Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Myth of Mickey

His reputation preceded him. I can remember being nervous that first day of lacrosse practice. Mickey was a bad ass they said. Mickey didn't take any shit. One tale had him breaking a kids arm once when he went here to school back in the day. The myth of Mickey had started when he was a student and had now grown far beyond his physical reality.  When I first laid eyes on him, I was immediately disappointed.

5"6" and weighing in at maybe 145, Mickey was hardly the stuff boogey men were made of.   They said he was an All American who played Middie at Washington College.  I looked at this shrimp and decided it had to be another Mickey DiMaggio everyone was talking about.  It was when he smacked Henson up side his head with a goalie stick, I decided maybe it was indeed this Mickey who carried the awesome rep.  Henson was a bruiser.  Six foot and pushing 200 pounds.  All he said was, "Sorry Cap.  Yeah I'll pay attention."

My first lacrosse season I spent on the Junior Varsity squad.  I had never seen lacrosse before, never mind actually played it.  But I was a jock and determined to learn.  The idea of physical contact with a weapon in hand appealed to my 15 year old male sensibilities.  

That first season, I worked hard.  Learned to play from both sides. I became a pretty good face off middie.  I seemed to have a knack for defense also.  Mickey took notice.  One day I was asked to practice with the varsity squad.

Yeah, my ego soared.  Strutting around like I was someone important, I showed up on the varsity side of the field all full of myself.   Looking around at the older players and smirking that Yeah I'm cool kind of look.  Mickey sees me and beckons me up in front of the varsity squad.

"Gentlemen, today I am going to show you how to deal with a defense that will not go away.  "Macrum here thinks he's pretty hot on defense.  Let's see if he can stop me."

Benton of the first middie unit spoke up, "Uh cap, I'd take you on, why this loser from JV?"

"Watch and learn.  I need a goalie.  You're it Benton.  Macrum, you and me.  Try to keep me from scoring.  Feel like a little one on one?"  And he smiled.  An evil smile if memory serves.

I gave up counting his goals around eleven or twelve.  I stopped breathing around fourteen, maybe fifteen.  I collapsed after he stuck his stick between my legs and I fell into a shameful sad heap at his feet.  This aging man in his mid 30s or so schooled me hard.  He scored whenever he decided to.  He left me checking air whenever he wanted as he spun around me and put the ball in upper corners, lower corners, right down the goalies throat.  His shot was so hard it was hard to follow.   Mickey could score from the attack restraining line ten times out of nine.

The entire time, Mickey kept up a coaching banter, filling the team in, filling me in , filling anyone in within earshot of what I was doing wrong.  I was schooled.  I was embarrassed.  I was crushed.  I left the field that day knowing why he was a First Team All American in 1959 and would later be inducted into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1993.

I learned many things from Mickey DiMaggio.  How to play solid lacrosse.  How to take out players twice my size.  And probably the most important thing, attitude trumps size almost every time.   Toughness can come in any size.

I got booted back down to the JV squad after that.  But the next year I made varsity and took Mickey on again.  He only scored on me maybe ten times and I actually scored on him once.  He made me pay though when he opened up the soft part of my right arm as I brought the stick through with a shot on goal.  He knew just where the pads stopped and the skin began. 

Mickey played college lacrosse against Jim Brown, who would later make a slight ripple playing pro football for, believe it or not, the original Cleveland Browns.  His tales of those meetings were awesome.  He said he never played anyone who could run as fast as Jim Brown could.  Said his stick work was only average, but he didn't need stick work.  He ran over anyone in the way.  And he threw the ball hard.

Mickey was a cadet at Charlotte Hall like I was.  He came up in an environment that rewarded the strong and penalized the weak.  Disagreements more often ended in violence of some kind.  And Like I said, Mickey earned his reputation by being more violent than the next guy.  He was a tough little bastard.  Fair, but do not cross him.

The first few weeks of lacrosse practice were always the worst.  Not one ball was tossed, not a single scrimmage played.  All we did the first few weeks was run, do some wind sprints, some push ups, pull ups, throw up, and then run some more.  Often with all our equipment on.  Mickey had a 7 mile run we all called predictably, "Mickey's Run".   Once we had been out there awhile, here would come Mickey in his little compact whatever it was.  He had the equipment manager driving while he hung out of the passenger window, lacrosse stick in hand and beating the last runner in line on the ass.  I learned quickly to not be last guy.  The one time I was first, I had to run it all over again.  Mickey figured I needed some more.

One early afternoon, Snake came to me before practice as I was changing into gym clothes and cleats.

"Mike,I know how we can beat Mickey and duck out on the run."

I hated that run.  Everyone hated that run.  I was certainly interested in how Snake was going to pull it off.

His plan was almost too simple.  As it turned out, it was too simple.  We would start the run but when the group turned left to head off campus, we'd turn right and hide in the New Barracks.  Okay, let's do it.

We did.  We got caught.  We got booted off the team.  I was devastated.  I went to Mickey and asked to be let back on.  After much consideration and verbal abuse aimed at Snake and myself, he said we could come back if the team said it was okay.  What we had done was not hurting him.  It hurt the team.  It was their decision, but he would take his pound of flesh anyway.

Okay with us.  The team voted us back on.  If I thought running Mickey's Run with the others was Hell, I did not know Hell yet.  I was a kind of whipping boy for the next two weeks as I ran next to Mickey's car and took every whack he felt like tossing my way.  He was not a gentle man.

Mickey's strict and ruthless coaching style served me well in college my freshman year.  I played for Towson State.  We once played Hopkins and their superstar middie who had made the cover of Sports Illustrated as best high school player in the land the year before.  He was a center middie.  I was a center middie.  His style was all Mickey.  Attackmen and  middies would clear out the center and let the two of us go one on one.  I held him to one goal and took away the ball twice.  He scored a total of 6 goals that game.  Probably the best game of lacrosse I ever played.  And it was the lesson of tenacity and toughness Mickey beat into me that made it possible.



Mauigirl said...

Great post about your coach, you really bring him to life.

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