Nottingham Baseball Coach Jim Maher gets the Gatorade Shower from his players after his 400th win. Photo by Michael A. Sabo
By Rich Fisher
May 19: Jim Maher never did it anyway but his way.
And while that ruffled some feathers and hurt some feelings, it also produced a heck of a lot of great baseball and a heck of a lot of good men.
The best thing is, it ain’t over yet.
Maher hit yet another milestone at Veterans Park Friday night, as Nottingham’s 13-1 victory over Oakcrest gave the former Steinert pitcher his 400th career high school victory. It happened to come on the same day his daughter Shannon graduated from William Paterson, making it a memorable one for several reasons.
In Maher’s three high school stops, he recorded 146 victories at Florence, 204 at Hamilton West (including a Group III state title) and now 50 at Nottingham, including a Central Jersey Group III title. He has done it with the same formula all the way through, according to coach Tommy Carr, who has assisted Maher and Hamilton and Nottingham.
“Every year, no matter what the team is, good bad or indifferent, he gets the most out of his kids every year,” Carr said. “Kids might not see it sometimes right away, but he gets the most out of his team every year. That’s why he’s hard on kids, that’s why he gets after kids. But all he wants is the best for every player, that’s what he draws out of kids.”
Some players don’t like that. Neither do some parents. Sometimes even some administrators. But Maher’s knowledge of the game and ability to get through to players who want to succeed should override all the tales about discipline and harshness.
Tommy Argiriou, whose three-run double broke the game open in the third inning, was a sophomore when Maher came in. He heard some stories.
“There were some rumors about him, but you can’t be afraid until you actually see it,” Argiriou said. “But once you get to know him, he’s a good guy, we like him as a coach, he’s a great coach.”
Another sophomore on Maher’s first Northstar team was pitcher Ronnie “Baseball” Voacolo, who said back in the pre-season “Nobody skips corners anymore, everybody does what they have to do. They stay in the game. Nobody messes around. Maher has good control and just with him keeping everybody in the game, everybody basically plays better.”
Maher said he is never going to change his overall make-up – God knows he’s too old for that – but feels he has changed in subtle ways. He thinks that when he and Carr were assistants at Rider under Barry Davis, that Davis made him a better coach.
“I’ve changed, not a lot, but changed,” he said. “I’m probably a lot easier than I ever was and I think I’m probably a better coach now than I’ve ever been.”
Maher has also coached American Legion, Babe Ruth and collegiate summer baseball along with his college and high school stints. He was part of Steinert’s first state championship team and is referred to as “team historian” by former Spartan teammates Jim and John Bowen.
It’s that sharp memory that helps make him a good bench coach. He often knows what to expect from an opponent from what they did in the past.
Maher says 400 wins is a nice milestone and that it means he has been around for a long time and been surrounded by good players, coaches and administrators. He considers it one of his biggest moments in sports since being named MVP of the Barton and Cooney basketball team in the CYBL rec league.
He praised assistants Bobby Osborne at Florence, John Costantino at Hamilton and current coaches Carr, Mike Petrowski and Rob Nosari. Maher wants to win as much, if not more than anyone. But despite the number 400, he insists it is about more than wins and losses.
“I’m not only here to coach baseball. I’m here to teach guys about life,” said Maher, unaware that Petrowski was impersonating him for the team in the outfield as he was being interviewed. “I want to make them tougher. To grow as men. I’m fair. I don’t think I’ve never not been fair. I’m tougher on my better players and I think in the society we live in today kids need that. They need discipline, they need to be pushed.
“And I really think if you ask most kids, they want someone who’s gonna push them. I don’t think they want to be in a program that’s laid back and I think last year when we won that sectional title a lot of them said ‘Wow, this is worth it.’”
Maher feels that while some players may swear at him behind his back while still in uniform, they figure it out later in life. He used Hamilton West head coach Mark Pienciak, who played for Maher at Hamilton, as an example.
“I think more kids appreciate what I do when they’re done,” Maher said. “Mark Pienciak said that to me the other day. He said ‘You know, I had a tough time with you at the beginning. And now I’m coaching and now I realize what it meant.’ A lot of my good friends are people I coached.”
Another example of what Maher was saying came from the opposite dugout Friday night. Oakcrest coach Sean Olson and Petrowski played at Rider when Maher and Carr were assistants. Olson hauls his team 60 miles up the parkway to go against a guy he respects.
“He was tough on me at Rider, which I appreciate,” Olson said. “I just tried to explain to my team why we come up here. You don’t want to lose relationships like that, especially guys who are very knowledgeable about the game like him. So it’s really good for us to come here, see a quality program, a beautiful facility.
“We get to see a great pitcher (Nick Houghton) to help prepare us for the playoffs. We get to see what a good team looks like. We don’t get to see this caliber team too often. It really makes the trip worth it, even though we got beat up a little bit.”
Houghton pitched a five-inning three-hitter with no walks, two hit batsmen and six strikeouts. Argiriou had a double and four RBI, while Christian Fuentes, Robbie Bennett, Josh Sikorski and Logan Barber each had one hit and one RBI. Houghton, Bryce Fremgen, David Scott and Phil Rojek all drove in runs as nearly everyone got to contribute to the history making night.
“We had it in the back of our heads,” Argiriou said of the 400th. “We were focused on the game, getting the win, so we could later focus on it more after the game. This is really great. I’ve never been part of anything special like this.”
Nottingham hopes it keeps getting special as it chases the school record for victories in a season and attempts to defend its CJ III title starting on Monday.
When asked if he thought he would ever have a shot at 400 after his Hamilton career ended, Maher said he never really gave it much thought, but said “I did think there was going to be an opportunity somewhere.”
When that opportunity arose, one of the first guys he wanted by his side was Carr. If anyone has seen Doctor Jekyll and Jimmy Hyde in the dugout, it is him.
“This is definitely well deserved, that’s for sure,” Carr said. “You don’t get 400 wins by accident. It’s amazing. He’s an unbelievable coach.”
And then, without prompting by the media, Carr added his own little plea for sympathy.
“I really think I should get an award, because I was in the dugout for about half of those wins, and I should get hazard pay or something like that; maybe the Medal of Valor,” Carr said. “If anyone thinks that’s an easy thing to do, then they should go do it.”
Maybe they should. It might not be easy, but it will be a helluva a ride. And you might just learn a little bit of baseball along the way too.