How AJA’s Boys’ Baseball Team Managed to Stay Committed Against the Odds
By Jemima Schoen
Tommy Lasorda, former MLB player and long-time manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers once said, “No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games. No matter how bad you are, you’re going to win one-third of your games. It’s the other third that makes the difference.”
Last year, at the close of AJA’s spring 2021 Baseball season, that missing third was the departure of one-third of a winning team, with five seniors graduating. Coach Joey Wilson, a Yeshiva High School alum, was worried about spring 2022. “We knew it would be tough coming into the season because we lost five seniors last season, three of which played four years of Varsity Baseball, and we replaced them with a bunch of freshmen, so we knew it would be challenging.”
Junior Eli Cohen didn’t know what to expect. “Honestly, at the beginning of this Baseball season, I was pretty scared. Our team only had three upperclassmen, hitting was a major work in progress, and we barely had any well-experienced pitchers. However, I soon learned of one thing our team did have: commitment.”
With only one senior on the team, Coach Wilson looked to the juniors and sophomores to form the basis of the team and show commitment and leadership. “We had a number of players on the team who obviously are now a year older. They’ve had some great experience from last year, working within the same system. And they stepped up, and they became the leaders to replace the leaders who left last year.” Scheduling the first few practices at 8:00 a.m. on Sundays, in frigid weather, the coaches put together a team of athletes who showed their commitment. “I think [at] our first three practices, it was under 30 degrees, and we ended up with kids who really wanted to play,” reminisced Coach Wilson.
According to sophomore Mikey Wilson, a left-fielder, “the 8:00 a.m. practices were just at the beginning,” but that experience was “a lot of fun.” Junior Jordan Steinberg, the team’s catcher, echoed this sentiment, saying that although he “didn’t like waking up early,” he still found that the practices made the early wake-up call “worth it.” Sophomore Noam Landman expounded upon this point, even calling the 8:00 a.m. practices “the greatest triumph of the season.” He thought of the practices as such because they “showed the players’ dedication to want to get better no matter the circumstances.” As it turns out, the grueling, cold practices shaped the team’s identity.
Coach Wilson explained that baseball is “a very slow sport. There’s just a lot of downtime with the entire team being in the dugout. And the team just has a lot of opportunity to chill and goof around and have fun and learn from each other… And this team just really gelled…The dynamic is just very strong, and the camaraderie very strong between them. And you really don’t notice when you’re watching these kids play and watching them in the dugout that half the kids on the team are underclassmen, and half the team are older classmen — it’s just one team. And I give the kids a lot of credit for coming together and feeling comfortable with one another and learning from one another and cheering each other on. And that really was instrumental in us actually having a great season.”
As a freshman on the team, centerfielder Yakov Wasserman felt that his baseball experience was slightly different than in other sports by function of how baseball works. “In baseball, you can’t really control who gets more playing or who gets more action because the ball has a mind of its own,” and therefore, Yakov felt that “in baseball, lowerclassmen and freshmen get a lot of opportunities.” Additionally, the coaching and fairness in batting orders also contribute to a feeling of increased opportunity and value as compared to upperclassmen. Batting eighth, Yakov said, gives him “a chance to prove myself in a higher position” that he appreciates. It was clear to Yakov that the team values everyone, especially as they close out their season.
In an average year, AJA baseball has two seasons. The first season consists of scheduled games with other schools that serves as a pre-season warm-up for the second season that the team plays at Dunwoody Senior Baseball. This year, facing scheduling, Pesach, and field procurement challenges, the Jags only played two games in their first season. However, Coach Wilson noted that “where we lacked practice we’ve made up for in terms of competitiveness… we had a lot of freshmen coming in…and even though they are not as experienced at the high school level and strong and developed, they are competitive, and they’re great players.” The team has been working hard together, and with AJA alum and former YA pitcher Gary Friedlander joining the coaching staff this year, Coach Wilson asserted that “we have a week left, going into the playoffs, and I feel we have a very good shot at making it far in the Playoffs if not winning the Championship.”
Eli Cohen agreed. “We applied ourselves very hard to our improvement and it clearly showed. Now, we have wins under our belt, a lineup of solid pitchers in the making, a lack of fielding errors, better hitting, and a sense of dignity. Although the season is coming to an end, it was such a journey and I couldn’t be more proud of our team.”
In summing up this not-yet-finished season, it seems that AJA’s missing third has been found. It consists of a winning combination of commitment — of athletes to a sport, of teammates to one another, and of coaches to their players, and that really does make all the difference.