Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mariners’ Lafata reflects on team’s 7-1 start to season

"Mariners’ Lafata reflects on team’s 7-1 start to season"
By Jason Brisbois

CAPE ANN - While the record is no longer perfect, it’s still nothing to sneeze at.

The Manchester Essex Mariners began the 2009 season by jumping out to a 7-0 start before falling to Rowley by a 7-3 score on Tuesday night. Not a bad way to start out defense of the Mariners’ 2008 Intertown Twilight League title. And certainly not a bad way to send a message to the rest of the league that the Mariners are still the team to beat.

The Cape Ann Beacon recently caught up with Manchester Essex’s player/coach Bryan Lafata, who has played in the ITL for the past 18 years and is in his fifth year at the Mariner helm to get his thoughts on the 2009 season so far.

Is this the best start you've seen with the team? Is any other season comparable?

As far as I can remember, 7-0 is one of the better starts I've been a part of. It is a deceptive start though, as we really have not played very consistent.

How much do you think momentum from last season's championship has carried over? Is there a high confidence level with this team?

The confidence level definitely carries over from last year. Also, pitching and defense is what really led us last year. Pitching is keeping up their end of the bargain so far this year, but our defense has not been very stellar.

What does the team look like compared with last year's team? Are a lot of players back from that group?

We have almost the entire team back from last year, and we've added a few young players to help with depth and give them experience in the ITL. Pitching is definitely a strength, as we have six-to-seven legitimate pitchers. Our depth is also a positive when we have the entire squad there.

Why do you think you've been so successful so far this season?

The pitching staff has done a great job, led by Mike Gibbon who is 3-0 to start the year with only one earned run in 18 innings. Steve Stout and Jack Brancaleone have been the other two starters that have pitched well. Ryan Marques has been tremendous out of the bullpen, and we added a new righthander, Matt Hildebrand, who is very consistent around the strike zone. Mike Cain, Dylan Maki and MacKenzie Quinn add more depth to the staff as the season goes along.

How about the offense?

Offensively, our most consistent hitters have been leadoff hitter Rory Gentile, Nate Bertolino and first baseman Mike Cain. All three have been hitting the ball well and getting on base at a great rate. Rory is our leadoff hitter and really does a great job setting the table for us. Nate has been one of the best all-around players in the league for some time now, and is so consistent for us day in, and day out. Mike has been a pleasant surprise early this year; we know he's a great athlete and hitter, but he has been really driving the ball and taking full advantage of all the baserunners on when he is up. He also plays a tremendous first base, which makes life much easier on the pitching staff.

How important is it to have a fast start in the ITL? What can this do for your team the rest of the season?

It's nice to have a fast start to begin the season, but I'd much rather finish strong. I've been in the league many years and seen quite a few teams start hot and then fade at the end of the season or in the postseason. It's always good to stay near the top of the standings early in the season, so as the season moves along you do not need to try and get yourself out of a hole and depend on other teams to lose their games.

Starting strong does provide confidence to the team, but in baseball, anything can happen. We lost to Rowley as they have a very strong and deep team. Topsfield, like Rowley, has added a core of good young ballplayers, and they are going to be in it for the long run. That then leaves Rockport, Hamilton, Ipswich and Beverly who have all been in the top of league for many years. So really, anyone can win on any given day and you can't expect to win by just showing up to the park. Last year was one of the most competitive seasons I've seen, and this year looks to follow the same path.