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TRADING OFF: A MEMOIR / Michael Steinberg "Only a chUd expects justice." —Gore Vidal JACK KERCHMAN, MY OLD high school baseball coach, was a classic baU-buster, a lot Uke those Marine D.I.'s you see in oíd World War II movies. A Jew himself, "Mr. K" had a reputation for hazing the Jewish players that he thought were too soft. One of them was me. I started hearing stories about Mr. K in the mid-fifties, when I was in junior high. In three years at the high school, his footbaU teams won Queens (borough) championships, and the basebaU team got as far as the dty championship semi-finals. People in the Rockaways—neighborhood kids, parents, local merchants—began to take notice. Winning teams and wars have a way of galvanizing a neighborhood, especiaUy in New York, where everything is measured and articulated in terms of "turf." According to the buzz on the playgrounds Mr. K was an obsessed man. Max Weinstein, a tight end on the footbaU team, told us about the impassioned locker room speeches. Before each new season, Kerchman would gather the team around him in the boys' shower and reminisce about his old coUege days at Syracuse, where he was a one-hundred-sixty-pound offensive guard and defensive nose tackle for coach Biggie Munn. He proudly revealed how after the war he'd had a tryout with the New York Giants and had made it to the last cut. He always finished up by saying that he did it aU "on a Uttle talent, a big heart, and a whole lot of guts." A Jew from the roughest part of the lower East Side, Mr. K beUeved that young Jewish boys, espedaUy those from my suburban neighborhood, were "candy-asses" and quitters. At footbaU tryouts he talked about the time he Uberated a concentration camp at the end of World War II, and of how important it was for the next generation of Jews to "toughen up." So at the first scrimmage of each new season, he made the Jewish boys play without equipment. And if you were Jewish and you wanted to pitch for the basebaU team, you had to show him you could brush hitters back by throwing at their heads. The rumors were enough to convince Ritchie Zeitler and Bobby Brower, the two best athletes in our neighborhood, to transfer 136 · The Missouri Review to a local prep school. The stories frightened and fascinated me. But I knew Td be trying out for the high school basebaU team next year and I wanted to see this Kerchman character in action, so in September of my last year in junior high, I coUared Mike Rubin and Barry Aronowsky, two of my summer league basebaU buddies, and off we went to the first Saturday home footbaU game. Outside the high school field, the street hawkers sold hot dogs and popcorn, along with Rockaway High pennants, pom-poms, and trinkets. In the bleachers, students and parents chanted, "Let's go Seahorses! Seahorses, let's go!" The cheerleaders bounced up and down in their red-and-blue sweaters and short, pleated skirts, as the football team ran out on the field. Most of the players were only a few years older than me, but in their scarlet helmets and fuU gear they looked Uke Roman gladiators. As I scanned the field, I saw the pitcher's mound to the right of the south goalposts. For a long, slow moment, I floated free of the razzmatazz whUe I imagined myself standing on that mound in a Rockaway basebaU uniform. My parents, kid brother, and friends were aU in the stands, and the cheerleaders were chanting my name as I went into my wind-up and got ready to snap off a sharp, dipping curve baU. Then I spotted Kerchman standing in front of the team bench. He was in his late thirties, maybe five eight, heavyset, wearing a chocolate-brown porkpie hat and rumpled tweed topcoat. You could hear him yeUing above the crowd noise. Sometimes he'd hurl his hat to the ground and scream obscenities at a player who screwed up. He reacted...


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