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Max Tishman leaned back on the Veterans Field bleachers as if they were a reclining chair in his living room.
Just a few hours ahead of his first-ever start for the Chatham Anglers, he couldn’t get more than five words out of his mouth without breaking into a smile. He leaned back even further and looked straight up before saying, “Now this is a Chatham day.” Then he squinted out to the field in front of him and the sun, sitting like a buoy in a cloudless sky, radiated across his face.
But when he looked down at two Chatham bat boys that stood side-by-side to the right of the Anglers' dugout, his mood momentarily shifted. He tucked his smile into the back pocket of his pinstripe pants. He looked surprised at the small kick of nostalgia that came with seeing himself.
“That was me once,” Max said. “And I hope kids around here can see what I did and know that they can play on this field one day too.”
Max was an Anglers bat boy in 2002, a year that feels farther in the past every time his left arm throws a baseball. But when the 6-foot-1-inch lefty from Wake Forest ran out of the dugout to to start the second game of a doubleheader against Cotuit on Sunday, so did the child inside him. A 3-0 losing decision after leaving the game in a scoreless tie didn’t dampen what he later called a “dream come true.” Frankly, nothing could.
The bleachers he sat in before the game were the ones he grew up in. The kids looking up to him as he jogged out for the top of the first are as much of his idols as he is theirs. His journey, that took him from his family’s summer home a few blocks from Veterans Field to the park’s hallowed mound, is an intertwined tale of game and town. Because it was Chatham and its prized team that kept Max in baseball, by making him set a goal of one day joining the fraternity of endeared baseball players that give to the town what it has already given him.
And that goal never felt like a reality, even as it unfolded Sunday night.
“For him to play here tonight was just the greatest thing,” said Max’s father Robert Tishman. “Chatham and this team has always meant so much to our family, and now he’s a part of that. I really just can’t believe it.”
The Tishmans don’t have to be at Veterans Field to know that there’s a game going on. They can see the overhead lights from their house on Cedar St. and are just two turns from the field’s parking lot, which made it easy to get Max to the Anglers baseball camps.
It was his first exposure to the game of baseball — starting at the camp at 5 and going until he was 11 years old — learning from players and coaches that he now rattles off like a kid opening a pack of baseball cards. Jamie D’Antona. Jeremy Cleveland. Tim Stauffer. Then he racks into another filing cabinet in the back of his head and the list goes on.
“I thought those guys were amazing,” Max said. “I looked up to all of them and they were just so great to me. All of them.”
Max stopped going to the camps when he started playing travel baseball at 11 years old, but he wasn’t as prodigal as one would expect a future Atlantic Coast Conference pitcher to be. Robert — whose broad shoulders hint at a familial athleticism — laughs when he remembers his skinny son not getting into any games. He said Max was one of if not the worst player on his travel team and that he almost, on a whim, took him out of the sport altogether.
“That was my fault,” Robert said. “I didn’t know a whole lot about the sport and it just seemed like it wasn’t a great fit. He was a good athlete and could have excelled in other sports, but luckily his coach talked me out of it.”
That sport was lacrosse, a fad sweeping through the Northeast and a seemingly good fit for the wiry Max. But Max’s travel coach at the time told Robert that taking Max out of baseball would be the biggest mistake of his life. He said Max’s arm was “live” and that he’d eventually fill out his lean frame, promising that sticking to it would prove the right decision down the road.
And along with that confidence was another draw to the game. Max hadn’t lost sight of taking Veterans Field, and trading his glove for a lacrosse stick would never allow him to do so.
“I definitely was thinking about Chatham when I decided to stick with baseball,” Max said. “I always thought about playing there and in a way it kept me playing.”
The predictions panned out and Max found himself a high recruiting priority out of Lawrence Academy in Groton, Mass. He landed at Wake Forest, partly because of the school’s relationship with the Anglers, where he appeared in 26 games and made just two starts as a redshirt freshman this past spring.
So when he ran out to a familiar mound on Sunday night he did so in what has become an unfamiliar role in his collegiate career. The game was his, and after bouncing two warmup pitches to catcher Patrick Mazeika (Stetson) — which he later credited to pregame jitters — he settled in.
The end result was possibly the best start Chatham has received this season, as Max threw 4.2 innings and didn’t give up a hit until the third inning. He struck out the first two hitters of the second inning and punctuated each punch out with a small hop in front of the mound. Then he pumped his left fist after inducing the an inning-ending double play in the third.
"He was great," Chatham manager John Schiffner said. "I remember him being here as a bat boy but didn't quite recognize him when we first talked about him coming here. I mean he's gotten a lot bigger."
The same bat boy — the one in a loose Anglers jersey whose role did more for the team’s cycle than standing 12 years ago — was now toeing the rubber with an ascended effect on the game. His day ended with two outs in the fifth and he ran into the dugout where his team greeted him at the top step. A crowd of friends and family, including Robert, gave him an ovation six rows up the metal bleacehrs. And when the game ended he walked along the left-field foul line with a noticeable swiftness in his step.
“It was everything I thought it would be going out there,” he said.
Then Max took one last look back at the field before the boyish smile returned to his face.
“It was everything I thought it would be and more.”