. They were like the Giants before a Wold Series Game, but they weren’t the Giants, and they weren’t about to play a World Series Game, not to mention a game at-all, that day, or week, or month even. It was January. We were in the floor-stained basement of a big, old, dirty high-school. 40 or so kids were doing jumping jacks like Navy Seals. Steve still had not said anything. After nearly an hour of this, Steve spoke – he had them finish the warm-up with 15 minutes of abs.
Then sprints began.
“Pairs of two. Down the hallway. On me. Take a lead. Go on ‘go’. Get back to the bag on ‘back’.”
“Next. Do a 360 to the right, facing the radiator, on the way there. And a 360 to the left on the way back. Don’t turn your head. Use your peripheral vision. Trust your body. Go.”
It was 5pm when I left, two hours had passed, and no one had picked up a baseball. I thanked Steve and walked out as the guys were breaking up into groups to throw.
There was no rush. There was a long practice ahead, like yesterday’s, and another one tomorrow. Forever. If you’re lucky.
Good luck to the George Washington Trojans and the King of Goerge Washington High School, Coach Steve Mandl, from the King of Jewish Baseball and all the members of the Jewish Baseball Magicians Institute.
We’ll keep an eye out for you guys this season…