Firebirds Pitching Staff Bolstered By Trio Of Massachusetts Natives

By: Brendan Samson

Topics: Cape Cod Baseball League , Orleans Firebirds

From left: Massachusetts natives Alex Amalfi, Sam Conte and Ben Shields provide the Orleans Firebirds pitching staff with some local flavor. BRAD JOYAL PHOTO

ORLEANS – Summer family trips to Cape Cod are a staple for many Massachusetts families. Being able to enjoy the beach, some baseball or mini golf make it a great place for a vacation getaway. Three Orleans Firebirds pitchers are getting the chance to relive those Cape memories, but this time as a part of a Cape League team.

Orleans’ pitching trio of Alex Amalfi, Sam Conte and Ben Shields, who hail from Ashland, Andover and Boston, respectively, have been lights-out for the Firebirds so far this summer.

Amalfi, a rising senior at UMass Boston, started in his lone appearance this season June 14 against Wareham. The righty threw three scoreless innings and recorded two strikeouts in the team’s 2-0 win over the Gatemen.

Both Conte and Shields have pitched on two occasions; Conte has been a reliever both times, hurling four scoreless innings total, with an impressive six punchouts.

Shields, on the other hand, has served as both a reliever and starter. He tallied a save in his first appearance – the June 14 win over Wareham – and then earned a Father’s Day victory after throwing five innings of one-run ball during Sunday’s 3-1 win at Falmouth. That performance brought Shields’ season total to seven innings pitched with one allowed and four strikeouts.

Needless to say, the three pitchers have been key contributors for Orleans, posting a combined 0.64 ERA compared to the team’s total of 3.94. Firebirds manager Kelly Nicholson even jokingly referred to the trio as “The Boston Massacre.”

“They've all thrown the ball extremely well so far,” Nicholson said. “I think any time your pitchers are out there throwing the ball well, that gives you good energy and it brings energy into your dugout.”

The energy they bring is even sweeter because all three grew up either hearing about or attending CCBL games.

Now playing in them, Amalfi sees it as a dream come true.

“I think it's a little bit more special, growing up around here, you always hear about this place,” Amalfi said. “I honestly never thought I'd be able to play here, but being able to play here, it's pretty cool. Great fans, great atmosphere.”

Amalfi’s feelings were echoed by Shields and Conte, who understand the legendary names that have come through the CCBL.

“I would say, growing up here, it definitely holds a lot of weight,” Conte said. “I think it's cool to be a part of it and kind of see the talent that's come through here and hopefully, one day reach the heights that they've reached.”

While all three pitchers are thriving in the early part of the season, they all understand the surplus of gifted Division I players that the Cape league has to offer, especially Conte, whose road to the Cape league is an unlikely one, being from Trinity University, a Division III school.

“I had my first year at Northeastern and then transferred to Trinity in Texas, but I had a really good summer in the futures league last summer and I think it was just time to kind of move on from that, move on to different competition and try to kind of plead my case here,” Conte said.

So far, Conte is pleading his case just fine. Same with Shields and Amalfi, who crossed paths with each other in 2020 at a showcase hosted by UMass Amherst. The showcase gave athletes a chance to play after they had their season cut short by COVID-19, and coincidentally, it gave Amalfi a place to shine in front of scouts and eventually make it to the Cape.

“It kind of helped me a lot, to be honest,” Amalfi said. “There were scouts there and that kind of was a little bit of a breakout for me, I would say, because I did well in that fall in front of those scouts, they invited me to a little showcase at the place we were at, and then it kind of kept going like a little chain.”

While the showcase was good for Shields, too, he ended up at the Cape thanks to a connection that his coach at George Mason had with Nicholson and says he loves the culture the team has so far.

“We're a fun team. We're a fun group of guys,” Shields said. “We all have fun and we've only known each other for not that long yet, but it feels like it's been a while.”

Now that the three pitchers are here, they are just enjoying the environment and their teammates. They’ve even made some beach trips, just like they did when they were younger and visiting with family.

“Yesterday was our off day so we actually went to a beach in Hyannis with a couple of the Hyannis guys and they were a lot of fun,” Conte said. “In Cape Cod, you gotta go to the beach for sure.”