Most accounts of the afternoon at “Red” Wilson Field in South Yarmouth will highlight playoffs MVP Jordan Leyland (UC Irvine), who hit .462 in the seven games against Falmouth, Wareham, and Y-D. Others will commend Nick Tropeano's (Stony Brook) six and two thirds shutout innings in relief, four days after hurling five in a start against Wareham. A Yastrzemski homering against the Red Sox was also big, as was the pitching and defensive showcase which surrendered just two runs over three games to the same Y-D lineup that shattered scoring records in the Eastern Division Final.
Those statistics are a snapshot of what happened on one day, conveyed by someone that doesn't know how to correctly pronounce Andriese (Besides coach Mike Roberts). The Kettleers in no way resemble the Buffalo Bills of the 1990's, and Leyland is not the son of Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland.
I had the privilege of recording every out of all 51 games this summer in three different scorebooks. From the sweltering June days when the team began wearing their batting practice jerseys as game uniforms, to the 18 inning afternoon split between Hyannis and Chatham, the temporary players to the full contract, the undrafted division three pitcher to the sixth overall pick, this group became my brothers. But this article isn't about me.
It's about Deven Marrero, in conversations as the top shortstop on the Cape this summer, who got drilled with a pitch in the chest Friday while squared around to bunt. The Kettleers didn't have another infielder available, so Marrero played four more innings without the ability to swing the bat. All he could do was square around again and stare pain in the eyes.
“Deven Marrero had as much to do with us winning that game today as any player on this field,” Roberts said. “He could have easily not played the last five innings. He's a phenomenal young man and a fierce competitor.”
Tropeano started and finished the season on the mound for Cotuit and I'll admit I was one of the crowd that called him “Hard-luck” in the early going. The truth is, he was just hard-working. Roberts called Tropeano the most competitive college pitcher he's ever worked with and that fire was at full roar when the coach pulled him after the fifth inning of a 2-2 game on Monday. I overheard Tropeano tell Roberts he would be available in a closer role if needed on Thursday and there was no hint of hesitation as the lanky right-hander hurried to the aid of ailing starter Brady Rodgers in the third inning Friday. Tropeano also contributed a base hit to help his own cause in Chatham and would have caught his own pitches if asked to.
“There was no doubt in my mind that if Nick Tropeano finished that ballgame, the Cotuit Kettleers were going to win,” Roberts said.
James McCann declined an invitation to try out for Team USA and his maturity in and out of the catcher's gear was an under-appreciated factor in the postseason success of the Kettleers pitching staff. His teammates saw it, when McCann proved he could call the right pitch in any situation. The coaches saw it when after 9 innings in the crouch, McCann would not leave Lowell Park until the tarps were laid out and darkness had settled in. Then he'd go to the batting cage and hack away, struggling with the transition to the wood bat. Justice was finally served when McCann hit in five of the seven playoff games, including two home runs and five runs batted in.
“To have a 20-year old young man take your pitching staff and call all of the pitches for the rest of the year, to me in today's world, is amazing,” Roberts said.
Yastrzemski (Yes...Carl's grandson) carried so much weight on his 5-foot-10, 168-pound frame it's a wonder he led the team in stolen bases. He was prepared for it, because it's been there his whole life. Yaz had a pretty memorable summer in Cotuit. He broke up a no hitter with two outs in the ninth inning, hit a grand slam, and homered in Game 3 of the Finals to ignite the Kettleers rally. He also signed autographs, stood for pictures, honored media requests, and promised to say “Hi” to Grandpa, even after each of Cotuit's five walkoff losses. The comparisons to his grandfather are constant, but Mike Yastrzemski played every game this summer as though he were a temporary contract player fighting for an opportunity to stay. If he makes it to the Big Leagues, it won't be an achievement that was just handed to him. It will be because he plays the game the right way and never shortchanges himself or his teammates.
“There's not a player in this league that has more pressure on him than Mike Yastrzemski,” Roberts said. “He is a wonderful young man, and whoever has taught him to play the game, they taught him to play it the right way.”
This Cotuit Kettleers team was a model of character, maturity, and passion for both the game of baseball and being responsible members of the community. Each player came with a story, built new ones, and left the village of Cotuit with one to savor forever. None of these young men felt they were bigger than the game or more deserving to be in the league than the next.
In a Mike Roberts managed baseball team, one will find class, in and away from the dugout. These are some of the best college athletes in the world, some on the brink of signing professional contracts, but Roberts prepares them to succeed in life whether or not they throw another pitch or swing a bat ever again. Like any coach, his decisions during the game are scrutinized, but one thing that can never be questioned is Mike Roberts' heart. He cares about the integrity of the game, the community which has welcomed him back for seven summers, and each talent that commits a summer of nothing but their best effort regardless of the result. The Cotuit Kettleers have been in the Championship Series each of the past three summers because at home and on the road, on and off the diamond, Roberts' club is full of winners.
Finally, the Kettleers were rewarded.