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Column: Metzger did things right way

Northeast Philadelphia is a very lucky area.

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The high schools in our area have an amazing tradition, not just for winning, but for churning out great athletes and more importantly, good people.

This year’s Father Judge baseball team is the epitome of that.

If you became a fan of the Crusaders during their playoff run, either as they won the school’s first Catholic League baseball crown since 2000 or you didn’t get the fever until they were in the midst of the state tournament, when they ended up winning the 6A championship, you knew how good this team was.

They were loaded! 

When you can trot out guys like David Rodriguez or Tim Gress to throw seven innings for you, you’re going to be in good shape.

When you have a lineup that includes mashers like the guys the Crusaders had, or a group of guys who love playing defense like this team had, you can win a lot of games.

Judge definitely had what it took to enjoy a special season.

But so did a lot of other teams.

Winning the Catholic League is tough in any sport, but in sports like baseball and basketball, it’s really a crapshoot. One night when you play good, not great, can mean the end of your season. 

The Crusaders had to run through the best baseball teams in District 12, then it just so happened they had to go up against the top teams from the suburbs in District One. Then Judge faced one of the best teams with the best pitchers in the state at State College.

Any hiccup in any of these games would have meant the end of the season for this group. 

These weren’t seven-game series. It wasn’t best two out of three. To win a Catholic League and state championship, the Crusaders needed to put together win after win after win against quality teams, and they did just that.

It was a huge credit to the boys on this team.

But they certainly followed their leader.

Mike Metzger was the coach of this squad, and he was the perfect skipper for the team. 

He did an amazing job of holding the players accountable. He had the respect of every player. But at the same time, every player knew he had their back. 

The Northeast Times did a story on the majority of the key players on the team, and every one of them talked about how much Metzger meant to them.

Nobody talked about how he handled pitching matchups, juggled the lineup or decisions he made in key situations. They all talked about what he did for them as people. How he helped them become better people.

He clearly pushed all the right buttons as a coach. The Crusaders did nothing but win this year.

But what he did away from the game is what made him one of the best coaches around.

That’s why many around the school and even the neighborhood were sad when Metzger announced he was stepping down.

Metzger is going out in style. He’s leaving as a champion, just as he did when he was a player for the Crusaders. He helped the school win a Catholic League championship during his senior year in 1987. Now, he rides off into the sunset having done something few else have done.

It was just the second state championship in Northeast Philadelphia since “we” joined the PIAA. Judge also won a state soccer championship.

Metzger told his players last week that he would be stepping down. The school announced it this morning. There are plenty of great contenders for the job, and whoever takes it over isn’t coming into a bad situation.

The Crusaders return two of the best arms in the Catholic League, and while much of the lineup will be new, there is a lot of talent throughout the program.

Typically when a coach who has had a lot of success calls it quits, you’ll see a story with all of their accolades. Metzger deserved that. But it’s not something he would want. In fact, he very politely declined.

In fact, the only time Metzger reached out this school year about doing a story was when his team took part in “Wreaths Across America” shortly before Christmas to honor the 27 graduates who died in the Vietnam War. He then said “talk to these people, they did everything.” Nobody deflected credit faster than Metzger.

And when approached for stories about his players, he was incredibly accommodating and he loved to talk about his players’ success. But he would always start about what they do in the classroom, what they do in the community, and then he would say what they do on the field.

Metzger was the perfect coach for this team because his players were the same way.

This area is very lucky because this Father Judge baseball team was the best baseball team in the state this year, but the way they play baseball wasn’t one of the top 10 best things about this team. 

The best part about this team was the individuals on the team. What they did on the field was a massive bonus, but they were champions long before they were honored at Cottman and Frankford for what they did on the field. They were a group of good dudes who enjoyed being together, loved playing baseball and wanted to do something special with each other.

It’s why the school backed them.

It’s why the neighborhood backed them.

It’s why the entire city and Catholic League backed them.

This team was everything that was right with high school sports, and Metzger was a huge reason for that.

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