By: Aram Leighton
Children run on, under and around the grandstands and use any open area to throw a baseball, just like the college stars they’re watching on the field. Grandparents, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews and grandkids, that is to say fans, sit back in their chairs, set up hours before the game, eating hot dogs, talking to the fan next to them, while penciling every pitch into their scorebooks. Baseball games at Lowell Park, home of the Cape Cod Baseball League’s Cotuit Kettleers, is a meeting of the generations.
For University of Maine catcher and Cotuit native Cody Pasic, Kettleers games fostered his love for baseball. He rarely missed a game with his mother, father, aunt, grandfather and grandmother. But it was his grandfather, Donald Barth, a Kettleers board member, who passed his love for the team down the family tree. Eventually it made it to Cody.
He was 6, when he met a couple of players his aunt was hosting. Jason Donald, a Cotuit standout and future Major Leaguer, was instantly Cody’s favorite.
Cody started attending games to cheer on Donald and the other players his aunt was hosting. Soon after, Cody signed up for the Kettleers’ baseball camps. A few years later, Cody’s mother, Jennifer, started hosting Kettleers and by the time he was 12, Cody was volunteering at the camp and even serving as the team’s bat boy and later bullpen catcher.
As he played ball at the camps and in recreation leagues, his family began to realize he was a good athlete. He split time between hockey and baseball as he got older, dreaming of climbing to the top of both sports.
“In the winter I always wanted to be a Bruin. As the summer came on it wasn’t being a Red Sox … I wanted to be a Kettleer,” Cody says.
Cody continued playing both sports through high school and earned offers to play both sports in college. He ultimately elected to play baseball at the University of Maine, keeping his dream of playing in the premier summer collegiate league and wearing Cotuit across his chest alive.
Cody found playing time right away at Maine and enjoyed some success, but for a player at a mid-major school to make it to the Cape Cod League your numbers have to be off the charts good and he knew it.
But his grandfather, who had seen many players come through Lowell Park in his years as a fan and on the team’s board, always reminded Cody that he could be a Kettleer.
Cody just wanted to prove him right.
He remained focused on what he could control, putting up consistent numbers, rarely striking out and offering good defense behind the plate. Cody even made it on SportsCenter’s top 10 plays for a diving, run saving effort at the home plate against Ole Miss.
As his junior season came to an end last spring, Cody started to prepare for what was next. He spent his previous two summers in the West Coast League for the Bellingham Bells and was ready to possibly spend his last summer baseball season in the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL).
The hope was that he could have some success in the NECBL and earn a late season roster spot on the Kettleers. But again, Cody could only focus on what he could control and just enjoy the down time between the end of the school year and summer baseball season.
Which is when Cody, hanging out with some friends, heard his phone ring. It was Kettleers GM Bruce Murphy. Cody had a good feeling about what Murphy had to say, so he put the phone on speaker. Murphy offered Cody a temporary contract to play for the Kettleers. Like a player hearing his named called on draft day, Cody’s friends mobbed him and celebrated.
Each Cape League team gives out a certain amount of temporary contracts to fill in for the contract players who arrive late or may not arrive at all. Coaches and teams have until July 10th to decide whether to tender a full season contract to the temporary players or cut them to sign with another team or league.
The tricky part for players and coaches is as full season contract players trickle in, roster spots dwindle. Sometimes coaches are forced to make opinions on players after just a few at bats or innings.
Kettleers manager, Mike Roberts, has been tasked with those tough decisions in Cotuit for 15 seasons, something he says does not get any easier for either side.
“I so admire every athlete who comes to the cape league on a temporary contract,” Roberts says. “The young men accept the fact they have no guarantees to be in uniform the next day until the deadline passes.”
Cody had been around Roberts and the Kettleers for a while, he had seen Roberts make those difficult decisions over the years, seen hundreds of temporary players come and go.
“I looked at the [Kettleers] roster and I was like, ‘Man, I am not even going to be there for a week, so I am just going to make the most of it,” Cody says.
That sentiment was not rooted in a lack of confidence by Cody, but the fact that the 2019 Kettleers roster featured the reigning NCAA batting champion, Nick Gonzales, as well as several other players projected to be selected in the first few rounds of the 2020 MLB Draft.
Regardless, Cody and his family were going to get their moment, he was going to take the field at least once as a player for the Cotuit Kettleers.
Cody’s family rarely missed any of his games. Hockey or baseball, middle school or high school his mother, father and grandparents would set their chairs up to watch Cody compete. Now they were going to get to watch him play on the field where they watched so many future big leaguers filter through and make names for themselves – the same field where Cody’s grandfather used to pull his truck up five hours before each game to get the best view.
As Cody eagerly awaited the start of the season, he had something big weighing on his mind. His grandfather, Donald, had been sick; his health was diminishing. Cody knew his grandfather’s days were numbered, but he desperately wanted his grandfather to see him take the field with the maroon pinstripe jersey on his back. He wanted to prove him right.
On Opening Day, Donald died at the age of 87. Cody was devastated. He and his grandfather shared so much – a love for the Kettleers, a love of baseball, hell, they even shared the same birthday.
But in the season’s third game, Cody stepped into the Kettleers’ batter’s box for the first time – asked to pinch hit. His entire family was in attendance. They had saved an open seat for his grandfather.
Cody stepped into the box and nervously watched a 95 MPH fastball whiz past him and pop into the catcher’s glove. He took a deep breath, reset and stepped back into the box.
He took a big rip at the next pitch and missed. He got his bat on the third pitch and fouled it off. The count remained 0-2. He wouldn’t bite on a ball outside. And then, as if he had been doing it his entire life and with his family watching, Cody laced a fastball into the outfield for an RBI single.
“When I stepped on first base I could feel him with me,” Cody says of his grandfather. “Every single time I stepped out there I could feel him with me.”
His day wasn’t done. Cody would get one more at bat in the ninth inning with his team up big and smacked another RBI single to give him two hits and a pair of RBI in his Kettleers debut.
The two hit performance earned Cody a start against Brewster in the next game and he singled, walked and scored a run.
Cody’s hot start earned him split time with Kentucky standout Coltyn Kessler, with the two alternating behind home plate. Through 10 games, Cody was hitting .364 with a .500 OBP.
He was giving Roberts no choice but to find him at-bats and, more importantly, find a spot for him on the roster.
In the 11th game of the season, Kessler went down with a knee bruise. Suddenly, Cody was playing every day. As July 10th, the temporary contract deadline, loomed, he showed no signs of slowing down. He was one of the most consistent hitters on the team.
The deadline came and went and the Kettleers decided to keep Cody for the rest of the summer. As Kessler returned from injury, the two began splitting time behind the plate once again.
The duo complemented each other nicely. Kessler was a 6’3,” 215 pound power threat and Cody was nearly impossible to strike out.
On the afternoon of July 13th, the Kettleers were taking batting practice at Lowell Park before a road trip to Bourne to take on the Braves. That’s when the Cape Cod League announced its all-star teams.
The Kettleers were sending a league most 10 players to the game at Eldridge Park. One of those all-stars was Cody Pasic.
Again, like a player on draft day, the Kettleers went wild and jumped all over Cody. Not only was he a Kettleer, he was a Cape League All-Star. Also headed to the big game with Cody was another Cotuit native and high school teammate of his pitcher, Chris Holcomb. The duo was sharing their childhood dream every time they took the field, 60 feet 6 inches apart.
The game was set for July 21st, at Cape Cod’s oldest baseball field. The Kettleers had a few more games to play before then, so the focus shifted back on batting practice.
As Cody stepped into the turtle for his first round of batting practice, his teammates joked with him, “You’re a slap hitter, when are you going to get an extra base hit,” they would say. Despite all of Cody’s success, at the all-star break he had 13 hits, all of them singles.
But who cared? Not Cody. He didn’t need extra base hits. He was an all-star.
Eldredge Park was buzzing for the summer’s All-Star game. The green hills surrounding the field were no longer visible as over 5,000 fans packed them with their chairs. There was not an open seat in the house … except for the one in right field. Next to Cody’s family.
The seat set up for his grandfather.
What happened next, well, you can look it up but why don’t you just take my word for it. It wasn’t quite worthy of The Natural treatment, but it was one of those baseball moments that you hear about from time to time, almost too poetic to be believable. The homerless all-star was asked to pinch hit in the fifth inning of a 1-1 pitcher’s duel. The “slap hitter” liked the second pitch he saw and sent it over the wall in right field, halfway up a tree where it would fall to the ground right where his family was sitting. Yes, just a few feet from his grandfather’s empty chair.
* * *
It took Cody 51 at-bats to pick up his first extra base hit, but that didn’t stop him from floating around the bases to the roar of thousands of fans cheering for his go-ahead homer, most not knowing that it meant so much more.
The East would go on to lose the game, 6-5, but as far as Cody’s family was concerned, the game was a win.
The Kettleers were back in action on the 23rd with seven regular season games remaining before the playoffs. Cotuit had come off of a couple of disappointing first round exits and Manager Mike Roberts was hungry for his first title since 2013.
Cotuit would get a tough match up with the defending champion, Wareham Gateman, to start the postseason. The Kettleers dropped the first game of the three game series at Wareham, then traveled back to Cotuit to fend off elimination at home.
By now, every single time Cody stepped up to the plate at Lowell Park there was a distinguishable and more audible cheer from the Cotuit crowd for the home town kid.
The Kettleers got up early on the Gatemen and in the fifth, were looking to add on. That’s when Cody struck again, launching a no-doubter into the Gatemen bullpen in right field. Lowell Park may have never been louder. The Cotuit faithful stayed on their feet well beyond Cody’s jog around the bases, overpowering the voice of longtime Kettleer’s PA announcer, Roy Reiss, as he introduced the next batter.
“When I came around third I pointed at my family knowing that was for them,” Cody says.
The Kettleers went on to win that game 22-2, then handled the Gatemen in Wareham to advance to a semi-final match up with the Falmouth Commodores.
There was something special in the air, any player will tell you that they just know they are going to win a title. It may not happen often, but when it does it’s unmistakable. They felt it.
The Kettleers swept the Commodores in two games to face the Harwich Mariners in the Cape League Championship, a matchup of strengths – Harwich, had great pitching and had already thrown a no hitter in the postseason. Cotuit had scored more than triple the runs the Mariners had in the postseason. Something had to give.
In Game 1, neither side wanted to give. Cotuit found themselves down two runs in the ninth inning with lights out closer, Joe Boyle on to close it out. The 6’7 righty from Notre Dame had struck out 28 batters in 14 innings, surrendering just five hits all season.
The Kettleers were able to string three hits together in the ninth including a game-tying RBI single by shortstop, Adam Oviedo off of a 100 MPH fastball to send the game into extra innings.
The game remained scoreless into the top of the 15th inning. Oviedo came through again leading off the 15th with a single. Pinch hitter, Christian Robinson struck out and now it was Cody’s turn to face Will Heflin, the Mariner’s crafty southpaw.
Cody was 0-6 in the game, but Roberts decided to stick with his left-handed hitting catcher rather than elect for a pinch hitter. The move paid off. Cody punched a single into center sending Oviedo to third and bringing up the Cape Cod League MVP, Nick Gonzales.
Gonzales did what he did all year long and bashed a single into center to break the tie in the top of the 15th. Richard Brereton shut the door to end an incredible six inning relief appearance and the Kettleers were one game away from a Cape League title.
For the next game, the Kettleers returned home to Lowell Park with a chance to win a title in front of the Cotuit faithful.
The Kettleers had all of the momentum and thanks to a gutsy, six scoreless innings from Brereton, a Division III pitcher, many of Cotuit’s best bullpen arms were fresh.
The Kettleers were in control all game, cruised to a 10-3 victory to seal the team’s first title since 2013 and a dog pile ensued on the Lowell Park mound. Cody ended his season with a typical-for-him stat line: 1 for 2 with a single, 3 walks and no strikeouts.
Cody celebrated with his teammates. And when the dog pile was peeled back, the first person to greet him was his father. They both had tears in their eyes.
“He’s never hugged me like that, he squeezed me so tight, I thought he was going to break my ribs,” Cody says.
The Lowell Park fans, friends and family made their way to the field seats to soak in the victory with the players. Absent, of course, was Cody’s grandfather.
While Cody’s grandfather’s seat was empty, Cody was filled with his grandfather’s pride and purpose, holding onto him through the pantomime of the Cape Cod Baseball League season, a league he once thought he might not be good enough to make, a league that turned out it was inevitable for Cody to star in.
Grampa was right all along, Cody became a Kettleer. He became an All-Star. He became a champion. But he had always been the grandson of Donald Barth.