Baseball: Woodstown's Ware can wait another day

 

By Phil Anastasia

You have to be one sensational high school baseball coach to win 603 games.

You have to be even better to also lose 335 games.

A large crowd circled Woodstown's refurbished home field on Wednesday in hopes of seeing veteran coach Lee Ware change that first number and become South Jersey's all-time leader.

Instead, they watched as Ware added to his substantial loss total.

"Sometimes, you just have to tip your hat to the other guy," Ware said after Woodstown dropped a 4-0 decision to Glassboro in a crisp game between Tri-County Conference teams.

Glassboro senior pitcher Rocco Mazzeo fired a four-hitter with five strikeouts and zero walks and Glassboro senior centerfielder Nick Brown cracked his first two home runs since Little League -- the first leading off the season for the Bulldogs.

"That centerfielder, where'd he come from?" Ware said of Brown.

Ware will spend another day tied with the late, great Russ Spicer for most wins in South Jersey history. That's not bad company.

"We had many a long conversation," Ware said of Spicer, who won 603 games in a long career that included stops at Haddonfield, Moorestown, Paulsboro and Cinnaminson. "I'm humbled to be mentioned with a guy like him."

Ware belongs in any conversation that mentions South Jersey's all-time coaching greats in any sport. He's two games into his 41st season but he's as sharp as ever -- his scorebook from Tuesday's opener against Deptford included several sentences on every Spartan player, a old-school scouting report.

Ware still has every scorebook from every season -- and he's been known to run down the basement and dig up the old ones to settle arguments with former players whose memories aren't as sharp as the old coach's.

But he's not living in the past. He's as chipper as ever in the third-base coaching box, and his current players -- who could be his grandsons -- reflect his enthusiasm in their chatter, hustle and never-say-die attitude.

He sweats the details and stresses the fundamentals. But he also hands out nicknames likes pieces of candy -- Nick Battle is "Sarge," Justin Fox is "Sly," Kenny Blocksom is "Nasty" and Devon Bell is "Dinger," among others.

Superstitious as ever, Ware still takes 44 paces down the left-field line -- that's his uniform number -- before turning and beckoning his players, who race and slide to his feet in the "Woodie Roll" before every game.

Ware didn't like the final score but he was happy with the way both pitchers threw strikes and both teams played clean defense. His team had a pair of bunt singles, too.

Baseball people learn patience and perserverence, and Ware has plenty of both. He's coached 939 games in a sport that familiarizes its participants with failure.

That's why his 335 losses might be a more impressive number than his 603 wins (and one tie).

The loss total speaks to his ability to absorb the game's bad hops and tough breaks -- as well as those seasons when he doesn't have a pitcher who can break a pane of glass with his fastball -- and come back for more.

He was disappointed to lose on Wednesday because so many people were there to see him win. But he knew better than to take his sport for granted.

Besides, he's an old baseball man and he knew something else: His team hosts Gloucester on Thursday.

"Tomorrow," Ware said, "is another day."

Glassboro 100 001 2 -- 4 7 2

Woodstown 000 000 0 -- 0 4 0

WP: Rocco Mazzeo. LP: Justin Fox.

HR: G-Nick Brown, 2.

-- Contact Phil Anastasia at panastasia@phillynews.com

-- Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter

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