CHATHAM – It was a playoff season of sweeps, but a championship victory wasn't in the fog-obstructed stars for the Chatham Anglers, who played hard but ultimately fell to the Wareham Gatemen in one of the more unique playoff series in Cape League history.
After falling to the Gatemen on the road in game one of the championship series, the Anglers returned home to Veterans Field on Aug. 12 for game two, which began under clear Cape skies before rolling plumes of that legendary Chatham fog blurred views of the outfield and rendered the remainder of the game unplayable, with officials postponing the remaining three-plus innings to the following afternoon.
Prior to the reschedule, the Anglers had fallen behind 4-1 in the outing, their only run coming when Blake Sabol came in on a single from Colin Simpson in the bottom of the first. Though that helped the Anglers get off to a seemingly solid start, the Gatemen took a one-run lead in the third when Lael Lockhart, Jr., and Oliver Dunn scored unearned runs on a single from teammate Austin Shenton. The visiting Gatemen added one more run to their tally in the fourth, and their fourth run at the top of the sixth before the game was postponed.
Though wisps of sea smoke still swirled above the ballpark on Monday afternoon, it wasn't heavy enough to suspend game play and the game continued, with Chatham fans eager to see their Anglers overcome the Gatemen in the final innings.
Once again things looked promising when John Rave came home on a pop-up from Ben Ramirez, narrowing Wareham's lead to two at the bottom of the sixth, but the Gatemen responded with a fifth run at the top of the seventh for a 5-2 lead. A homer from Simpson in the bottom of the seventh once again narrowed the score and gave Angler fans hope for a rally.
After Chatham reliever Kyle Hurt, taking over for Alek Manoah, retired the Wareham side at the top of the eighth, fans cheered on home team batters John Rave, Kyle McCann, and Greg Jones, but each was quickly shut down as the inning came to a decisive close.
Any hopes of an Angler comeback unraveled at the top of the ninth when Wareham went to work, pushing across four runs, the first two on a double from Drew Milas that brought around Isaac Collins and Ryan Kreidler, and the second two on another double from Gian Martellini that brought home Austin Shenton and Drew Millas.
With one more chance to score, the Anglers stepped up to bat, but other than a final single to center from Michael Busch, Wareham closer Zach Hart shut down the side to earn the save and the win, with a final score of 9-3.
Though disappointed with the loss, Chatham head coach Tom Holliday praised the efforts of his players throughout the 2018 season.
“It's a little bit of a different dynamic for me in coaching,” Holliday said. “To be able to bring 30 kids from all over the country, from all kinds of backgrounds, some strong, some weak, some confused, and build a ball club, that's hard to do.”
Ultimately, though, the team gelled, as was apparent in their competitive season, down to the final out.
“At the end of the season they were pulling for each other,” Holliday said. “There wasn't anybody on the bench pouting about not playing, and we won. We had fun winning. We lost players; we added players, but the team kept going. To have 21 out of 30 guys all summer, that's special. Those 21 guys I'll never forget. It would have been nice to win something, to win a championship is always the best feeling, but just to know that even though we got beat up in that last inning, that in our last at-bat everyone was battling, that's a good feeling. It kind of eases the hurt of losing.”
Before the challenge of the championship games, Chatham indeed enjoyed a string of wins in the playoffs, first against the Harwich Mariners and then against the Brewster Whitecaps, whom the Anglers defeated 11-6 in game one and 3-2 in game two for a tidy sweep. In the latter game, it took a ninth-inning home run for Brewster to get on the scoreboard thanks to the stellar pitching performance of Tristin English, who went 8.2 scoreless innings in the outing.
Holliday said he was pleased at the progress made by more than a few of his players.
“I think some guys have turned into Major League prospects,” he said. “There were some guys that came here looking for an identity, for help in getting over that proverbial hump. Baseball is a humbling sport, and sometimes it humbles guys into doubt. Some of the guys that came here I think had some doubts about their talent, and they feel good about their talent now.”
Colin Simpson said that his summer with the Anglers taught him the importance of a positive mindset.
“I started the year really, really rough,” Simpson said. “I think at one point I was hitting like .120 or something like that. But I tried to stay positive. My one takeaway would be to just keep going day by day. Don't look at the past. Don't try to bring the past with you the next day. Every day's a new day.”
Simpson said that one of the most valuable aspects of the season was the connections with his teammates.
“I think I knew two of these guys when I came to this team this summer,” he said. “Now I've got about 20 new guys I'd consider like brothers to me.”
For Tristin English, his Chatham summer led to a renewed passion for baseball.
“Honestly I feel like this summer taught me to love baseball again,” English said. “You get complacent during the season. Then you get up here, you bond with guys after coming in not knowing anybody. You come out here and are just playing baseball all day long, bonding through the grind together.”
English said he'll also long remember the relationships built between teammates.
“We grew together as the season went along,” he said. “We had a lot of fun times hanging out on our couple off days, but otherwise it's just been all at the ball field, and that's all I could really ask for.”
In the end, the Chatham experience was about more than just a team.
“This is a big family,” Holliday said. “The people in Chatham make it a family.”