By Jon Mettus
June 24, 2016
COTUIT — Mike Roberts knelt alone in the dirt in front of the Cotuit dugout with his hand resting on his knee and his face buried deep within his fingers. He ran his hands through his hair, he stared at the ground, he drowned himself in the darkness created by his palm.
But he didn’t look up — not for long. The game that was unfolding just a few feet in front of him wasn’t one that he wanted to see. Yet it’s played over and over again through just 12 games this season — eleven of which have been losses.
This last one, an 11-2 blowout by Falmouth at Lowell Park, brought Roberts to his knees.
“Noncompetitive,” Roberts said. “I’ve been doing this 44 years — coaching. Never, never had a team that was noncompetitive, but right now we’re noncompetitive in this league.
“There’s a gap in the way the game is played between the other teams that we’ve seen … I’m blown away to be honest with you.”
The Kettleers have given up 22 more runs and 14 more walks than any other team, despite being on defense for the least amount of innings in the league. Cotuit (86) has surrendered 69 more runs than first place Harwich (16).
In the modern era of the Cape League dating back to 1963, no team has lost more than 36 games. Cotuit is barreling down the road to 40 loses with no signs of braking or a U-turn in sight.
“Long way to go,” Roberts said. “There’s just a gap and I’ve got to try to close the gap. We’ll keep trying to find that edge to close the gap.”
It starts with the mistakes.
Eddie Muhl (George Washington) hit a batter to load the bases in the third and a sacrifice fly plated the Commodores’ first run. Cotuit second baseman Alonzo Jones Jr. muffed a grounder into the outfield to start a seven-run seventh inning for Falmouth. The Kettleers haven’t even scored seven runs in a game all season.
The worst play of them all came in the fifth with a runner on second. One day removed from a nearly hour-long “reset” speech by Roberts centered around energy and effort — especially behind the plate — catcher Tim Susnara (Oregon) lazily trotted to a passed ball that skidded into the grass behind him. The runner on second took third easily and kept running home when pitcher Justin Hooper (UCLA) didn’t cover the plate.
“It breaks my heart that any player would loaf in any situation,” Roberts said. “… That should never happen.”
Even with assistant coach Nolan Clark calling pitches from the dugout — something Roberts has never resorted to in his 13 years with Cotuit and something he never had done for him when he was a catcher — the pitching didn’t improve.
Eight batters walked and four were hit with pitches. Cal Stevenson (Arizona), primarily an outfielder, was the only Cotuit pitcher to not do either of those things as he finished off the last two innings of the game.
“I despise it … and we don’t want to do it,” Roberts said. “But when you call pitches … you still have to be able to throw the ball where you call it and you have to be able to throw that pitch in a particular area.”
The team hardly meets after games anymore. That won’t fix it, Roberts says. But nothing else has worked either.
The team took a thousand grounders in practice today, Roberts said. There were still two botched plays in the infield.
His meeting on Wednesday to “reset” the team focused on each person outworking other players. Roberts would’ve given them no better than a “C”. But by the time he talked to the media, and the majority of the players had left, he hadn’t even bothered to circle a letter underneath “How the Kettleers play” written on the board in the dugout.
His late-night texts to the team serve as small glimpses of encouragement to an otherwise deadened squad.
“This is a first for me,” Robert said. “I have no excuses. … I just haven’t brought the right pieces together.”
This team and this season are proving to be tricky puzzles to solve.