After the boys of summer leave, the men of fall arrive.
They trickled into practice at the Vineyard Baseball Park on a recent Monday afternoon, most arriving by 5:30 p.m. and some showing up later. Just about everyone comes from their day jobs, which range from electrician to tennis pro, shellfish constable to store owner. But when the Vineyard Dogfish hit the diamond, it’s all about baseball.
They stretch in the dugout and on the field, putting a little more care into the stretching, since most everybody is older than 40 and they’re not as spry as they used to be. Fielding drills are up first on the practice schedule, then batting. The whole team needs to work on base running; that was a trouble spot in the previous weekend’s game.
Someone makes an impressive barehanded grab in the infield.
“Oh, that’s real baseball right there,” a teammate says.
“When do we get to hit?” another jokingly asks.
The Dogfish have existed unofficially for some time, but this marks their second year as a competitive team. They’re part of the Baseball Clubs of Cape Cod, playing in the 40-and-over division. Half the team consists of Little League coaches and managers who wanted to play the game, not just coach it — so they started Sunday pickup games four years ago, inviting anybody who was interested to come play hardball. Two years ago, current Little League vice-president Adam Bresnick learned of the Baseball Clubs while ordering equipment. He connected with league commissioner Sam Fedele, who proposed a scrimmage against one of the existing clubs. The teams played a double-header with a cookout in between.
“We got beat up pretty bad, but it wasn’t, oh, we should never ever do this,” recalled Dogfish manager Drew Kelly. “It was, we could join and be the worst team in this league.” He came up with the team moniker because, he explained in a semi-serious tone, a dogfish is “a [lesser] shark . . . they represent everything we want to be: tenacious, bothersome.”
Last year when the Dogfish formally joined the Baseball Clubs as an expansion team, they were far from bottom of the barrel. They finished with a 5-3 record.
This year, the team is off to a 4-1 start (the team also had summer scrimmages with regional high school baseball players). They travel off-Island on Wednesdays, playing on the Cape on the same fields the summer college league uses, and hosting doubleheaders at the Vineyard Baseball Park on Saturdays, for a total of 18 games this fall. The Baseball Clubs have a spring season as well, but with so many Dogfish involved in Little League, that option was out.
During Dogfish season “we can make our kids sit and watch us,” Mr. Bresnick laughed.
At a recent practice, catcher Kris Lukowitz’s son Jonas played centerfield, running down the long balls and causing other players to lament that he wasn’t 40 yet. Both Lukowitzes are catchers on their respective teams, Jonas said, and sometimes compare stats (he has an edge just by virtue of playing more games).
Jason Chalifoux played baseball in college and in semi-pro leagues before he moved to the Vineyard, but his son Cody had never seen him in action before. The Dogfish changed that.
“That was my thing, I was a baseball player,” Mr. Chalifoux said. “They didn’t have anything [on the Vineyard] before.” Previous attempts at regular pickup had ultimately fizzled, and off-Island competition was never more than a germ of an idea.
“There was nobody here to play baseball with,” said Joe Farina, another former college and semi-pro player, and one of the team’s three permitted exceptions to the over-40 rule (Michael Halisky and Isaiah Scheffer are the others). After a lengthy stint recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery, Mr. Farina wanted to get back in the game, but wasn’t sure how to do that while on the Vineyard. He heard about the Sunday pickup and has been part of the team ever since. A pitcher in his earlier baseball life, he said he likes having the chance to play other positions (usually shortstop).
“There’s all different skill levels,” said Paul Cardoza, who came to the team because his kids are Little Leaguers. “Everyone’s so into it, so into the game.”
Drew Kelly said he spends a couple of hours a week scribbling out a lineup.
“Everyone kind of moves around and knows how to play different positions,” he said, making his job deceptively challenging. The lineups are flexible and apt to change inning by inning, but “there’s never been a bit of griping.” Good-natured dugout griping and ribbing, of course, is a given for any baseball team.
“It’s a blast,” Mr. Kelly said. “More of the guys are closer to 50 now, but the idea that we’re doing it now — it’s great.”