The state of baseball in Odyssey appears to have changed. In Album 1 Coach Tom Riley of the Odyssey Coyotes is struggling to make his team a success. In Whit’s Flop he has Davey Holcomb on his team, who isn’t good at the sport at all. Nevertheless, Tom keeps putting his trust in Davey and giving him opportunities to succeed. In A Member of the Family, Tom is desperate for players and tries to bring in Whit’s grandson Monty to join the team. Tom says, “The point is to just give it your best. And then just get out there and have a good time.” Tom goes on to admit that the team isn’t doing very well. After his player Heather fails to win rookie of the year, Tom says, “Heather deserved it. But do those judges care about good sportsmanship? No way. All they care about is ability. Can she pitch? Can she catch? Can she hit? That kid is without a doubt the finest little loser I have ever seen. And I’m not just saying that because she’s a Coyote either.” But now in Album 8 the Odyssey Coyotes seem to have improved a lot. They’re the team everyone wants to be on and there isn’t enough room for all the players lining up to join it. That must explain why the team is co-ed in Album 1 but has now split off boys and girls into separate divisions.
It all starts at the McAlister Recreation Center, which is a mad house full of kids clamoring to see the postings of the various softball teams. Speaking of rec centers, this building was probably built sometime after the Fillmore Recreation Center was converted into Whit’s End. Perhaps Mr. Whittaker’s involvement in the Odyssey Parks and Recreation Department contributed to the creation of this second sports-focused center and the eventual expansion of the Odyssey Coyotes. But anyway, this story isn’t really about Whit. This episode was clearly written for Bart Rathbone. His previous two shows were remakes which could have featured any dad besides him. But now his character comes alive as he gets some great material to work with. Like father like son, Bart is revealed to be a cheat and a bully. In his role as a coach he’s like the leader of a gang, ordering his underlings to engage in vandalism and intimidation. Rodney clearly learned a lot from him. Bart is the coach of a team called the Stingrays, suggesting the topic of electricity, which coincidentally figures into the name of the business Bart would eventually create, the Electric Palace. (If the softball team had been called the Jellyfish instead, that could have created a whole new level of foreshadowing of Album 25.)
Just as Blackgaard is the anti-Whit, Bart positions himself in this show as the anti-Tom. Their teaching philosophies are totally opposite. And although their rivalry isn’t nearly at the level of Blackgaard and Whit in this episode, it’s interesting to see the conflict continue on in future episodes and eventually lead them to run for mayor against each other. And to think they were pretty respectful of each other in An Act of Mercy. According to Traci Needlemeyer, Tom says, “Winning’s not as important as doing our best and having fun.” Meanwhile, Bart chastises Traci for wanting to have fun and proceeds to manipulate her to “think like a winner.” Great advice. He probably said the same thing to Rodney and look how he turned out. Bart tells Traci to repeat the phrase “I’m gonna win this game. I’m gonna win this game no matter what it takes I am gonna this game.” Bart’s motivational talk is one of the best parts of this episode. He gives a great performance and, despite having a twisted perspective, his passion and drive are convincing and a little inspirational. He’s definitely a lot more effective than Connie is in A…is for Attitude when she tells the boys basketball team to chant the phrase “We are winners.”
The pacing of this show is well done. It skips over all the softball games and substitutes them each for a line or two of announcer commentary. It isn’t until the final game that we actually witness it. Up until this point we don’t know how far the Stingrays have been going to win their games. But then Tom Riley arrives at Whit’s End and spills the beans. He accuses them of putting “things like bugs in the batting helmets, and salt in the soft drinks, and honey poured over the bats, you know just anything to addle the other team and break their concentration.” Those are some bizarre pranks which would make Curt Stevens proud. But what’s even more bizarre is that Tom says these tactics aren’t technically against the rules. Really? If tampering with the other team’s equipment isn’t against the rules, Odyssey little league needs a new rulebook. I could understand this maybe if it couldn’t be proven that the Stingrays were the ones carrying out these acts of sabotage, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Perhaps it hasn’t yet been proven that Coach Rathbone is the one who told his players to pull these pranks.
Another great scene is Whit’s confrontation with Bart Rathbone. Bart accidentally lets slip his philosophy to Whit and spends the rest of the conversation finding new and creative ways to defend himself. It’s like Bart is always trying to give himself the winning edge in this battle of wits. At first he claims he’s preparing the girls for the real world, which is harsh and competitive. And when Whit doesn’t buy that Bart accuses him of being a spy for Tom Riley. In his mind there’s just no other explanation for Whit dismissing Bart’s sound reasoning. It’s an entertaining moment. But what’s less entertaining and slightly disturbing is Bart’s decision to have Robyn Jacobs literally knocked out of the game and sent to the hospital. His tactics go from humorous to despicable, showing himself to be just like the gang leader Rodney is. This process doesn’t happen all at once either. Traci flinging Robyn’s malt all over her at Whit’s End helps to bridge the gap between pouring honey on a bat and knocking someone unconscious. At that final game Bart displays a measure of the same kind of careless ruthlessness that Dr. Blackgaard shows when he eagerly sends a power surge into the Imagination Station which gets Lucy sent to the hospital in Album 5. Bart’s lucky the worst of his punishment is getting fired. This show does an impressive job establishing Bart’s character and hinting at where he will go in the future. But realistically it seems obvious that the softball league would have been involved earlier to stop Bart’s insane win-at-all-costs strategy. This episode gets 4 out of 5 stars.