HARWICH PORT – The crunch of your tires rolling down a broken-seashell driveway is the first indicator that you are on the right path. If you are met with a tunnel of miniature American flags resting in the shadows of a never-ending row of hydrangea flowers, keep driving ahead, because that is another sign you are close.
When you spot a half-dozen-or-so cars and a couple stray bicycles parked in front of the house, you will know it’s summer at Ashby and Tom Crafts’ home, known as the Funnie Farm to Cape Cod’s animal and baseball lovers alike.
Home to an ample supply of cows, the family dog Benji and a pony named Lucy, the Funnie Farm is a place where goats are able to lounge like retirees and roosters are welcome to crow at full octane around the clock. For the past 15 years, the Crafts’ farm has also been the place to be if you are a Harwich Mariners player coming through the Cape League with dreams of making it to the big leagues.
Josh Donaldson, Ian Happ, DJ LeMahieu, Daniel Hudson, Jonathan India and Trey Mancini are a few of the former Mariners who stayed with the Crafts while playing in the Cape League. Over the years, it got to a point that team president Mary Henderson knew top talent could thrive on the farm.
“Mary knows—'OK, we’ve got a player, let’s stick them with Ashby and Tom,’” Ashby said Sunday evening before Harwich clinched a postseason berth with an 11-7 victory over first-place Brewster in what served as an East Division playoff preview.
The Crafts currently have six Mariners staying at Funnie Farm, including All-Star pitchers Eric Reyzelman and Trey Dombroski. Reyzelman earned the win in Sunday’s clincher after allowing four hits and two runs. He struck out seven and walked one over five innings. Dombroski will toe the rubber Friday night in Game 1 of the best-of-three East Division playoffs at Brewster after a stellar regular season in which he went 3-0 with a 0.85 ERA in 31.2 innings pitched.
Despite the fact neither Reyzelman nor Dombroski arrived in Harwich from Power 5 conferences, the tandem has still been responsible for creating some of the biggest waves around the Cape the past few months. Dombroski, a 6-foot-5 lefty from Monmouth University near his hometown of Manasquan, N.J., has an unbelievable 45 to 2 strikeout-to-walk ratio this summer.
Reyzelman, a 6-foot-2 righty, finished the regular season with a 2-0 record, a 2.66 ERA and a 36 to 6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 23.2 innings after arriving from the University of San Francisco, a short distance from his hometown of San Ramon.
Although they offer ringing endorsements about their living situation now, both pitchers acknowledge there was a brief adjustment period before they fell in line with life on the farm.
“I walked through the gates and the first thing is Ashby comes over yelling and goes, ‘You ever shower outdoors?’” recalled Reyzelman. “I said nope and she said, ‘Well, you better get used to it!’”
“I did not expect to live on a farm,” added Dombroski. “The first day I got here, I went over to Mary Henderson’s house and she told us who we were living with. She was like, ‘Are you OK with living on a farm?’ and I’m like, ‘You know what? I actually am.’”
Unlike some of the farm’s summer guests, Dombroski is a heavy sleeper. That’s been helpful for the ace pitcher, who doesn’t rely on the roosters to provide an early morning wake-up call like his host parents do.
“Hopefully they don’t start waking me up because Tom and Ashby say they wake them up around 5 o’clock,” Dombroski said. “So, that’s their alarm. But my alarm is different—it’s still on my phone.”
The ballplayers see the Crafts’ chickens in a much more favorable light once they leave bed.
“They enjoy all the fresh eggs they can eat,” Ashby said. “They all know how to make omelettes.”
“My mom’s a huge fan of it,” said Reyzelman, who earlier this summer announced that he’ll be transferring to Louisiana State University for the upcoming school year. “Back home, she’s always wanted to start a chicken coop and never did, so when I told her and I took her on a FaceTime tour of the coop outside, she was like, ‘If you don’t make eggs every morning with farm fresh eggs, I’m going to be mad at you.’ So, I’ve taken advantage of it. I’ve made a ton of bagel sandwiches with those eggs.”
There is another Crafts family tradition every ballplayer must abide by when they stay at the farm. Before they leave, they must first write a letter to the players that will stay with the Crafts the following summer. Tom and Ashby have about 50 letters saved from over the years. And while many players boast about their manhood, many more provide tips about how to get on Tom and Ashby’s good side while living on Funnie Farm.
One of the farm’s only rules is to respect each other. Everybody has honored that, so there haven’t been too many problems over the years. Ashby is a big fan of this year’s crew, and she describes Dombroski as the glue keeping the house together.
“Trey could be anybody’s best friend,” she said. “He loves to talk. He came right in and was a part of the family. There’s always one that kind of keeps the group together, and that would be Trey.”
Dombroski said he’s always tried to stay loose on the mound, an approach he’s maintained this summer. Regardless of what happens in the postseason and in the years after he and his Mariners teammates leave the farm, like those who drafted letters before them, this summer’s group of farmers—err, ballplayers—will forever be linked to the Cape’s most prolific Animal House.
“This game isn’t going to last forever, so every day that I go out there, I just have fun,” Dombroski said. “I’m just trying to make the experience the best I can. Hopefully one day we do get drafted, but if not, this is going to be a moment I’ll cherish forever.”
Email Brad Joyal at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @BradJoyal