Imagine practice being optional, and you deciding where to play - not the coach.
Imagine, also, of fielding groundballs to the music of Jesus Christ Superstar or Santana. Or, arriving on a bus at away games, singing at the top of your lungs, "We all live in a Yellow Submarine..."
Sounds like anarchy, and just the opposite of a well-coached, well-disciplined team, doesn't it?
It also sounds like a recipe for a chaotic, losing campaign, no matter what the sport.
Back in the spring of 1971, though, at Macon High, a small school in central Illinois, this style of coaching actually worked as the baseball team advanced to the state tournament and...well, you need to read the book to see what happened.
Author Chris Ballard has written a very interesting, funny, thought-provoking narrative entitled "One Shot at Forever," that simply can't be put down. A true story, it reminds you a little bit of "Hoosiers." Just a little bit, though, as prep baseball is the subject matter in this case.
The central character of Ballard's book is Macon skipper Lynn Sweet, a progressive, fun-loving individual if there ever was one. Also the school's English teacher, there really is a "method to his madness" as a mentor.
Plus, he has a terrific sense of humor.
On his first day at the baseball helm, Sweet - who in appearance resembles a bearded Paul McCartney - gathered all 14 of the Ironmen (the school's nickname) players in, and proceeded to tell them that they'd "all made the team."
To give you an idea of how big Macon, a farm community, was, it would be comparable in size to Fort Frye or Waterford - or even Frontier.
Not one for rules, Sweet did have one, though - and that was he wasn't "going to have many rules."
As far as baseball strategy went, if a player thought he could steal a base at any time during a game, all he had to do was signal Sweet. Basically, all the Ironmen had the green light to go.
If some of this sounds like a crazy way to run a ballclub, it really wasn't. Sweet's basic philosophy was that baseball was a game, and was meant to be enjoyed, especially at the high school level.
Sometimes taking life too seriously can be a real drag.
To the coach, it was also important for the players to be able to think and make decisions for themselves.
It didn't hurt, of course that Sweet, despite the lack of numbers on the team, had some quality players. Of the starting nine in 1971, eight went on to play college baseball.
Steven Shartzer, Macon's standout pitcher and third baseman, later played in the 1974 NCAA Division I College World Series. He was also drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, and played in their minor league system.
Brian Snitker, the right fielder, signed a contract with the Atlanta Braves, and although he never made it to the majors as a player, he did as a coach. Currently, he is the third base coach for the Braves.
Stu Arnold, an all-around baseball and football player at Macon and in college, received a Dallas Cowboys tryout.
Without giving away too much of the story, Macon did upset a traditional powerhouse baseball team at state. It would've been like Belpre or Caldwell beating Cincinnati Moeller on the diamond.
It really wouldn't be too surprising if Ballard's book is made into a movie someday.
It's that entertaining.
Ron Johnston is the Marietta Times sports editor and can be reached at 376-5441 or at firstname.lastname@example.org