Sam Wrighton was the proud coach of a little league baseball team, The Rocketeers. He held the role for two seasons, and was moving into his third. The previous coach had taken the job way too seriously. He quit due to the team’s low over-all batting average. Sam didn’t want to run his team with the same harsh attitude. He made sure no Rocketeer left the field without a smile on his face, win or lose.
Then the O’Leary family moved into town. At tryouts, their son, Richie, showed great skill at pitching. His “fast ball” flew at fifty miles an hour. Sam would have picked him immediately, if it hadn’t been for Richie’s attitude problem. Richie was unaccepting of his teammates poor playing abilities, and insisted on correcting their mistakes, usually throwing in the word “stupid,” “idiot,” or both.
Jim’s father, Mr. O’Leary, was similarly headstrong. He coaxed his son on from the sidelines, and continuously told Sam where he should position his players based on his two seconds of analysis. Sam kept saying, “Thank you. I got it,” but this didn’t deter Mr. O’Leary’s opinions.
If it were solely up to Sam, he would have cut Jim, but the rest of the Rocketeers seemed to forgive Jim’s verbal abuse, because of his knowledge and talent. So, Jim was given a red and white jersey, and the title of “lead pitcher.”
In the following weeks, Mr. O’Leary continued to show up to practice, and pass judgment.
“My kid’s the only one who can play worth-a-damn on this team,” said Mr. O’Leary, “If somebody doesn’t step up fast, then there’s no way we’re going to win against The Mongrels next Saturday.”
“It’s not just about winning,” said Sam, “It’s about working as a team, and putting in your best effort.” Mr. O’Leary scowled, but said nothing more. This led Sam to assume he won the argument, when, in fact, he couldn’t have been more wrong.
The following practice, Mr. O’Leary showed up carrying a box filled with metallic plastic bottles labeled “Zip Zip Zoom EnergyLux.”
“I thought everyone could use a little refreshment,” Mr. O’Leary said, and the kids didn’t waste time taking him up on his offer. Sam took a bottle too, but found the drink overwhelmingly sweet and sour. The players seemed to enjoy it though, and it appeared to be the boost they needed, because their practice went smoother than usual. Suddenly, players were making passes, and hitting into the outfield.
Over the next few days, Mr. O’Leary brought over more and more boxes of Zip Zip, and the Rocketeers kept improving. Meanwhile, Sam noticed that his players were becoming more and more irritable. They didn’t allow any room for error. It was like they were all becoming Richie. They stopped looking to Sam for encouragement. Instead they sought out the ruthless council of Mr. O’Leary. After The Rocketeers defeated the badgers nine to three, they made their allegiance official. O’Leary was in and Sam was out.
The winning continued, and so did the supply of Zip Zip. Before long, The Rocketeers had made it to the state semi-finals. Practices had reached an all-time low; however. Moral was low, and egos were high. This led to more than a few shoving matches. O’Leary tried to train them to transfer this anger on to their rivals, but this was easier said than done.
When the first semi-final game was upon them, every Rocketeer’s face matched the red in their jersey; they were so enraged. They were sent into the Outfield with steam whistling out their nostrils. Richie managed to get two outs no problem, but by the third batter his hands were so covered in heated sweat that he threw an easy-hitter, and allowed the rivals to score a homerun. This moment weighed on the Rocketeers last nerve, and without warning they swarmed Richie, beating him to a pulp. Mr. O’Leary ran to his son’s aid, but ended up getting whacked repeatedly in the stomach with a baseball bat.
Sam witnessed the whole event from the top of the bleachers. It took three squad cars to handle the situation. No Rocketeer came out unscathed, but six, including Mr. O’Leary, needed to be rushed to the hospital. One boy had fractured every bone in his right-hand fingers.
When local reporters got ahold of the story, they blamed Zip Zip Zoom EnergyLux for the entire catastrophe. “The drink is dangerous,” they said, and perhaps this was the case, but Sam and his Rocketeers (once the Zip Zip wore off) knew otherwise. When one places winning ahead of everything else, one allows a fun activity to become a dangerous pastime.