As Martha’s Vineyard Sharks closer Matt Calamoneri threw warmup pitches to catcher Chris Miller, a cluster of kids gathered around the gate at the third base line, peeking through the wire, a dam waiting to burst if the Sharks won this game. The score was 6-3 and Calamoneri had been lights out all season. If the Sharks won, the second in a three-game series, they would be league champions.
It was Thursday night, one inning left in the game that would make history for the Vineyard’s young Futures Collegiate Baseball League. “Who said the game’s over?” one boy said as his friends made plans to get baseballs and gloves signed. One more inning, another boy said, but then the Sharks would have last ups because they were the home team. No way the visiting Nashua Silver Knights would score three runs. Four, someone corrected.
“Do you guys know this signature?” a different friend said, pointing to a scrawl on his baseball.
On the mound, Calamoneri quickly struck out one Silver Knight and walked another. A hit, then another out. Silver Knights outfielder Sean Lyons stepped up and made contact with the first pitch. It went straight into the glove of Sharks shortstop Dylan Tice. The Sharks were champions.
The 2013 season marked a year of firsts for the team, which was founded in 2011 as a charter member of the FCBL. There were the first stadium seats, brought in from Camden Yards and installed in May. The first games played at night, under tall shining lights. First time in the playoffs. And the kicker: first league title.
“I had no doubt,” general manager Jerry Murphy told the Gazette. “These guys are unbelievable.”
This year, seven Sharks players traveled to the FCBL All-Star game, the most the club has ever sent. Rightfielder Ryan Siegel of Mercyhurst College was named league batting champion at the end of the regular season. Pitcher Bob Carbaugh of Seton Hill, who set the FCBL record for single-season wins (eight regular season victories) earned pitcher of the year honors, and Tice, the shortstop, was both defensive player of the year and league most valuable player. On Thursday, he was named postseason MVP as well.
The entire team was playing in peak form in the postseason, sweeping their way through the FCBL playoffs, which began last week, and building on a strong 35-18 regular season. Nashua came into the final series as two-time defending league champs.
But the Sharks never trailed in Thursday’s game, which took place before a crowd of more than 800 people. Attendance at Sharks games has markedly increased this year with the new lights, which allowed for night games and eliminated the team’s longtime competition — the beach.
Starting pitcher Matt Timoney of Harvard College held the Silver Knights to two runs through four innings, while the Sharks had four runs, three on the bat of Dylan Tice. Standout defensive plays by Chris Miller at the plate and Ryan Siegel in the outfield kept the home team in good standing, as did Timoney’s five strikeouts, but in the seventh inning, Nashua pulled within one run.
The Sharks answered the call, loading the bases in the bottom of the inning and paving the way for Nik Campero’s second RBI of the night, as he sent Tad Gold, of Endicott College, home to make the score 5-3.
An insurance run was added in the eighth when Miller took advantage of a Silver Knights error to sprint from first base all the way home on a Brett Holmgren double.
Relief pitchers Jon Dunn and Kyle Brenner continued to shut down the Silver Knights until Calamoneri entered in the final inning.
“They wanted to end it tonight,” Mr. Murphy said. “They knew they had to get a couple of runs to solidify the lead, and they did.” The day had gotten off to an auspicious start, he reported, as the team had packed into the tiny Art Cliff Diner to “feed their faces” and revel in the previous night’s win, when they defeated the Silver Knights 11-2. The Sharks also started the season with a team breakfast at Art Cliff.
“It’s crazy how in two months you become more like brothers,” Calomoneri said. The brotherhood extends beyond the roster; Calamoneri gave his brand-new championship bat to his host brother, Hunter Meader, who is also the team bat boy.
After the trophy ceremony, second baseman Nick Sanford returned to the baseline to collect his hat, which he’d thrown in the air after winning. He walked back to the dugout accompanied by an entourage of young fans.
“He’s my favorite player,” exclaimed Matty Moore. Asked how many signed baseballs and shirts he had, Matty paused, but Sanford laughed and made an estimate. “More than 500.”
The number may be exaggerated, but nevertheless, Matty said, “I’m never, ever going to throw them away.”
Sanford was also on the Sharks last year, part of a core group of returnees that includes Kyle Brenner, Justin Meier, and coach Mike Miller, who was an assistant. Dylan Tice played for 10 days with the 2012 Sharks and came back for a full season. This year’s assistant coaches, Anthony Corona and Ryan Morris, were both Sharks alums.
“Everyone bought into winning,” Sanford said. Going into the ninth inning, he said, he lost the jitters of will-we-or-won’t-we: “I knew we wanted it.”
“It was a lot of fun, my first year, to have this under my belt,” said rookie Jack Roberts, who arrived on the Sharks straight out of the Vineyard regional high school. He heads off to the Williams College baseball team and will likely return next year, ensuring that there will be at least one Islander represented on the team.
This season was Vineyarder Tad Gold’s final year of eligibility. He’s been with the Sharks for all three summers of their existence.
“This is just a really great team,” Gold said, reaching down to sign a proffered baseball from a young boy. “It really wouldn’t have been right if it had ended any other way.
“I’ve been there since the beginning. I’ve seen it all, seen how [the Sharks] have grown, from the team to the organization. It’s been nothing but class A from the start.”