PITTSFIELD — At his lightest, Pittsfield Post 68 manager Jim Mazzer weighed a gaunt 150 pounds. Mazzer, a staple for Post 68 over the years, saw his body deteriorate while dealing with the effects of a viral infection that led to him needing a heart transplant.
During his wait for a heart transplant, Mazzer found himself unable to attend his American Legion team's games on a regular basis.
Now, after undergoing a successful operation in January, Mazzer's health has improved (he now weighs about 200 pounds), and he's back helping longtime friends Pat Bassi and Gildo Disantis run the team that helped him get through his battle with the heart issue.
"The last couple years, my Legion team and baseball has been the biggest therapy for me," Mazzer said. "Working with these young kids, coming off a state champion and dealing with a new group of kids, as a coach it's one of the best things when you can start molding a new team."
Last year's Post 68 team used Mazzer as a rallying cry, breaking each huddle with "for Mazzer" en route to a state championship and a trip to Bristol, Conn. for the New England Regional tournament. Outfielder Chad Shade said watching his manager battle for his life put things in perspective for the young baseball players.
"He fought every single day," Shade said. "He didn't have an excuse for anything. When we were down, we'd go to him and say, 'if he's fighting then we have to fight. We have to play hard. We have to do this for him.'
"He fed off of us. He loves Legion baseball. He loves Post 68 and he put his heart and soul into it, along with the other coaches."
Since his return to the bench, Shade said Mazzer's back to his old self, regularly joking with the players that his healthy heart can now withstand the daily shenanigans of the team.
Bassi said having Mazzer back is not only a lift to the team's spirit, but Mazzer's baseball knowledge helps him when making managerial decision, as well.
"He takes a lot of pressure off of me," Bassi said. "Trying to maintain an 18-man roster. Trying to keep everybody in the lineup. He does a great job so that's something I don't have to worry about."
In addition to handling the lineups and substitutions, finding umpires, arranging food for away games and other duties, Mazzer was tasked with rebuilding this year's team after losing a majority of its veteran core. Only five members return from last year's team, and only Shade and Nate Stump have playing experience beyond the high-school level. There were only six non-post high school players on the state championship team.
"Last year I was new to Legion ball and I didn't really know what to expect," Shade said. "Most of the guys [Alex] Carusotto, Steve [Witkowski], were on the team the previous year. They knew how the league was, so I followed them and saw what everything was like."
It's clear that Mazzer takes a lot of pride in the Post 68 program. He credits the score updates and calls to talk baseball from friends in helping him recover. As his strength returned, he set his sights on building the future of Post 68.
The fruit of Mazzer's labor is a new Post 68 junior team. The newly formed squad is playing an independent schedule this season, and will join the 10-team Springfield Valley League next season.
As the only remaining Legion team in Berkshire County, Post 68's talent pool has increased significantly. A large portion of the team remains from Pittsfield and Taconic High Schools, but outside reinforcements from Wahconah, Hoosac Valley and Lenox are welcome.
With improved health and a state champion senior team, Mazzer summed up both things well, saying "baseball is alive and well in Pittsfield."
Sweet irony for the man that used baseball to keep himself alive and well also.
Contact Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252