Lyndhurst’s Martin pays tribute to late softball coach

Photos by Jim Hague Carley Martin may only be 12, but she’s having a ball in life as a basketball player and softball pitcher, helped by a grandfather figure who passed away last June. RIGHT: Carley Martin shows the spot on her bedroom wall that was dedicated to the memory of her coach, the late Jim MacDonald, a.k.a. Coach Mac, who died last June
Photos by Jim Hague
Carley Martin may only be 12, but she’s having a ball in life as a basketball player and softball pitcher, helped by a grandfather figure who passed away last June. RIGHT: Carley Martin shows the spot on her bedroom wall that was
dedicated to the memory of her coach, the late Jim MacDonald, a.k.a. Coach Mac, who died last June

Carley Martin is a vivacious, vibrant and extremely intelligent 12-year-old girl. The Lyndhurst resident is also a spectacular young athlete, playing basketball in the winter and softball in the spring.

Carley also enjoys writing. “I love to write,” Martin said. “I want to become a journalist one day. I love to write about anything. I think I’m really good at writing, but I want to get better.”

Martin also wanted to get better at pitching after watching the University of Alabama play in the NCAA championships.

“I just liked the rush of being out there pitching,” Martin said. “I liked the fact that everything was in my hands.”

So when Martin became serious about becoming a pitcher, her father, Chuck, the former boys’ basketball coach at Lyndhurst High, decided to take Carley to the town’s resident expert on pitching softball, namely long-time private and St. Mary’s High School coach Jim MacDonald.

“I knew Coach Mac well from his coaching days,” Chuck Martin said. “I knew he was a lover of all sports, but really if there was someone who could help Carley, it was Mac.”

However, MacDonald’s time was extremely precious. He didn’t just open his arms, heart and mind to every kid that came along.

“I was told he was busy,” said Michelle Martin, Carley’s mother.

The Martins had a hook. Carley’s best friend is Adam Venezia, the son of Frank Venezia, the long-time St. Mary’s head softball coach and Lyndhurst schools administrator, who was very close to MacDonald.

“Frank spoke to Mac and one thing led to another,” Michelle Martin said. “We said that we wanted Carley to go to the best coach and that Mac was definitely the best.”

With that, Jim MacDonald uttered the four words that would change Carley Martin’s world forever.

“Yeah, I’ll take her,” Michelle Martin said.

“He liked that Carley was a lefty,” Chuck Martin said. “He’s a lefty. The only worry was fitting her into his schedule. If there was fill-in time or if someone canceled, then that’s when we went.”

MacDonald set up his shop at the Lyndhurst batting cages. Carley Martin was all of nine years old when she first met Coach Mac.

“He was like a grandfather to me,” Carley Martin said. “He yelled at me right away and said some hard stuff, but it didn’t bother me. I felt like he was helping me.”

“What I loved about it and respected him the most for was his no-nonsense proach,” Chuck Martin said. “He had the old school way of coaching. He said, ‘Pick her up in an hour and get lost.’”

MacDonald didn’t want or need parental guidance during the private pitching lessons. It was just Carley and Coach Mac for an hour a couple times a week.

“He was very nurturing,” Michelle Martin said. “He molded her in a positive way. I think that’s what she needed.”

MacDonald had a message for young Carley. He said that any sport is 99% mental and that a successful athlete had to handle the sport mentally first.

“That’s the way he went about it,” Chuck Martin said. “Because he was the most experienced coach, he held that gamut. She put a lot of time into getting better.”

“He wasn’t in it for the money,” Michelle Martin said. “He always gave Carley positive feedback.”

What did Carley learn most from Coach Mac?

“Determination and love for the sport,” Carley Martin said. “He used to call me ‘Alligator Martin,” because every time I threw, I didn’t straighten my arm a certain way and my arm looked like an alligator. He told me, ‘Carley, if you throw strikes, it doesn’t matter what the speed is. That’s all that matters. It’s location. You can get by throwing strikes rather than throwing all over the place.”

And then MacDonald would do the nicest of things.

“He would kiss me on the forehead and tell me that I was the greatest,” Carley Martin said. “He said he loved me.” In June of 2014, MacDonald, who never revealed his age to anyone (but Carley insists he was 76) started to fall ill.

“It was June 10 and it was the night of one of my hitting lessons,” Carley Martin said. “Everyone was whispering and saying things. When I got home, my father met me in the driveway and told me that Mac had died. I cried so hard.”

It was the night of Martin’s championship game in the Lyndhurst Recreation League.

“I didn’t want to pitch that night,” Martin said.

“That’s the way Carley is,” Michelle Martin said. “She wouldn’t go back to the Lyndhurst batting cages. We asked her and she just wouldn’t go.”

Then it hit Martin.

“He would always say that I was a dreamer,” Carley Martin said. “He told me that I was going to pitch somewhere special and that he was going to come watch me pitch. Well, now he’ll watch over me. It’s the only reason why I went back.”

Carley Martin, the aspiring writer, had an assignment to write for school. She decided to write about Coach Mac.

“It took me two months to get what I wanted to say,” Carley Martin said. “My teacher, Kristin Marron, helped me.”

Here’s Carley’s finished product and tribute to Coach Mac:

The Story of Mac 

I miss you coach…. 

One day I hope to fulfill all of the dreams you had for me. 

There once was a man, that if you ever had the chance of meeting him you were something special. Coach Jim MacDonald or as his students call him Mac was one of a kind. His enthusiasm and smile could easily brighten anyone’s day, including mine. Mac was my first coach, my mentor and the only person who taught me that when life gives you lemons to make orange juice leaving the whole world astonished on how you did it. Coach Mac was the all time best pitching coach in my book. He was always so positive and could easily make you grin with just a single hug. I remember that every time I went to a lesson with Mac I would always be so serious because in my book he was a superhero. My last pitch he use to say, “Now give me a smiling one”. He would then kiss me on the forehead and say see you next week. Immortality is what I hoped for coach. Sadly my hopes never came true. A week after my birthday Mac was admitted into the hospital. I thought my world was falling apart. Mac fought for two long months and he never gave up. Until June 10, 2014 when Mac died. I was on my way home from the batting cages when my dad told me the terrible news. I was distraught and I felt as if my eyes were going to fall out or I would drown in my own tears, especially because that night I had to pitch in my Lyndhurst Travel Playoff game. I didn’t think I could even be able to lift up my head, let alone pitch a game of softball without Mac. But I wiped my tears and put on my game face. That night Mac was with me. Although Mac is gone he will always be in hopes that one day I will see him again. In conclusion, Mac never was a big man but his heart was the size of the world. This is the end, some of you reading this might think. But I say it’s only the beginning. 

Yes, written by a 12-year-old.

“I wrote it on the anniversary of his death,” Carley said.

Obviously, Coach Mac was a special person. Carley still pays tribute to her coach a year after his passing. She has his name written on her bedroom wall and his name written on the back of her softball cleats.

“Before I start a game, I step off the mound and touch the back of my shoe with his name on it,” Carley Martin said.

Carley also changed her uniform number this season from No. 6 to No. 33 in honor of Coach Mac.

As for the essay? “I just wrote it for fun, but I wanted people to see it,” Martin said. “I’ve been told it’s pretty good.”

Just like her pitching skills, throwing the ball like Coach Mac wanted. Hey, when life gives you lemons, make orange juice. Whatever that means, it will stick with Carley Martin for the rest of her life, just like the impact that Jim MacDonald made on that little girl from Lyndhurst.

Learn more about the writer ...

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”