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Chatham, Mass. — Teammate, coach, friend, legend. At the end of his 34th season of coaching in the Cape Cod Baseball League, John Schiffner has seen and been it all.
Affectionately known to all as ‘Schiff’, Schiffner, 61, took his first steps in the league in a Harwich Mariners uniform in the 1970s, playing from 1974-76 during his collegiate career at Providence College. He has fond memories of his time with the team, citing the friendships he made as lifelong bonds.
“Nobody had more fun than the Harwich Mariners in the seventies [laughs],” Schiffner said. “We had a blast together.”
However, Schiffner’s time as a Mariner was not always so smooth sailing.
“My first job was at Saquatucket Harbor in Harwich as a night watchman, and as soon as I was told that was my job, I said this isn’t going to work,” Schiffner said. “I fell asleep the first night, somebody stole a boat. And I was fired [laughs].”
Fortunately, Schiffner’s career prospects were more successful back in the baseball world. Schiffner became an assistant coach for Harwich in 1977, before manager Ed “Eddie” Lyons asked him to join the Chatham staff, where he served as a third base coach until 1982.
Schiffner returned to the Cape in 1990, after working as a scout for the Montreal Expos. Ever since, his infectious personality has been at the heart of the Anglers organisation, inspiring the over 1,000 players that he has coached — including more than 100 major leaguers and 39 first round draft picks.
While these numbers are impressive, they do not express the generosity, kindness and positivity that Schiffner radiates as a coach and an individual. To his players and coworkers, he is family.
“Everybody says he’s a player’s coach, and that’s the best way to describe him,” said Shea Langeliers, a current catcher for the Anglers from Baylor University. “He’s all about the players — he cares about us so much, he’d do anything for us.”
His approach to individual coaching has been cited by players as considerate and discreet.
“If he’s got something to say to us, he’ll pull us aside and won’t make a scene in front of everybody,” said Josh Stowers, one of Schiffner’s current players, an outfielder from the University of Louisville. “He just loves the game, and he’s just a good person to be around.”
Off the field, Schiffner’s hospitality has been second to none. His home — which he calls “third base — stop by on your way home,” is always open to guests, whether it be players new and old, coaches, members of the organisation and so on.
“He’s not just like a head coach to us, he’s also a friend and keeps contact with you not just during the season, all winter, everything,” said Geoff Phillips, who has been one of Schiffner’s assistant coaches for the past four summers. “He’s been involved in my life a lot more than just baseball — he’s been a major influence in my life, on the baseball field and off.”
“Being two years out of school, and trying to get my feet wet in coaching and everything, he’s really helped me and motivated me and given me a lot of things to think about,” said Josh Ingham, a current assistant coach for the Anglers. “He’s welcomed me into the Chatham family.”
For Jamie D’Antona, who returned to Chatham this year as a hitting coach after playing under Schiffner in 2002, his departure is twofold. D’Antona will miss a treasured mentor and a colleague.
“Having the same person at the helm for 25 years, you come to expect certain things,” D’Antona said. “You come to expect his attitude, his smile, his laugh, his infectious nature with the team, and that’s not going to be here obviously after this year.”
While Schiffner is ready to step down from his perch as manager of the Anglers, his connection with the Cape League will remain strong.
“You can’t do something in this uniform for 34 years and just turn it off,” Schiffner said. “You can’t do that.”
Quite simply, the Anglers live and breathe Schiff. His replacement will have a difficult act to follow in the coming years.
“I want the next coach to make sure that he and his team understand the history of the Chatham A’s, and that he understands what the Chatham experience is,” Schiffner said.
The Chatham experience is not something that can be forced, or replicated. It lies in those extraordinary moments, the ethereal qualities of baseball on a warm summer night, a sunset that frames the field like a painting. A pause in a frenzy of coming and going, where everything is perfect for a minute. When time stands still.
“There’s something magical about Chatham — you can’t pinpoint exactly what it is,” said Dan D’Uva, one of two inaugural broadcasters for the team in 2001. “But if there’s one person who has brought that magic to life more than any other single person, it’s John Schiffner.”
When asked what he would miss the most about Chatham, Schiffner’s answer was simple.
“Everything,” he said. “I’ll miss everything.”