By Roy Reiss
September 10, 2014
The 2014 season seems far off in the distance as the days churn by. The memories of what transpired from June through August become blurred but there’s no doubt that one memory of the past season stands out above all else.
It’s Saturday night, August 9th at Doran Park in Bourne. First round of the playoffs between the Kettleers and Braves. Game 3. And Jake Harper is the choice of coach Mike Roberts to get the start in the most important game of the season.
Jake Harper wasn’t even on the Kettleers roster in June or July. Jake Harper had pitched just one-and-two-thirds innings on the season for the Kettleers. Jake Harper from Division 2 St Joe’s, not in Pennsylvania but in Indiana.
“I just kind of made a decision at four in the morning and it was Jake Harper,” explained Roberts after the decisive 4-2 Game Three win.
So how did this all come about that Jake Harper from a little known Division 2 school is on the mound for Cotuit in a pivotal playoff game?
When the southpaw was a youngster growing up he saw the movie Summer Catch and had his heart set on playing someday in the Cape Cod Baseball League. He thought it might happen this summer as one of his coaches mentioned a possibility of an opening in Harwich or Hyannis if he continued to be impressive for his Front Royal Cardinals team. His hopes grew as he was named the Valley League’s Most Valuable Pitcher with a 5-0 record in 52 plus innings. But after his team was eliminated from the playoffs July 30th, his coach told him there wasn’t any opening on the Cape. Harper packed his bags and headed home in his car to the Chicago area.
The 12 hour drive was interrupted about halfway thru by a call from a Kettleers representative. Cotuit needed some pitching reinforcements and would Harper be available? The dream was coming true!
Harper arrived at his home around eight that night, had dinner, packed up his belongings, spent some time with his family and went to sleep at 2 that morning with a 5 AM wakeup call so he could make his flight at Chicago’s Midland airport.
“It was awesome, arriving in Cotuit and being part of the Kettleers for the final few games and then the playoffs,” said Harper. The rising senior at St. Joe’s appeared in only one game prior to the playoffs and pitched 1.2 innings in relief.
So how did it unfold that he’d start in the biggest game of the year?
“The night before we’re playing Bourne in the third game, Coach Roberts texted me and said I was going to throw a little bit in the game. He never said I was going to start so I arrived at the field early and was shagging batting practice because I enjoy that,” said Harper, when suddenly the pitchers were meeting in the dugout. “I was very surprised when the coach told us I was starting, but I didn’t want to act that way because I really wanted to start!
“In the game I didn’t have my best off speed stuff but the defense behind me was sensational, turning 3 double plays. Funny thing about the game was that it’s the only game I’ve ever pitched and didn’t strike anyone out.” Harper went 6.1 innings, allowing just 2 runs to the team that had the best record in the regular season. He walked one and hit a batter but kept his cool and even temperament throughout.
“In the 7th after giving up a hit, Coach Roberts came to the mound and said great job and shook my hand,” said Harper. “I was hoping he’d keep me in and we could turn another double play, but he said great job again and I knew that was it for the night.”
So the youngster who had dreamed of playing in the Cape Cod Baseball League had a whirlwind week to wrap up his summer of baseball. Front Royal, Virginia to just outside Chicago to Providence to Cotuit to Bourne. And some memories that will last forever.
“It was a great experience, something I’ll never forget!”
Kettleers Korner will be anything and everything that might interest fans, past and present, about the Kettleers. Roy Reiss, who started his career working for Curt Gowdy Broadcasting, was a former sportscaster on Channel 7 and several radio stations in Boston. His son Mike now covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.