PADECKY: Hard choices at crunch time for Casa Grande, a team with rare kinship

By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Casa Grande's Anthony Bender, center, sits in the dugout with the team during Saturday's NCS championship game at Santa Rosa Junior College, (Photo by CRISTA JEREMIASON, The Press Democrat)

Casa Grande’s Anthony Bender, center, sits in the dugout with the team during Saturday’s NCS championship game at Santa Rosa Junior College, (Photo by CRISTA JEREMIASON, The Press Democrat)

It’s Saturday, four in the afternoon, the heat is curling toes, Casa’s baseball team just got smoked in the NCS title game by Campolindo, 8-0, and Paul Maytorena has no regrets.

Maytorena could have fielded a more competitive team against Campo, one that might have been more effective Saturday but the decision he made last Tuesday prevented that and he has no regrets.

“I have to be able to look at myself in the mirror,” said Casa’s coach.

Maytorena kicked three players off the team, two of them starters, for what can be characterized as youthful indiscretion. Of course Maytorena didn’t have to do it. Ever since people have kept score, coaches have looked the other way. Not all of them. Not most of them. But enough of them for us to know that, human nature being what it is, coaches have compromised ethics for winning.

Teenagers will be teenagers from time to time, Maytorena could have rationalized. They don’t always think straight. It’s almost like an adolescent birthright. Very few of us escape our teens without saying, “Oops.” So whaddya going to do? These three kids messed up. They know they messed up. Stuff like this happens.

Especially with the College Park game coming up Wednesday. A victory would put Casa in the Division 2 NCS title game. Let’s look to the future, not dwell on the past, he could have said. Let’s move on.

Maytorena couldn’t. He learned the facts. Presented them to Casa Principal Linda Scheele. The punishment was deemed appropriate.

“It was the right thing to do,” Maytorena said.

Right, he said, because just as players have to be accountable on the field, they have to be equally accountable off it. On the Gauchos there aren’t separate rules for Francis Christy, the very gifted catcher, and someone who rides the bench. Own your life, Maytorena was saying, own all of it, whether it’s a ground ball you missed or a pothole you hit with the car or an embarrassing misstep away from the field. It’s like being an adult and for Maytorena, it’s never too early to start learning how.

“It’s about having integrity,” Maytorena said. “I couldn’t let this go. The kids would have noticed.”

The rest of the Gauchos would have noticed. Maytorena always has preached play clean, play hard, pay attention and remember you represent Casa Grande High School at all times, in or out of the uniform. Be aware. Be smart.

“I really didn’t have a choice,” Maytorena said.

What is Maytorena if he is not a man of his word?

So now it’s 4 p.m. Saturday and the Gauchos were just smoked. I asked Maytorena to play the “What If?” game.

“What if those three players weren’t kicked off the team before the two most important games of the season? What if Kevin George hadn’t been lost for the season?”

George is the Gauchos’ left-handed pitcher who is headed to Santa Clara on a baseball scholarship. Two months ago during a workout George suffered a hamstring detachment of all tendons and a labral tear of the hip.

How could Casa not been adversely impacted by those losses? I knew what Maytorena was going to say.

I was wrong.

“Our record would have been the same with or without those players,” he said.

How is that possible, given the relative worth of talent?

“Because, with each loss, we built something,” Maytorena said. “We keep building and building, kept getting closer and closer. I’ll take these guys into battle any day.”

Maytorena was talking about something only a coach and his players can see, when everyone breathes the same air, exhaling and inhaling together, when a single movement is everyone’s movement. Yes, that may sound like so much psycho-babble and it is — unless you have been an athlete in the middle of it. The ones that have experienced it, like this Casa team, may never find that kind of unity among people the rest of their lives. It’s that rare.

So when Christy walked off the field at SRJC with his runner-up NCS medal, he threw it to the ground. No teammate rushed up to Christy to tell him to pick it up. He was doing what they all wanted to do. They didn’t go through all this to finish second. Seconds latter Christy picked up the medal.

“This is the greatest year of baseball in my life,” Christy said.

Christy has perspective. His season was the sum of its parts. And one of those parts was his coach who believed that not only should he know the definition of responsibility but so should his team.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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