Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Townies’ slow start and quick rebound similar to 2008

"Townies’ slow start and quick rebound similar to 2008"
By Jason Brisbois

This story might seem a bit familiar to those who follow Rockport’s Intertown Twilight League baseball team: The Townies began the regular season slowly, going 1-3 out of the gate and sputtering to get wins. After a recent run, Rockport is now back in the thick of things in the ITL, improving its record to 5-4 and moving up to third place in the standings.

Not a bad turnaround at all. However, if this scenario seems familiar, it’s because a similar story unfolded in 2008 for the Townies. Rockport started 1-4 and sputtered in beginning their defense of the 2007 ITL championship. The team then righted the ship and rebounded, improving their record to a manageable 4-5-1 by the last week of June.

That sense of déjà vu was certainly not lost on Jeremy Spittle, the Townies’ player/coach.

“Last year, I think we got off to an even worse start,” said Spittle, now in his 10th year with the team. “I don’t know. It’s a combination of things, from missing guys early in the year to collective rust from the year before, to not being crisp and ready to go. I think we’ve done this the last couple of years, but I think in comparison to last year, we’re bouncing back quicker.”

Indeed, they seem to be. The Townies are back on the plus side of .500 with a few weeks left in the month, whereas it took them until the threshold of July to even reach .500 last year. And they seem to be settling into a groove just a bit quicker than last season, thanks in large part to a jam-packed schedule over the past week. In fact, the large number of games in a short span of time seems to have given this team momentum: The Townies defeated Ipswich, 7-5 on Monday night, and also by a 4-2 score the night before that. They also beat Beverly, 9-3, on Friday. Five days, three wins and the Townies are back in the hunt.

“Playing Beverly on Friday, and Ipswich on Sunday and Monday, from our end we can see the team get in more of a rhythm offensively,” said Spittle. “We’re seeing the ball better. We were rusty earlier in the year.”

It’s the evolution of the offense that has propelled the team back above .500 and where it seems to belong, especially after being a playoff team last season. Players such as Tommy Robertson (who was phenomenal against Beverly, going 3-for-4 with 3 RBIs and 3 runs scored), Chris Bouchie (2-for-4, 2 walks on Monday against Ipswich), Brent and Brock Currier and Spittle himself all contributed at the plate and showed the form that was present during last season’s similar renaissance.

“We weren’t getting that timely hit,” said Spittle. “The guys that produced over the weekend weren’t coming through then, and this weekend we saw a lot more of that. We saw a lot more productive-looking swings. Nobody was just swinging at the first pitch.”

The pitching has been fairly consistent this season, which is impressive considering the Townies will be without their ace, Adam Orlando, this season. Orlando is out due to injury, but stalwarts such as Brent Currier and Lou McGrath have done an admirable job toeing the rubber. Even in the early season defeats, the pitching staff has kept the team in tight games, including a 2-1 loss to Rowley and a 3-2 loss to Manchester Essex.

“It wasn’t like we were pitching that bad earlier in the year,” Spittle said. “The walks were killing us. Now I’ve noticed the pitching has come alive the past couple of games, with Lou and Brent.”

Another key name on the mound is Andrew Vasallo, who came on in relief of Greg Kistner in Monday’s win over Ipswich and helped to keep the Chiefs in check just enough to allow the Townies to rally.

There are also a number of players who have moved into key roles with the team and are producing at the right time. Dan Greel, who local high school baseball fans will remember as an all-star with the Rockport Vikings, has been a revelation at catcher for the Townies. Greel has also contributed at the plate, going 3-for-3 with a homerun against Ipswich on Sunday.

“Dan has started every game at catcher for us and has made a big difference at that position for us,” said Spittle. “He went 3-for-3 the other night, and he’s thrown out guys in a couple of games. He hasn’t gotten consistent playing time with us before, but this year he’s the catcher and we’re going to ride him out.”

Other names that will seem instantly familiar to high school baseball fans are Ryan Cusick and Conor Resel, two members of the Gloucester High baseball team that made this spring’s memorable run to the Eastern Mass finals and have signed on to play for the Townies this summer.

“If they don’t have a Legion baseball commitment, they’ll be at most of the games if they can make them,” Spittle said. “They’ll more than likely start the majority of the time here. They’re good, very young ballplayers.”

All of this is intentionally part of the “Keeping up with the Joneses” aspect of the ITL. Manchester Essex, Rockport’s cross-town rival and the defending league champion, was undefeated so far this season as of the start of the week. Keeping up with the Mariners is essential for the Townies.

“We wanted to mix in older guys with younger guys, which is the route Manchester adopted,” Spittle said. “We’ve got to keep up with them. They’re our number one rival, and always have been.”

The Townies play Hamilton on Sunday and will face Beverly on Thursday.