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Chatham Anglers centennial season wrap-up: Navigating managerial changes and finishing strong

by Tyler Schiff
Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Chatham Anglers centennial season wrap-up: Navigating managerial changes and finishing strong
In June, Chatham began its quest to end a two-year postseason drought. The Anglers tied a franchise-low with 15 wins in 2022. 

After a tie and two losses, Chatham obtained its first win on June 13. A combined thirteen strikeouts, assembled by Brody Brecht (Iowa) and Matt Wilkinson (Central Arizona College to Cleveland Guardians), paved the way for a 2–0 shutout of East Division rival Orleans.

By the end of June, however, the Anglers had mustered a league-worst 5–11–1 record. Beginning with a 6–0 loss at Brewster, Chatham suffered a four-game losing streak from June 25 to June 29. The A’s were outscored by opponents 38–11 during that span.

Then-manager Tom Holliday described Chatham’s early troubles on the mound through the analogy of a window frame.

“It’s almost like the perfect thing gets cracked and then the crack just starts spreading,” Holiday said after the Anglers’ arms recorded 10 walks in an 8–2 loss at Bourne on June 28. “It’s like hitting a window and all of a sudden it just falls out. You have to be a little bit tougher than that.”

In an 11–5 loss to Yarmouth-Dennis on June 26, the crack was giving up four home runs. In a 13–4 loss to Falmouth on June 29, it was allowing 18 hits.

“It kind of just felt like the season was full of a lot of turmoil and distractions going on in the background,” bullpen coach Brock Riley said. “That can make it hard to stay focused on competing and having a good time.”

Riley’s answer alludes to a host of pivotal storylines. Starting in mid-July, the Anglers underwent four postponed games and two managerial changes. Drastic roster changeovers, a dwindling bullpen and a failure to structure a definitive lineup until late added to the unexpected challenges.

Looking back on the Anglers’ 2023 season, there were positives. Yes, the A’s garnered three CCBL All-Star selections, and yes, they went undefeated in their last four games. But at the end of a campaign marred by inconsistency, Chatham finished in the exact same position it had a year ago—two points short of playoff contention.

Here are the two key narratives which headlined Chatham’s (15–27–2 East) centennial season:

1. Managerial Changes

Chatham cycled through three managers in 2023—its most in franchise history. Holliday stepped down on July 12 due to personal health reasons. He ended with a 84–91–18 record in five years with the Anglers.

Assistant coach Marty Lees took over as acting manager but lasted just 14 games before a similarly abrupt departure. Catching and hitting coach Todd Shelton was named interim manager for the rest of the summer.

According to the players, shifts within Chatham’s coaching staff never substantially affected their performances or mindset.

“It’s there, we all know it’s there, but they [each manager] all do a phenomenal job,” left-handed pitcher Maxx Yehl (West Virginia) said following an 8–7 loss to Orleans on July 28.

But each change brought forth an inevitable sense of unpredictability.

Todd Shelton (Panola College) looks on during Chatham's home bout with Hyannis on July 25. Shelton took over as the Anglers' head coach on July 28 Emma Connelly / Chatham Anglers

Lees experienced a loss at Bourne during his first game in charge, on July 12, but enjoyed a 3–0 shutout over Y-D the next time out. Shortly after, Chatham captured consecutive wins for the first time all season, beating Wareham in back-to-back contests on July 17 and 18. One day later, the Anglers surmounted a 10–2 deficit against Cotuit to eke out a 12–12 tie.

Though Lees’ command showcased some promising highs, it proved to be a rocky stint. Another four-game losing streak, including a 12–0 loss to Harwich on July 24, overshadowed his early achievements. The A’s went 3–11–1 under Lees and never found their footing.

Shelton took over on July 28 and led Chatham to a 5–1–0 finish. Across that span, the Anglers’ offense tallied 35 runs. Shelton attributed Chatham’s success at the plate to confidence gained from relaxed at-bats. A 14–12 victory at Orleans topped off the A’s winningest stretch of the season.

The Anglers’ two managerial changes were a focal point during the 2023 summer. Through the barrage of losses and rejuvenating wins, Chatham’s changeovers at the helm drew surprise and intrigue along the Cape.

2. Finishing Strong

A feeling of ‘what-if’ appeared to hang around the visiting dugout at Eldredge Park. The Anglers defeated eventual CCBL runner-up, Orleans, 14–12 to end the regular season. Since its elimination from postseason contention, on July 29, Chatham had not lost. The victory clinched a season-high, four-game win streak.

“We’re heating up man, we’re sizzling,” A’s catcher Hudson White (Texas Tech to Arkansas) said postgame. “If we got in [to the playoffs] we would’ve won it.”

Judging by his toothy smile, White was probably joking. But his statement held validity. From July 30 to Aug. 2, the Anglers beat all four East Division foes, starting with an 11–0 demolition of Harwich. Chatham outscored opponents 35–23 and garnered double-digit runs in two of its four victories. Reliable fielding merged with efficient hitting and cleaner pitching sheets to produce a collection of wins.

“It was more fun than I’ve had my whole time here,” shortstop Deric Fabian (Florida to Auburn) said about Chatham’s final four contests. “Just the guys enjoying baseball and having fun.”

It certainly looked that way. The Anglers played freely. Their dugout was constantly energetic. Every swing and throw looked natural and more composed. Most importantly, Chatham remained competitive.

65-IMG_1166Deric Fabian (Florida to Auburn) high-fives acting manager Marty Lees on July 17 at Veterans Field. Fabian recorded a .352 batting average and tallied15 RBIs with Chatham in 2023 Emma Connelly / Chatham Anglers

Shelton fiddled with his lineup frequently in the last four games. He tweaked Chatham’s hitting order and fielding arrangements. Kyson Donahue (Hawaii) played four different positions in four outings. Kaeden Kent (Texas A&M) split his time between left field and the designated hitter post.

Shelton expanded his rotation. The broader dispersion of playing time translated into unexpected heroics. Trace Willhoite (Lipscomb) entered the win streak with two hits on 20 at-bats but collected three home runs in two games. Brennan Holt (Oklahoma State) cemented himself in the leadoff position and totaled four hits, six walks and a team-best five stolen bases.

The Anglers’ absence from the 2023 playoff picture also prompted Shelton to preach the importance of capitalizing on “individual acts in a team sport.”

“Every at-bat is your at bat,” Shelton said about motivating Chatham in its 11–0 win at Harwich. “Those averages go with you, don’t give them up. It doesn’t matter if you’re up a bunch or down a bunch.”

Perhaps Shelton’s message fueled Chatham’s ability to “run away” from opponents. The Anglers never trailed during their four-game win streak. In victories over Y-D, Brewster and Orleans, the A’s jumped out to 4–0, 5–0 and 7–0 leads, respectively.

Chatham’s late success served as a captivating end to the season. But the Anglers’ dominance, displayed across all four contests, probably continues to trigger imaginations of ‘what-if?’ for the A’s faithful.

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