Produced by Cierra Jordan
By: Matt McHugh and Matt Liberman
July 19, 2017
COTUIT – Cotuit head coach Mike Roberts turned from the Cotuit fans in Lowell Park to his two grandsons, Tyler and Brock. The two stood next to the Kettleers’ dugout, clutching a red bat. Engraved on the bat was a dedication to Roberts’ 300 wins with Cotuit. They handed their grandfather the bat as they watched tears fill his eyes.
“They were the reason I tear-dropped,” Roberts said. “My grandsons…that got to me.”
Standing in the on-deck circle, Roberts waved to a standing Kettleers’ crowd. Applause filled Lowell Park as the 14th-year head man
basked in the glory of win No. 300. Tears formed pools in his eyes and flowed down his cheeks. His jersey dripped with water from a Greyson Jenista (Wichita State) Gatorade bath. Roberts’ second-year slugger hugged him tightly before passing him along to the rest of the crowd.
For 10 minutes, Roberts was the center of the town of Cotuit, as the park honored its longest tenured coach. This Wednesday night, after facing an early 4-0 deficit, the Kettleers (16-14-1) turned on the jets, scoring 11 unanswered runs en route to an 11-4 crushing defeat over Hyannis (11-19-2). The win maintained Cotuit’s spot atop the West Division and ensured that Hyannis cannot win the season series. With one game remaining, Cotuit leads the series 3-1-1.
But Wednesday night the win was more than just a come-from-behind victory. Cotuit won this game in quintessential Roberts fashion. Cotuit stole five bases, drew five walks, and recorded 11 hits to score 11 runs. The Kettleers left just five runners on base tonight, taking advantage on the base paths.The team hit scrappy grounders that scored runners and mixed it with a home run to unload the bases. In the field, Cotuit made no errors and protected the pitching.
“This game really had everything,” Jenista said. “We hit the long ball, we stole, we ran. We really played Roberts baseball in a way.”
The game opened slowly for Cotuit, as Christian Demby (NC State) failed to get out of the first inning in his first start of the season. The outcome appeared bleak after the first two innings. Cotuit trailed 4-0 and remained hitless. In the first inning Hyannis starter Brooks Crawford (Clemson) struck out the side in Griffin Conine (Duke), Jenista, and Michael Toglia (UCLA).
But Cotuit responded in the third. After Conine and Jenista reached base, Michael Toglia sent them home on a line drive home run that whizzed over the right field fence. Hyannis right fielder Robert Neustrom (Iowa) never made an attempt at a play. He knew it was gone. With just one swing Toglia cut the lead to one. It was his second home run this season against Hyannis, the first being his game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth on July 10.
“I was in swing mode,” Toglia said. “So if I got a good pitch, I was swinging.”
Those three runs marked just the first three of 11 unanswered in this game. Terrin Vavra (Minnesota) drove in two runs in part of a five-run fifth inning for the Kettleers. During that inning, Roberts brutalized Hyannis’ right-handed pitchers by pinch-hitting Vavra so that Cotuit would bat seven lefties in a row. Roberts’ tactics worked. Cotuit scored five runs on five hits and had 10 plate appearances.
That inning gave Cotuit its first lead, extended beyond that point and the Kettleers never looked back. After the eighth inning, when the game was called due to darkness, Roberts heard the announcement that game gave him his 300th win as a Kettleer.
“I honestly had no idea,” Roberts said. “To be surprised by it, it feels a lot better.”
Since 2004 Roberts has sat at the helm in Cotuit. Since then he has racked up two Cape League Championships and 300 wins en route to establishing himself as Cotuit’s longest-tenured and winningest coach.
The Kettleers community has grown around him. Players and assistants have shifted, but the center of it all has remained the same.
“I think we have the best fans of any amateur team in the world,” Roberts said. “They are amazing. I have watched quite a few young men and young ladies grow up here. It’s such a pleasure.”
Families like the Flahertys, super-fans of the Kettleers. Peter Flaherty, has three sons, Peter Jr., William, and Matthew. Peter Jr., the oldest son, was just four when Roberts took over. William was just two, and Matthew would not be born for another three years. The family’s blood ties to the Kettleers and is forever tied to Roberts now as well.
Wednesday’s win against Hyannis will go down in the Cotuit record books and for Roberts, this win is one of the most special.
“Today probably ranks up there right aside those two championship trophies,” Roberts said. “I could never coach any other place and I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to coach here the last 14 years. I can say I’ll go home tonight and smile.”
Some members of Cotuit have been around Roberts for years now, here is some of what they had to say:
“Relationships are hard to build in the game. I’m glad we could get it done for him. He’s very much a player’s relationship coach. He gets emotional about this stuff. He just wants to see his guys do well.”
Assistant Coach Trey McCall:
“He’s the type of guy who honestly is such a day-to-day guy that’s why he’s so accomplished. Seeing what he does out here in the morning with the kids that’s just a love of the game. It’s an honor, but for him it’s an honor to just walk on the field every day.”
“He respects every coach that sends their player here, but at the same time what he does with the players is what makes the teams they go back to better. Ultimately, if they listen and buy into what he says they’ll improve in the draft and hopefully go farther in baseball than they can even imagine.”
Peter Flaherty Jr.:
“It couldn’t happen to a better guy. It’s pretty special. He’s preached the principles of hard work get you some where. To see 14 years later to get his 300th win in front of his family grandsons, it’s pretty special.”