What the 2011 Chatham Anglers season lacked in wins, it made up for in memorable moments.
The Anglers did not make the playoffs, finishing with a 15-28-1 record. Throughout the season, there were dry spells when it seemed no matter what they did, the snakebit Anglers just could not get a victory.
But, during winless slides and hot streaks alike, the never-say-die boys from Chatham provided their fans with fond memories of another summer of baseball on the Cape.
The 2011 campaign started off with a bang. In the very first game, Chatham's Matt Fleishman (Villanova) launched a grand slam to left field in the top of the third inning at Cotuit, staking the Anglers to an early lead. However, as would become routine as the season progressed, the Anglers could not follow up early-inning offensive explosions with effective pitching and defense. The Kettleers eventually came back to knot the score at 7. It would be the Anglers' only tie all season.
In its return trip to Cotuit's Lowell Park on June 17th, Chatham showcased the debut of 2011 standout Richie Shaffer (Clemson). And what an introduction it was. The weather may have been cold and wet, but the bat of Shaffer was white-hot. The Clemson product could not be stopped, hitting for the cycle and reaching base in all five plate appearances, and helping Chatham to a convincing 10-4 victory.
The next highlight of the 2011 season is one that will be remembered for a long time in Chatham baseball circles. Anglers' manager John Schiffner achieved a milestone that no other CCBL skipper has ever reached: 400 career wins. He began his Cape League odyssey in 1978 as an assistant coach for the then Chatham A's under Ed Lyons. In 1993, the man they call Schiff took over as the team's manager, and on June 21, 2011 he notched his 400th victory at the helm of the Chatham ballclub. He is currently the CCBL's all-time leader in managerial wins, with Don Reed (334) in a distant second.
In that contest, Joe Sever (Pepperdine) and Dane Phillips (OK State) each hit two-run homers, and pitcher Matt Koch (Louisville) recorded his first win of the year in a 10-9, three hour-plus game.
Those in attendance at Veterans Field on June 28th for a matchup with the Brewster Whitecaps are unlikely to forget the bizarre weather conditions that rolled in off the water. It was a scoreless game in the fifth inning when the fog that had hung over the ballpark all night finally became too thick, forcing a 30 minute delay, and eventual rescheduling. The fans who stuck around were treated to a theatrical performance normally seen on ESPNs SportsCenter Top 10 highlights.
A group of Angler players stealthily crept across the field, miming the actions of a sniper team, using bats and baseballs as props. The Brewster Whitecaps players responded to the video game-inspired gag with an impromptu counterattack, forcing the Anglers to retreat to their own bullpen.
Over the next twenty minutes, two additional routines took place, but the Whitecaps were clearly less enthusiastic about the goofing than the Anglers, who went so far as to use the team golf cart as a makeshift military vehicle. The fog delay shenanigans kept the remaining fans entertained, and though they would be repeated half-heartedly later in the season, June 28th's show was certainly the award-winning performance.
Every team has a Mr. Clutch, and this season Joe Sever filled that role quite nicely for Chatham. A prime example of Sever's penchant for late-game run-producing hits was the Y-D game on July 5th. After losing six straight games, the Anglers were desperate for a W. In the bottom of the eighth inning, manager John Schiffner went with his gut, installing Sever to pinch hit with the go-ahead run at third base and two outs. It was a forgone conclusion; Sever laced the eventual game-winning hit into the outfield, effectively breaking the season's longest winless streak.
The Anglers did turn it on for one last push late in the season. From July 16-22, Chatham won five of six games, including a 9-8 home triumph over Cotuit in which Kris Bryant (San Diego) belted a grand slam and Matt Koch collected another save. Oh, and the go-ahead RBI came from none other than Joe Sever.
The CCBL All-Star Game was played at Fenway Park on July 29th. The Anglers were well represented, with Matt Koch (pitcher) and Dane Phillips (catcher) being selected to play for the East team. Also participating in the festivities at America's Most Beloved Ballpark was Richie Shaffer.
Shaffer, who finished the season with six home runs (Bourne's D.J. Hicks (UCF) led the league with 7) was chosen to compete in the Home Run Derby. Not only did Shaffer compete, he prevailed. He blasted six home runs in the pre-All-Star Game derby and was crowned king slugger.
With the exception of Keith Bilodeau (Maine), the Anglers' starting pitcher who signed midway through the Cape League season with the San Francisco Giants, closer Matt Koch was the most dominant arm for Chatham in 2011. He threw 22 innings, sporting a 1.19 ERA to go along with five saves.
If there was one megastar on the Anglers' squad this summer, however, it was Dane Phillips. The lefty hitter was the CCBL's most prolific run producer, finishing in first place in that category with 34 RBI. And if not for a last second batting surge from Y-D's Stephen Piscotty (Stanford), Phillips would have owned two-thirds of the Triple Crown. As it was, Piscotty went 4-5 in his last game, edging out Phillips by .0002 points. Each finished with a rounded off .349 average.
The action-packed season in the Cape Cod Baseball League was augmented by a league-wide epidemic: poor defense. Unearned runs popped up at the most inopportune times, and that generally means lots of high scoring games. It also led to a trend that was particularly evident for the Anglers, extra-long game times. While it did mean that fans definitely got their (donation) money's worth of baseball, playing games that regularly surpassed the three hour mark can take its toll on a team.
It will be ten long months before CCBL action returns to Veterans Field. In the meantime, memories of the highs and lows of the 2011 season will have to sustain the players, coaches, volunteers, and fans. So too will the hope of a fresh start. Yes, a few players will likely return, but one of the best aspects of Cape League baseball is the opportunity for new talent to showcase itself every summer.
Speaking of new beginnings, many Angler fans will spend the offseason pondering whether the new-look, mustache-less John Schiffner of 2011 will keep his clean shaven appearance. Or, will the CCBL's all-time winningest manager revert back to his classic mustachioed image'
Tune in next June to find out.