The Sharks are back in town, but don’t worry — the water is fine.
More than fine in fact. As the new members of the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks prepare for the 2014 season, which begins tonight, fans can expect another summer packed with first-rate baseball.
The first pitch is at 7 p.m. at the regional high school field. Little League and Babe Ruth players are admitted free.
The Sharks compete in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, a wooden-bat league for college baseball players. Last season the team won the league championship title for the first time after not making playoffs for their first two years of existence.
“There were only four teams in the league our first season and we still didn’t make the playoffs,” general manager Jerry Murphy said. But he was smiling, because last season, the team not only walked away with the championship after a summer plagued by injuries, they also pulled off a near-sweep of the FCBL end-of-season awards: league MVP and defensive player of the year (Dylan Tice), batting champion (Ryan Siegel), pitcher of the year (Bob Carbaugh), manager of the year (Mike Miller) and organization of the year. A newly-installed plaque on the side of the bleachers celebrates the 2013 season and its milestones.
“We’re looking to repeat,” Mr. Murphy said of the new season and new lineup. He started to build the 2014 lineup immediately after the summer ended and had the entire team confirmed by mid-September. He noted it was the first year that coaches and players were calling him to ask about the team, and not vice versa.
“Our everyday position players are probably better than last year, if you can imagine that,” Mr. Murphy said.
The team is coached by John Toffey, head coach at Salisbury Prep in Connecticut. (Last year’s coach, Mike Miller, was promoted to the head job at his school, so could not return for another season.) Toffey brings with him a standout record on the field — 46-1 over the past two years — and of preparing high school athletes for Division I college ball. Two of Coach Toffey’s Salisbury players are on the Sharks roster: pitcher Austin DeCarr and shortstop Will Toffey (the coach’s brother). A third Salisbury player, pitcher Paul Campbell, may join the team pending clearance by doctors.
Opening night is “must-watch baseball,” in Mr. Murphy’s words. Though the talent level of the Sharks has risen steadily over the past few years, the team has never had a future major league draft pick on the roster. That will change when Austin DeCarr takes the mound and Will Toffey hits the field. DeCarr’s pitches average about 93 miles per hour, and have topped out at 95 mph, Mr. Murphy said. During a recent game against the Taft School, he struck out 19 in a complete game one-hitter.
But the day after opening night here, DeCarr will travel to Secaucus, N.J., to take part in the draft. He is expected to be taken in the second or third round, in which case his season with the Sharks would come to a quick end. He has also committed to play for Clemson University, and would leave at the end of June regardless of draft outcome. Toffey, meanwhile, is expected to be taken as high as the eighth round.
Still, the entire lineup for the team is flush with talent. Closer Matt Calomoneri of the University of Scranton returns from last year’s team, as does pitcher Kyle Brenner and outfielder Kevin Foley, who hit .333 this season at Wheaton College. Vineyarder Jack Roberts is also back, starting at second base after posting a .302 average while at Williams College.
Centerfielder John Kennedy takes over for Vineyarder Tad Gold, who played in his final season of Sharks eligibility last year. Kennedy, a junior at Nyack College, hit .356 last season, with 24 stolen bases.
Gold, played for the Sharks through all three of the team’s first season and was recently named the Division III player of the year after closing out a stellar career at Endicott College. He will be honored on Saturday, June 7. The team will also receive their championship rings that night.
The Sharks play a schedule of 58 games, and will play most in the east division of the FCBL. This is the first year the league was large enough to be divided into divisions, thanks to the addition of the Worcester Bravehearts (named for the city’s police, fire, and EMT departments). The division play means slightly less travel time for the Sharks, who are perhaps the Patriot Boat’s best customers during the season (the team travel budget tops out at $40,000).
The full squad had just one practice together, on Tuesday afternoon, before the beginning of league play. But the quick turnaround made little difference last season, and the Sharks front office is hopeful that history will repeat itself.
“To me, it’s an exciting season because it could set the tone for everything to come,” Mr. Murphy said.
For more information visit mvsharks.com.