Mitch Fair, who began the season as an assistant coach with Woodland Hills, expected his team to be in the running for a berth in the District 20 playoffs, which begin next Wednesday. However, he didn't expect to find himself as the head coach of the team.
But after an on-field fiasco Saturday that led to the suspension of Woodland Hills co-Coaches Lee and Mark Hersh, Fair the assistant coach is now Fair the head coach.
"I don't like the situation, because I've been with the Hershes for five years," Fair said. "But I was asked to take the team, and I'll do the best I can with it."
Fair, who coached baseball at Crespi High in 1986, said he was asked to take the team by Bob Leduc, who is the team's business manager, and accepted the job for the benefit of the players. He said he didn't want to see their chance in the playoffs hurt in by the suspensions, that were handed down Tuesday by District 20 Commissioner Mel Swerdling.
Even with his good intentions, it was a tough decision for Fair to make.
"If I didn't feel like I'd be deserting the players--like a rat leaving a sinking ship--I'd leave the team," Fair said. "But what happened Saturday leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And American Legion baseball shouldn't leave me with that taste in my mouth."
Woodland Hills, 14-4 and in third place in the tough Western Division, was playing the second game of a doubleheader against Reseda-Cleveland on Saturday when the incidents that led to the suspensions took place.
Later Saturday, umpire Steve Strimling brought the incidents to the attention of Mel Swerdling, District 20 commissioner. After a meeting on Tuesday at which Leduc was present, Swerdling suspended the Hershes for using profanity and charging Strimling.
Mark Hersh was suspended for the remainder of the season. Lee Hersh's suspension carries over to next season.
That leaves Fair as the man in charge of regrouping Woodland Hills and getting the team ready for the playoffs.
"Hell, I just want to go out and play ball," Fair said. "They don't say, 'Work ball,' they say 'Play ball.'
"And if you can't have a good time, why go out and play?"
Lucky charms: Van Nuys-Notre Dame Coach Jody Breeden may be the most superstitious man in American Legion baseball.
"I'm a superstitious buff," Breeden said.
Breeden displayed his passion for superstition when his team played Encino-Tarzana three weeks ago at Birmingham High. Breeden went out to coach first base and said he found what looked like a big, gray pigeon's feather. He put the feather in his pocket and Van Nuys-Notre Dame took off on a seven game winning streak.
Breeden also counts on a lucky shirt to bring his team luck, but neither lucky charm worked Saturday as Van Nuys-Notre Dame lost to Burbank-Burroughs, 3-0.
Does Breeden consider abandoning his lucky charms?
"Not when we're battling for first place," said Breeden, whose team is 13-5 and tied for first place in the Eastern Division with Glendale with three games to play. "The feather will be in my back pocket and my Corona shirt will be on my back. I'm going to stick with it."
The walk machine: Ryan McMullen of Camarillo has been taking a lot of strolls down to first in District 16 action this season.
McMullen, the son of former major leaguer Ken McMullen, has 21 walks in 14 games. In between free passes, he also has 11 hits and 19 runs scored in 28 at-bats (a .393 batting average).