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Providence College’s highly confident third baseman first came to Cape Cod in 1974.
Looking back he remembers thinking himself a good player. He said he was going to graduate cum “lucky” instead of cum laude. Major league baseball wasn’t any sort of pipe dream. It was, in his eyes, an inevitable destination that his play with the Harwich Mariners could only fast track.
His name was John Schiffner, and as he enters his 22nd season as the manager of the Chatham Anglers the rest of his tale is as cautionary as it is compounded by experience as both a player and coach.
“I always tell these guys the whole story, Cape Cod League was a life-altering summer for me,” Schiffner said. “The league straightened me out. I thought I’m pretty good and could play major league baseball but before I thought I was playing major league baseball until I came here.”
Schiffner played a Northeast schedule at Providence College which he says “wasn’t bad.” But when he got to Harwich he was pitted against players from all corners of the country. The sliders broke harder than they did in Rhode Island. His self assurance hit an unforeseen plateau.
Forty years later, Schiffner will foster yet another Anglers team into a season opener — this one against Orleans at Eldredge Park on Wednesday at 7 p.m — where most will make their Cape debuts while few start their second seasons with the team. And considering what he learned as a player and has seen as a coach, his preseason message now rolls off his tongue.
You have to learn how to accept failure.
“You’re going to see some of the best pitching you’ve ever seen in your life,” Schiffner said, “and the pitchers are going to see some of the best hitters they’ve ever seen. So be prepared to not be successful right away.”
Andrew Chin (Boston College) and Jake Dorris (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi) are two of the team’s returnees that lived Schiffner’s perspective last summer. Both said they experienced ups and downs throughout their first season with the team, and that staying even-keeled was essential to floating, and succeeding, in such a talented league.
Chin went 2-2 in seven starts for the Anglers last season and will start Opening Day. Dorris made 15 relief appearances last summer, going 2-1 with a 2.55 ERA while striking out 26 hitters in 24.2 innings of work. Kyle Davis (Southern California) said Tuesday that Chin has been telling him to stay calm and not get too high or low, experiential advice a second-year player can provide.
“It’s definitely a learning experience,” Chin said. “Everyone goes through it. Being here a second time I know what to expect, you’re going to have a lot of bumps and bruises that you may see in your college season.”
Schiffner couldn’t stress enough how important veteran players are to the workings of the team, seeing over the years how young guys feed off the example that returnees set. More than not, that example is staying level and approaching each game not just head on, but also head straight.
The first crack at it is in the Anglers’ sights and even though Schiffner says his baseball career eventually “bottomed out,” he pinned Wednesday as the start of a great opportunity for a group of players whose playing days could potentially outnumber his.
“Very few people come down here and tame the Cape Cod League, most of the time the Cape Cod League tames you,” Schiffner said. “You can’t beat yourself up over an 0-for-4, you just can’t.
“You just have to build on it and say, ‘Tomorrow I’ll get better.’”