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2012: The Year That Was for the Chatham A's

by George Barclay
Sunday, August 12, 2012

2012: The Year That Was for the Chatham A's
2012 was a historic season for the Chatham A's. The season marked the 90th anniversary of baseball at Veterans Field, the 50th year of the Chatham Athletic Association, the tenth year of broadcasting on the Cape Cod Baseball Network, the return of assistant coach Pat McGee, Chatham's tricentennial and manager John Schiffner's 20th year as skipper. For the first time since 2009, the Anglers made the postseason. Additionally, Chatham finished with a 21-21-2 record, the team's best finish since the 2007 season when the Anglers were 25-16-3.

Right before the beginning of the season, 2012 became the 17th year of John Schiffner's two decades as manager in which a Chatham player was selected in the first round of the MLB Draft. Clemson's Richie Shaffer ('11) was taken by the Tampa Bay Rays as the 25th pick and Monmouth's Pat Light ('11) was grabbed by the Boston Red Sox as the 37th pick in the supplemental round. While Chatham has not won a championship since 1998, no other manager in the Cape League has matched Schiffner's track record of draft success.

2012 was also a year of big league debuts for the A's. Five Chatham players were called up during the 2012 regular season: Matt Harvey ('08-'09) for the New York Mets, Yan Gomes ('08) with the Toronto Blue Jays, Shawn Tolleson ('09) with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Brad Boxberger ('08) with the San Diego Padres, and Adam Warren ('08) with the New York Yankees. With the debuts, Chatham's all-time alumni-in-MLB list grew to 143, more than any other Cape League team.

But most of all, 2012 was a memorable season because of the players in the dugout.

Veterans Field was graced by the arrival of Virginia Tech's Chad Pinder, the team's best all-around player since Evan Longoria ('05). Before leaving with a sports hernia, Pinder hit .278 with four home runs and 25 RBI in just 21 games and wowed scouts, coaches and fans alike with his tremendous ability to hit to all fields and his gold glove worthy defense at third base.

Catchers' mitts popped as Louisville flamethrower Nick Burdi crow-hopped his way past batters. Overpowering hitters with his biting slider and high-90s fastball, Burdi went 0-0 with one save 13 strikeouts and a 5.40 ERA in seven games before being sent home with a foot injury. Every time Burdi took the mound, heads would turn to the nearest radar gun.

A major strength of the team, the top of Chatham's starting rotation featured two Cape League All-Stars and two temporary players. San Diego's Michael Wagner thrived in his conversion from closer to starter, going 2-2 with 38 strikeouts and a 1.57 ERA in six starts and pitching a scoreless ninth inning for the East in the All-Star Game. Franklin Pierce's Ryan Thompson began the season on a temporary contract and became the A's number two starter, going 1-3 with 31 strikeouts and a 3.86 ERA and getting selected as an All-Star. Maine's Tommy Lawrence also began the summer as a temporary player and went 2-1 with a 3.55 ERA to go with 35 strikeouts.

Behind the plate, Chatham was led by one of the best catching rotations in the league. California's Andrew Knapp batted .293 with eight home runs and 29 RBIs, winning the triple-crown for 2012 A's roster. An excellent game manager, a stout defensive player and a smart hitter, Knapp carried the team following Pinder's departure with strong all-around play. Michigan State's John Martinez hit .180 with 4 home runs and 16 RBI. While Martinez struggled at the plate at times, the Spartan's raw power was on full display against Orleans and Harwich. Virginia Tech's Chad Morgan posted a .208 average with one home run and eight RBI. Hitless for the month of June, Morgan's swing became more compact and his hits to the opposite field matched his bullet-like throws to second base by the end of the season.

Possessing a solid back end of the bullpen, High Point's Jaime Schultz and Virginia Tech's Jake Joyce shut the door on hitters all summer. Schultz went 2-0 with 40 strikeouts in 22.1 innings and had a 2.82 ERA. Joyce went 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA and struck out 35 batters in 18.2 innings with a devastating slider and earned six saves on the summer.

With multiple center fielders on the roster, the A's had a steady outfield. Louisville's Adam Engel batted .229 with a home run and 14 RBI and stole 15 bases with his blazing speed. Miami's Dale Carey hit .240 with a home run and 11 RBI, impressing fans with his raw athleticism and throwing ability to third base and the plate on relay plays.

The A's middle infield was another strong area for the team. UCLA's Pat Valaika batted .258 with a home run and 12 RBI and hit throughout the lineup, displaying his versatility as a reliable contact hitter. Maine's Mike Fransoso batted .268 with no home runs and 17 RBI and won the affections of all A's fans with his tireless dedication to the game and his refusal to quit on an at-bat. Throughout the summer, Valaika and Fransoso made numerous double plays look easy and were always a threat to get a twin-killing when the situation arose.

Grappling with a below .500 record for much of the season, Chatham played its best baseball late in the year, going 3-0 to cap the regular season and earn the fourth overall seed in the playoffs. Finishing .500 or better against every East Division opponent, the A's defeated Harwich once and Orleans twice in their final three games before the playoffs. When Chatham clinched a playoff spot on August 5 with a 6-4 win over Harwich, no person at Veterans Field was happier than John Schiffner, who had just coached third base for the first time since 1993. On that Sunday, Schiffner was on top of the world, frantically waving his players home, attempting to field ground balls and laughing after every moment, including a water bath during a post-game interview.

In Chatham's two games against Y-D, the A's never quit despite facing one of the best teams in the Cape League and forced Red Sox manager Scott Pickler to delve deep into his roster for a pair of victories. Chatham was able to score eight runs in two games, five more than their last three-game series in 2007. Although the outcome did not go as planned, the playoff buzz was back at Veterans Field, with slow-caps, cow-bells and cheers filling the air.

At the end of the day, the 2012 Chatham A's were a full-fledged team. They formed lifelong friendships, represented the community well, enjoyed Cape Cod, battled rain, injuries and umpires, played hard and became better players. That's what Cape League baseball is all about.