Via Media

Via Media


Not about religion, but…maybe.

In Sunday’s NYTimes Magazine, Michael Lewis pens a marvelous, beautifully written piece about his old high school baseball coach and changing times.

The changing times are, of course, parents who want their kids to be stars, but don’t want them to have to suffer or work for it.

Be careful if you’re a teacher and you read this piece: you might strain your neck nodding in agreement.

And it’s just so wonderfully written:

As the other team continued to erupt with joy, Fitz glanced at the runner on third base, a reedy fellow with an aspiring mustache, and said, ”Pick him off.” Then he walked off and left me all alone.


If Zeus had landed on the pitcher’s mound and issued the command, it would have had no greater effect. The chances of picking a man off third base are never good, and even worse in a close game, when everyone’s paying attention. But this was Fitz talking, and I can still recall, 30 years later, the sensation he created in me. I didn’t have words for it then, but I do now: I am about to show the world, and myself, what I can do.

At the time, this was a wholly novel thought for me. I’d spent the previous school year racking up C-minuses, picking fights with teachers and thinking up new ways to waste my time on earth. Worst of all, I had the most admirable, loving parents on whom I could plausibly blame nothing. What was wrong with me? I didn’t know. To say I was confused would be to put it kindly; ”inert” would be closer to the truth. In the three years before I met Coach Fitz, the only task for which I exhibited any enthusiasm was sneaking out of the house at 2 in the morning to rip hood ornaments off cars — you needed a hacksaw and two full nights to cut the winged medallion off a Bentley. Now this fantastically persuasive man was insisting, however improbably, that I might be some other kind of person. A hero.

Comments read comments(6)
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Mike Hardy

posted March 27, 2004 at 11:22 am

Thanks for pointing this article out. Fantastic!!!

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Steve M.

posted March 27, 2004 at 1:21 pm

This is a stunningly good article on important topics. It would be out of place to appear almost anywhere these days–but to appear in my hometown paper of record–amazing! In the worst sewer in the entire Times–the utterly decadent magazine section–amazing beyond words. Thanks Amy, I probably would have missed this but for your recommendation.

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James Freeman

posted March 28, 2004 at 12:00 am

This was an important story — one of the finest and truest I’ve ever read in a newspaper.
Michael Lewis’ piece is a perfect example of, when you have a story that’s almost too large and involved to cover adequately in an article, telling the big story through a little story. Absolutely perfect.
It’s metaphorical, actually.
God help us, because there won’t be any men left to do it . . . not after my blight of a generation finishes crucifying the last of the Coach Fitzes of the world.

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posted March 28, 2004 at 11:35 am

What a beautiful tribute to the coach and a reminder that what do can make a difference in the lives of others.

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posted March 29, 2004 at 10:14 am

I was surprised that Coach Fitz would teach his players to slide head-first when going from first to third. This sliding technique unfortunately was popularized by Prince Valiant, otherwise known as Pete Rose.
No baseball purist I know would advocate doing this; you’re simply slowing yourself down and inviting injury. The head-first slide also smacks of showboating, in my book.
Or perhaps Michael Lewis is misremembering history. After all, Coach Fitz himself knocks down a few tall tales about himself in this article.
This article does bring into focus a serious problem–parents who figure that, since they’re shelling out big tuition dollars, their children are “customers” who are entitled to success with little effort and no disappointments.
And don’t yell at the poor little things either!
In January, at a father-son Mass and breakfast (my son attends a Jesuit prep school), the proceedings were closed with a prayer that was attributed to Gen. Douglas MacArthur. It seems to capture what I hope most fathers would wish for their sons:
Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.
Build me a son whose wishes will not exceed his deeds; a son who will know Thee….
and that to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge.
Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here, let him learn to stand up in the storm; here, let him learn compassion for those who fail.
Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goals will be high; a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men; one who will learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.
And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously. Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength.
Then I, his father, will dare to whisper, “I have not lived in vain.”

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posted April 17, 2004 at 9:28 pm

I think Peyton Manning’s quote about Fitz (his ex-coach) about says it all:
“He was about making men out of people.”
If you think being male is a higher and finer state than being “merely” human, I guess you’ll applaud Fitz and Lewis. I don’t happen to agree.
Yes, the old ways are instructive. We could use some of their courage, vision, and conviction. But there is too much pressure from the pious and nostalgic to bring it all back like Holy Writ. Leaven it with understanding, compassion, and kindness. You will not destroy it, as Lewis thinks, but make it even stronger.

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