Friday, August 22, 2008

ITL Dynasties A Cape Ann Thing

ITL Dynasties Are Still Exclusive to Cape Ann
By Dom Nicastro


The current best streak in the Intertown Baseball League for reaching the finals is two by Hamilton.

Just eight more to go, and they'll catch Rockport. And only 14 more, and they'll be in the same company as Manchester.

Rockport's streak of 10 straight finals appearances was snapped this season by Manchester/Essex, which won the championship by sweeping Hamilton, 3-0, in the best-of-five series last week.

Before Rockport began its string, it was Manchester, which saw its championship appearance streak snapped at 16 in 2002.

Three decades. At least one of the same two teams in the finals.

Rockport and Manchester playing in August in the '80s, '90s and the last seven years was as much a part of Cape Ann's summer scene as whale watches and cars with New York plates going down one-way streets.

The names changed through the years. In Manchester, it went from Atwater and Brown to Mitchell and McCarthy. In Rockport, from Emerson and Parisi to Spittle and Currier.

No matter the names, the championship was owned by the two town teams once separated by a scenic drive on Route 127.

Players and managers in the league say it takes a number of components to be as successful as Rockport and Manchester -- from a core group of natives to a solid recruiting process outside of town. It also takes good old-fashioned chemistry, a departure from the 15 guys, 15 cabs mentality.

"Playing against those two teams you would see the core of the team stay intact," said Bryan Lafata, who coaches and plays for the current ITL champions and is a 17-year ITL member. "A winning tradition was passed on through the various generations, and the young players learned the ropes and have carried on the tradition. They were always consistent, day in and day out. Guys also understood their roles on the team; it wasn’t as if there were only 10 guys showing up. They would have full rosters and guys would understand what their roles were for the team."

Another player/manager who tried for years to crack the Rockport-Manchester stranglehold is Hamilton's Tom Jones. The Generals have made the finals the past two years, losing to Rockport and Manchester/Essex (the latter team is a combination of the defunct Essex Shipbuilders and Manchester Mariners leftovers).

Jones mentioned "consistency" in both programs' rosters. He also cited some players' loyalty to their towns.

"The towns have a lot to do with the team's makeup," Jones said. "I think every player in the ITL takes pride in playing for their particular town. That kind of loyalty and bond makes them want to stay, and it makes it seem like there is more at stake every year. It is easier to make the commitment of the season when you are tied to the team. Such a bond doesn't exist in other similar leagues, making the player turnover high every year."

Darin Dagle knows all about loyalty. The retired Rockport Townie and former Division 2 collegiate All-American was part of the team's championship runs from 1998 through the early part of the 21st Century.

He credits most of the Townies' success to their inspirational leader, the late Jade Donaldson. The Rockport mainstay was a player and coach who remained on the sidelines and in the stands until his final days last year after a long battle with cancer.

"To me, the underlying reason for what the Townies are and were all goes back to Jade and everything he put into that team," Dagle said. "Jade cultivated the whole atmosphere about how baseball is serious and fun, and he took advantage of the out-of-town rule by 'recruiting' guys who could play -- like Mike Sutera, the Lindsays (Dave and Jay), Dom Nicastro, the Bouchies, Eddie Morais and the list goes on and on -- but more importantly would fit in with the type of guys the team already had. He made the Townies a brand, and got people to come out to the games. As good as the players have been, I think any conversation that about a potential dynasty that we had begins and ends with 'Jado.'"

Jeremy Spittle, this year's Rockport player/coach, said he thinks this year's setback is merely a "bump in the road."

"Learning from and playing with guys like John Parisi, Sutera, Dagle and Scott Bouchie certainly contributed a lot in terms of how you should carry yourself and how you play the game," Spittle said. "The biggest thing after those guys left was that we still had a good, tight-knit core group of guys who led us into a new era. Guys like Brent Currier, Adam Orlando, Chris Bouchie, Marc Bouchie, and Justin Paradis along with myself, were able to continue carrying the torch because of the experience we had gained from playing with guys like Parisi and Sutera."

Rockport always found a way. And so did Manchester. If there ever is to be another dynasty like theirs in the ITL, the league will not know for another decade or two.

"Bottom line is the team has had a great deal of talent through the years and -- just as importantly -- we always got along better than any team I've ever seen," Dagle said. "We were good, we knew it, we had a lot of fun playing and even more fun after the final out, but we always played hard and played right once game time rolled around. I know when I played (and also in knowing a lot of the guys that play now), we were all just ballplayers. Every summer we were completely consumed by playing for the Townies. It was the only thing that mattered those three months. We loved being at the field, and it was never taken for granted that we had another opportunity to play the game."