Everybody is acting like tonight's City Section final will be the last baseball game Doug MacKenzie ever coaches. It's the ultimate send-off: 61-year-old Canoga Park High coach of 37 years finally rises above the mediocrity of a lifetime .500 record with his 300th victory and first City title.
Wrap it, slap on a bow, hand it to MacKenzie and send him home with a handshake and Hunter-green tie clasp. Thanks for the memories, Mac.
Time out! Any fan knows it ain't over until the last out is recorded and MacKenzie, forever feisty and forever looking forward, wants extra innings.
Sure, he retired from teaching on April 28, but Mac is insisting that so long as some school, somewhere, will have him as a coach, he is not saying so long. The outcome of tonight's game will make no difference.
"I'd dearly love to coach at Canoga next year," MacKenzie said. "If they don't want me as a walk-on, I'll try to hook on at another school."
Degrading as it may be to the only coach Canoga Park has ever had, MacKenzie's application is just one in a tall stack to be considered by Canoga Park Principal Charles Molina.
"People here have been waiting in line for the job," Molina said. "We would prefer not to use a walk-on coach, but of course, Mac would not be the usual walk-on. He's been here and has experience. My goodness, 37 years."
Canoga Park is MacKenzie's preference for more reasons than the three talented pitchers who return next season. It's got to do with the habits and habitat of a lifetime.
Since 1951 he's packed up equipment in a series of beat-up locker-rooms-on-wheels (the latest model is a rusted 1970 Cutlass) and driven to practice at Lanark Park, where sounds of ice-cream trucks and motorcycle engines mingle with MacKenzie's instructions.
Since 1951 he's been a model of moderation to the youth of Canoga Park, employing a vanilla vocabulary and personal habits as wholesome as milk. MacKenzie says he has never sworn, smoked or taken a drink of alcohol. Former players swear it's true.
Since 1951 he's worn sports shirts and slacks to practices and games, has never been a base coach, never had an assistant coach and has always kept his own score book while crouched in front of the dugout.
And since 1951 Doug MacKenzie has enjoyed a robust practice exercise he calls "Three-Team Game" as much as real competition. All the players in Three-Team Game wear Canoga Park colors, and most fun of all, MacKenzie gets to pitch the whole time. He divides the squad into three teams and pitches to one while the other two take the field.
"My arm has held up pretty well," said MacKenzie, who is 5-9 and 145 pounds. "I throw with my son before Christmas to get in shape. I started using a protective screen two years ago because my reflexes aren't what they used to be."
Watching this sexagenarian pitch an assortment of curves and sliders for two hours, it is easy to believe him when he insists he is fulfilled despite having won only four league championships in nearly four decades. MacKenzie has no champion chip on his shoulder.
During a Three-Team Game last week, MacKenzie busts an 0-2 pitch on the hands of first baseman Aaron Marks, who makes a half-swing that looks like a bunt attempt.
"You just made me feel so good," MacKenzie shouts before cackling. "Two strikes and you tried to bunt because you know I'm too tough!"
The coach turns to the outfield, thrusts his hands in the air and screams: "He knows! He knows!" Players chuckle and shake their heads. They are convinced once again that on a baseball field, Doug, not Spuds, MacKenzie is the true party animal.
Before Three-Team Game, the team sits on the outfield grass in a circle around MacKenzie, who mixes humor with instruction while carefully reviewing the previous day's game from notes scribbled on both sides of a sheet of notebook paper. MacKenzie enunciates words slowly and firmly, as if he's coaching kindergartners on the fine points of finger painting.
"Our Nos. 2, 3 and 4 bat-ters hit seven lazy flyballs," he says, shaking his head. "But I loved the direction of Scott's and Adam's hits. They were up the mid-dle. And nice baserunning on third from Ur-man. Watching outfielders arms in warm-ups proved valuable, didn't it?"
After chiding Adrian Garcia for a baserunning blunder, MacKenzie turns over the notebook page. "Boy, didn't you have interesting plays at first base, Aa - ron," he says. "And you made them all."
A gust of wind flips the page back to the first side, causing MacKenzie to quip: "I keep coming back to the Adrian stuff on this side." He and Garcia trade smiles--the criticism of moments earlier is softened.
A tall, silver-haired man approached MacKenzie after Canoga Park defeated Sylmar, 5-1, Tuesday to advance to the final and introduced himself as Bill Parkinson, Class of '55. MacKenzie's eyes brightened.