The trio of youngsters leaning on the fence of the Vineyard baseball park sported brand-new white Martha’s Vineyard Sharks hats. David Allen and Saul Pink, both from the Washington, D.C. area, had never been to a Sharks game before. Their friend Zachary Elliot had and knew the routine. They’d been collecting foul balls throughout Monday evening’s game.
“We’re planning on getting autographs,” Zachary explained.
Filling up a baseball with the scrawls of college players is a time-honored summer tradition in New England. And this year the signature of a Shark is the signature of a contender.
With a 13-1 defeat of the Wachusett Dirt Dawgs on Monday evening, the Sharks took a one-game lead over the Nashua Silver Knights to maintain their hold on first place in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. As of Wednesday, the team held a 28-14 record, the best in the team’s three years of existence. The postseason for the FCBL begins August 11, and the Sharks intend to stay in the hunt for a championship title.
“We had some guys that were out [earlier in the season] and we were able to hang in there,” said vice president of operations Bob Tankard. Now, he said, the team is almost at full strength and ready for the final push.
“Over the next 10 or 11 games, I’d like to win eight,” Mr. Tankard said.
“The caliber of baseball [here] has improved,” public address announcer Ken Goldberg said before Monday’s game, tapping his microphone for a sound check. “It’s been really a lot of fun.” Mr. Goldberg, best known to Vineyarders for his coverage of football and hockey games for MVTV, took on announcing duties last year. He had intended to be a spectator, but when general manager Jerry Murphy asked if he could join the Sharks crew, he said coming on board was “a no-brainer.”
“The toughest thing is I have to go to the visiting dugout to get the roster,” Mr. Goldberg deadpanned. “There’s a nice pace to the game . . . part of [my job] is knowing when not to talk.” Often, the game speaks for itself.
Take Sunday’s home game against the Pittsfield Suns. The Suns managed just six hits against pitcher Matt Timoney, while the Sharks pounded out a team-high 28 hits, recording no walks. Every player in the lineup had at least one hit. Second baseman Brett Holmgren had five. Shortstop Dylan Tice launched a grand slam, his fifth home run of the season.
“Me, personally, in a baseball game I’ve never seen that,” head coach Mike Miller said of the hitting bonanza. “We have a really deep team, from one through 26 [on the roster]. I’m comfortable putting anyone in.”
“It’s really just an awesome group of guys,” said centerfielder Tad Gold, a rising senior at Endicott College. Gold is one of two Vineyarders on the squad. Jack Roberts, a recent high school graduate, plays second base. Gold has been on the team since its inaugural season in 2011, and he said the chemistry on this year’s team is the best he’s seen.
“It’s a tough thing to get when you bring a bunch of guys together who’ve never played with each other before,” he said.
“At the beginning of the season, the guys were just trying to mesh and figure out goals,” said Dylan Tice, a rising senior at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He spent last summer playing for the Quakertown Blazers, but played the last 10 days of the season on the Sharks roster. Often in summer baseball, he said, players are just working to get at-bats. But with the Sharks, “People are here to win. It’s almost like an all-star team.”
Seven Sharks traveled to Pittsfield last week to represent Team Massachusetts in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game. The-all stars are Dylan Tice, fellow position players Nick Sell, Nik Campero and Ryan Siegel, and pitchers Trevor Breton, Matt Calomonoeri and Bob Carbaugh. Team Massachusetts won the game. Ryan Siegel is leading the entire FCBL with a .384 batting average.
The starting five for the team has a combined earned run average of 2.65. Breton, the FCBL pitcher of the month for June, is first in the league with an earned run average of 1.43 and second in strikeouts. Carbaugh picked up his eighth win on Monday night to take the lead in the league for victories.
Carbaugh, a fifth-year senior at Seton Hall University, played in his hometown summer league in Johnstown, Pa., for four years. This is his first time on the Vineyard; on his off days, he said, he’s been spending a lot of time at the beach and giving pitching tips to his baseball-mad host family, the Alibertis.
Coach Miller said host families have played an important role in building the team chemistry — some families have four or five players staying with them, allowing teammates to develop friendships off the field. The later start time of games, a by-product of the newly-installed lights at the field, has given players more time during the day to enjoy the Vineyard summer. “It’s helped them become more of a team,” Coach Miller said.
Mr. Tankard agreed. “We didn’t really know that the lights would have this great of an effect,” he said. Attendance has been up all the season, now that the team is no longer playing in the heat of the afternoon, competing with the beach for face time.
Most games last year had about 150 fans in the stands, Coach Miller said. This year, each game pulls in between 450 and 600 fans, who show up even when rain threatens. And the team has responded.
“They’re really adamant about playing their best every night,” Coach Miller said.
Carbaugh had no hesitation explaining the success of his team.
“It’s just the belief in each other and knowing that we have the guys to get it done in any situation,” he said.
The Martha’s Vineyard Sharks host the Wachusett Dirt Dogs in a double header on Sunday. Game times are 4 p.m and 6:45 p.m. The team plays the Nashua Silver Knights at home Tuesday at 6:45 p.m.