Awards Handed Out On Wednesday Night

By Greg Joyce

Prior to Wednesday night’s regular season home finale against Chatham, the Orleans Firebirds organization handed out their annual awards, citing eight players who went above and beyond expectations throughout the season.

The Charles F. Moore, Sr. Award for the team’s most valuable player went to Matt Duffy (Long Beach State), who was outstanding for the Firebirds all season long. Coming in as a temp, Duffy filled in at shortstop, second base, and third base, displaying his versatility in the field. He also slid into the three-spot in the lineup by the midpoint of the season, and finished the season as the team’s leading hitter, batting .346.

Duffy’s roommate and journey-mate, Ben Waldrip (Jacksonville State) shared the Charles F. Moore, Jr. Award with John Brebbia (Elon). The award cited Waldrip and Brebbia for their outstanding performance on and off the field. The young men have performed incredibly on the field for their team, and are two of the nicest players you will meet off the field as well.

Trevor Gott (Kentucky) was awarded with the Thomas Yankus Pitching Award for his performance on the mound. Gott finished the season 12-for-12 in save opportunities, with a 1.29 ERA. The All-Star’s cool demeanor and impressive poise on the hill earned him the relief pitcher of the year for the CCBL.

The next award was the Castleberry Coaches’ award, and it went to Reed Gragnani (Virginia) and Ronnie Shaeffer (UC Irvine). These two players did everything their coaches asked of them, and came to the field each and every day with great attitudes that their coaches were lucky to have.

Finally, the Harry Hossfeld Spirit Award was given to Andrew Aplin (Arizona State) and Anthony Gomez (Vanderbilt). These two players gave the Firebirds a much-needed spark when they arrived at the beginning of July, and their presence and energy could be felt in every game. Whether they were hitting, making spectacular defensive plays, or just getting guys excited in the dugout, Aplin and Gomez gave Orleans the jumpstart it needed to lock up the number one seed in the East.

Together, Duffy and Waldrip Share Journey From Temp to All-Star

By Greg Joyce

They both came in as temporary players, uncertain of how long their stay on the Cape would be. They both played well enough to earn full contracts. They usually play next to each other on the diamond, and hit back-to-back in the Orleans Firebirds lineup. They are roommates and have developed a great friendship, on and off the field. And on Friday, they will both shine under the bright lights of Fenway Park for the 2011 Cape Cod Baseball League All-Star Game. Together.

Matt Duffy (Long Beach State) and Ben Waldrip (Jacksonville State) have done nearly everything together during their summer on the Cape. Although they may have different playing styles, their success has been off the charts, exemplifying what the Cape League is all about: players who come in and turn heads, making a name for themselves. Duffy and Waldrip have certainly done that in Orleans, as they have become household names with their performances every night. Now with both being named to the All-Star team, they are starting to get recognized league-wide. After going through leaps and bounds just to get a chance to play on the Cape, both Duffy and Waldrip are finally getting the recognition they deserve.

Getting to the Cape

The road to the Cape was not easy for either player.

Duffy knew he wanted to be playing for a Cape League team this summer, and worked for it all year long at Long Beach State.

“I pushed with my coaches to try to get me out here on the Cape for a long time,” Duffy said. “Our infield coach and third base coach at Long Beach, Jesse Zepeda, really fought to get me out here too. He did everything he could: made calls, every day, every week.”

The determination paid off, as Duffy was finally offered a temporary contract by Orleans field manager Kelly Nicholson, after other teams passed over him.

Waldrip had a similar story in terms of trying to get a roster spot. After putting up stellar numbers in his freshman season at St. Anselm’s, the big man was not even invited to try out to play on the Cape.

“It was kind of a bummer,” Waldrip said about not getting the invite.

In his sophomore year, Waldrip was coming off surgery and played for Y-D field manager Scott Pickler at Cypress College. But not even Pickler would give Waldrip a shot on the Cape, and he was forced to play in the New England Collegiate Baseball League instead.

“It was kind of like people were always saying ‘You’re not good enough to play in this league,’” Waldrip said.

Finally after putting up more impressive numbers in his junior year at Jacksonville State, Waldrip was offered the temporary contract.

“I talked to Kelly on the phone, and he was like, ‘We need a temporary first baseman,’” Waldrip explained. “So I was like, ‘If I hit, will I stick around?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah we’ll keep you as long as we can.’ But realistically, I figured at some point I’d be released.”

“And everyone was saying, ‘Oh, you’re just gonna be here for a couple weeks,’” he said.

Given what it took for them just to get temporary contracts, Duffy and Waldrip both came in with a chip on their shoulder. In a league filled with guys from big-name schools and powerhouse conferences, both players knew they had something to prove.

“I have a huge chip on my shoulder, any time we play any teams,” Duffy said. “It’s like I have to prove myself every day, cause none of these coaches wanted to take me on a temp [contract], let alone a full [contract].”

“Right, and in a way that’s been cool for me too,” Waldrip added. “None of the other teams would ever take me in my first two years of summer ball. It’s nice to come out and finally just show who you are and play against the teams who never wanted to take you.

“[Coming from] smaller schools, you have to come down here and kind of make a name for yourself. Cause people are like, ‘Oh, where’s that school?’ I like it in a way. You’re not being known for where you come from. You’re making your own impression on the people, and they’re gonna like you for what kind of player you are, not just where you go to school.”

Unsure Times

After working so hard just to get temporary contracts, Duffy and Waldrip knew from the moment they arrived in Orleans that their days there could be numbered.

“I didn’t really have a ton of expectations coming in, just trying to stick around for as long as I could,” Duffy said.

“Coming in, we were living together, so every night we were kind of talking about what we were gonna do if we got released or when we got released,” Waldrip said. “We were just kind of coming out every day, doing the best we could to just stick around day to day and hopefully impress enough people that we’d get the opportunity to stick around.”

Right from the beginning of the season, Duffy and Waldrip turned heads. And they didn’t just impress fans; they impressed their coaches and teammates alike.

Duffy began the season hitting in the bottom third of the lineup, but by the end of June, he had taken over the leadoff spot and was the team’s best hitter. On top of that, he showed he could play at shortstop, third base, or second base, proving to be a valuable and versatile player early on.

Waldrip recorded his first home run of the year on June 17 in Falmouth, and never looked back after that. His second bomb came two nights later, an opposite field shot that seemed like it was still rising when it hit the netting over the 350’ sign in left field.

The early success of the two temps was showcased best in a win against Brewster on June 25, as Duffy and Waldrip drove in all five runs for Orleans. It was after the game that many people started focusing on how the Firebirds could keep both guys around, with final rosters due on July 1.

Both players knew of the deadline, and were just hoping for a full contract from Nicholson.

“The whole time, I’d ask Kelly, you know, ‘If you’re gonna release me, I understand, I just need to know so I can either try to catch on somewhere else down here or go to some other league,’” Waldrip said.

Getting the Call

It was Duffy who found out first that he’d be sticking around for the whole summer, and Waldrip found out a few days later. Having stuck together through the first month of the season, it was only fitting that the two went in to sign their full contracts at the same time.

“It was pretty cool cause we had kind of gone through the whole thing together,” Duffy said.

Finally knowing they were safe on the team, Duffy and Waldrip were able to just focus on baseball, and the two continued to perform at the highest level.

“This whole summer’s kind of surpassed expectations,” Duffy said. “We just kind of came in going day to day, trying to stick around each day. What it’s turned into is definitely not something I expected it to.”

For Waldrip, the summer has been a dream come true as well, but for a slightly different reason. Growing up in Medford, Mass., he spent his summers watching games on the Cape, hoping some day he too would get to don one of the jerseys himself.

“Growing up around the Cape, spending summers down here, I always wanted to play in this league,” Waldrip said. “So getting the opportunity to come down and play in the league, I just wanted to one, have fun, and two, just get away from everything, just play baseball, and not worry about anything except baseball. It all ended up working out.”

The All-Star Nod

When Duffy and Waldrip arrived at Eldredge Park together in Waldrip’s truck last Friday, their teammate Maxx Tissenbaum (Stony Brook) came up to them with the big news: that morning, they had both been named starters on the 2011 Cape League Eastern Division All-Star team.

“We pulled up to the field, and Tissenbaum walked up and said congratulations,” Waldrip said.

“That was pretty cool,” Duffy added. “Going through everything together, the same kind of path, both having pretty good success. Making the All-Star team was kind of just icing on the cake.”

The two will make the trip to Fenway Park on Friday night to represent Orleans and the Eastern division with teammates Trevor Gott (Kentucky) and Tyler Johnson (Stony Brook). Waldrip will be the starting first baseman, while Duffy will be over at shortstop.

Their selections were well deserved, and their manager was their biggest advocate in the process.

“I’ve been up here for seven summers as a manager, and I told Matt Duffy and Ben Waldrip, I’ve never walked out of an All-Star meeting more happy,” Nicholson said the night of the selection. “Two temporary guys that are starting in the All-Star game. It’s a great story. And they’re roommates. They’re hall of fame kids. High, high-character young men. I couldn’t be happier. It couldn’t happen to two better guys. I’m really, really happy for them.”

They wont be playing right next to each other or batting one after the other as they usually do on a nightly basis with the Firebirds, but they will be there together. It wouldn’t have happened any other way.

Roommates, Brothers

During their first week in Orleans, Duffy and Waldrip were living in a house with Tissenbaum, but eventually moved into their current house with the vonThaden family, where they have been together all along the way.

“It was kind of weird because we were the two temp guys and [Tissenbaum] was on a full [contract],” Waldrip said. “I’m sure he didn’t understand a lot of the things we were going through.”

Throughout the summer, Duffy and Waldrip have been able to grow close, whether it is at the field or just in downtime at their house.

“[Early on], we were always hanging out with each other, talking, getting to know each other, and we grew real close, especially dealing with the same things all summer,” Waldrip said.

“Just going through the whole summer with him, [he is] kind of like a brother now,” Duffy said.

The two feel lucky for the way their living situation has worked out, as they have grown close not only with each other, but with the vonThaden family as well.

“We’ve had a great time,” Waldrip said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to stay with the vonThadens. We couldn’t have asked for a better setup and a better host family than what they are for us. We’ve had the best opportunity to have our own place and come together and bond. Not just me and Matt, but the host family too.”

“And with the whole living situation, it makes it so much easier just to relax and play baseball,” Duffy added.

As for the roommate dynamics?

“He’s soft,” Duffy said jokingly of Waldrip, as the two broke into laughter. “I’m kidding. It’s been pretty good. I wouldn’t say I’m messy, but I’d say I’m a messier roommate than he is. He’s not too tough to deal with.”

Looking Ahead

There is still more baseball to be played for Duffy, Waldrip, and the Firebirds, with the playoffs just around the corner. Of course, Duffy and Waldrip are a huge reason why the Birds are even talking about postseason baseball, as on many nights throughout the season they have carried their team to victories.

With four regular season games left on the schedule, Duffy and Waldrip have lit up the stat sheet on a nightly basis. Duffy has slid into the three-spot in the lineup, and is hitting a team-high .331 at the plate. Meanwhile, Waldrip is tied for the league-lead in home runs with six, and leads the Firebirds with 20 RBI. The two have combined for 70 hits, 23 runs, and 32 RBI. The 70 hits are almost a quarter of the team’s hits on the season, a ridiculous stat for any two players, not to mention two temps.

Although they have been identical in everything they have done this summer, Duffy and Waldrip may go down different paths after the season is over.

Having just finished his sophomore year at Long Beach State, Duffy will head back there for his junior season and will be eligible for next year’s MLB draft.

“I’ve still got another year of school, and I don’t know,” Duffy said. “We’ll see what happens in the draft. I haven’t really talked to anybody too much about expectations or where I’m supposed to go or even if I’m supposed to go. So I’m just kind of playing it by ear, gonna work towards the spring, and try to have a good season next year at Long Beach.”

As for Waldrip, the Kansas City Royals’ 40th-round draft pick from this past June will have some decisions to make.

“I’ve heard multiple times talking to the Royals this summer, that they got upset, saying, ‘We feel like you have a chip on your shoulder,’” Waldrip said. “And I was like, ‘Well, you know, I do in a way.’ Because they didn’t want to sign me at the beginning of the summer. They thought I wasn’t good enough.”

With the amazing summer that Waldrip has had, the Royals are now in hot pursuit of the first baseman, but nothing has been decided upon yet. Last week, a report from the Cape Cod Times surfaced that Waldrip would be signing with Kansas City right after the All-Star game, however Big Ben has said otherwise.

“That’s not true,” he said on Tuesday night. “Their scouting director is quoted in it, and we had talked and they haven’t negotiated anything different with me. So I told him I wasn’t gonna take the initial offer, and they haven’t negotiated.

“Whoever wrote it should have called me or something to find out the truth,” added Waldrip while laughing.

Waldrip has until August 15th to decide whether or not he wants to sign with the Royals, and will likely have more serious talks with them after the end of the season.

“They didn’t really want to sign me at the beginning of the summer, and now they’ve been coming on hotter because I’ve been playing well,” he said. “Definitely by [August 15th] I’ll have a decision. Money’s gonna play a big part in it, whatever they’re willing to offer. I still have another year of school left, so if I don’t end up signing, then I’ll go back to school for my last year, hopefully stay healthy, and get drafted higher next year.”

With such a big decision weighing on his shoulders, Waldrip isn’t quite ready to end his memorable summer in Orleans just yet.

“I’ve had a ton of fun this summer, living with Duff, coming here every day playing baseball with the fans, the atmosphere that Orleans has, and I’d like to finish out the summer,” Waldrip said.

Nothing is certain in the futures of either Duffy or Waldrip, but then again, that’s how their summer in Orleans began. As is the case for many baseball players, they never really know what’s next. With so many uncertainties to deal with, the two can at least take solace in one definite thing: their common bonds.

Two unknowns, two temps, two roommates, two friends-turned-brothers, and now, two All-Stars. Matt Duffy and Ben Waldrip have both accomplished so much in just two months on the Cape, and they have done it all together.

Home Runs Lift Firebirds To Sixth Straight

By Greg Joyce

On the back of yet another strong pitching performance and two big swings, the Orleans Firebirds recorded their sixth straight win on Monday night at Eldredge Park. John Brebbia (Elon) threw six innings of one-run ball, while Anthony Gomez (Vanderbilt) and Matt Duffy (Long Beach State) added solo home runs to propel their team to the 3-1 victory over Falmouth.

For the second time in as many games at Eldredge Park, Gomez gave his team a spark in the first inning when he belted an opposite field shot to take the 1-0 lead.

“It was big,” field manager Kelly Nicholson said of the home run. “I think it got us going a little that. And I think it kind of deflated Falmouth a little bit. It was cool to see Go-Go do that, go [opposite field]. It was a good spark for us.”

The Firebirds padded their lead in the second inning when they were able to manufacture their second run. Jake Stewart (Stanford) led off with a single to left field, then stole second base easily. Up next was Ronnie Shaeffer (UC Irvine), who came through with a single of his own to put men on the corners with no outs.

Then Reed Gragnani (Virginia) continued to be productive and knocked in Stewart on a fielder’s choice, making it 2-0 Orleans.

With the 2-0 lead to work with, Brebbia never looked back. The righty made it look easy through the first four innings, allowing just two hits but no runs. His one blemish on the night came in the fifth inning when he allowed a solo home run, but he was able to get past it and ended up striking out the side.

Brebbia finished with six innings pitched, as he let up four hits, one run, two walks, and struck out six. It was another solid start from the dependable Brebbia.

“I thought Breb threw the ball really well,” Nicholson said. “He located that fastball again and threw some good sliders tonight. He kept the ball down. It was good to get him through six.

Tyler Geblr (Rutgers) and Kenny Long (Illinois State) combined to pitch the seventh and eighth innings, and they both turned in impressive performances, preserving the lead. Long used a big double play to get out of a jam in the eighth and leave the then-tying run 90 feet away at third base.

“Gebler was good tonight, and Kenny Long got a big double play ball,” Nicholson said.

In the bottom of the eighth, Duffy gave his team some breathing room when he took hold of a pitch and lifted it over the left field fence for his first home run of the summer. The home run was also just another milestone in Duffy’s amazing summer, as he continues to show why he deserved his All-Star bid.

Trevor Gott (Kentucky) was once again called on in the ninth, and for the 11th time this season, he shut the door with no problem, closing out the 3-1 win.

“Gott was Gott again tonight, he did a nice job,” Nicholson said.

With two hits on the night, Gomez now has seven hits over his last three games, and has upped his average to .300.

Now winners of six straight, Nicholson likes how his team is coming together down the stretch. The Firebirds now stand in a tie for first place in the East Division with Harwich, with six games remaining in the regular season.

“It’s nice to see these guys on a run,” he said. “When we were kind of struggling, you just had to kind of weather that and stay around .500, and then at the end you hope you get on a run like this and they have. They’ve put themselves in a pretty good position.”

Without Pre-Game BP, Bats Put On A Show

By Greg Joyce

The Firebirds did not take batting practice before their game Saturday night, but you never would have known it, as Orleans won its fourth straight game in a 10-2 win over the Bourne Braves at Eldredge Park. Andrew Gomez (Vanderbilt), Matt Duffy (Long Beach State), and Ben Waldrip (Jacksonville State) each recorded three hits apiece on the night, while Matt Boyd (Oregon State) impressed on the mound in his first start of the summer.

Gomez got the offense going in the first inning, when he lifted an opposite field blast over the right field fence for a solo home run to make it 1-0. The round tripper was Gomez’s first of the year.

Meanwhile, Boyd held the Braves hitless through the first three innings, and made it through the fourth without allowing any runs. His night ended after the fourth though, as he hit the 65-pitch limit that his coaching staff had set for him before the game.

Though he did not last long enough to record the win, Boyd threw an important four innings, as he kept Bourne off the scoreboard and cleared the way for his team to jump on the Braves offensively.

“It always starts with starting pitching,” field manager Kelly Nicholson said.

In their half of the fifth inning, the Firebirds put up a four-spot to extend their lead. Gomez led off the inning with an infield single to deep shortstop, followed by another single from Duffy to right field.

Waldrip came up next and lined a pitch down the left field line, good for a ground rule double that scored Gomez.

One out later, Jayce Boyd (Florida State) hit a ground ball to the shortstop, who threw home to get Duffy, but his throw was off and everybody was safe, with Orleans now up 3-0.

Jake Stewart (Stanford) kept the rally going with a single to left-center field, which scored both Waldrip and Boyd.

With the 5-0 lead, Nick Mutz (Western Oklahoma) retired the side in order in the sixth inning, leading to the next offensive splash by the Firebirds.

With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Gomez and Duffy hit back-to-back singles before Waldrip hit a RBI single to left field to make it 6-0.

After Steve Selsky (Arizona) hit an infield single to deep shortstop, Boyd hit a sacrifice fly to center field to plate Duffy.

Then, Stewart came up again and recorded his third RBI of the night with a single to center field that gave Orleans the 8-0 lead.

Mutz allowed two solo home runs in the next inning, but that was the only offense the Braves could muster on the night.

But the Firebirds weren’t done scoring, and tacked on two final runs in the bottom of the seventh. Pinch-hitting with one on and one out, Matt Lowenstein (Loyola Marymount) smacked a single through the right side, followed by a walk to Gomez.

Rudy Flores (Florida International) then hit a sac-fly to center field to score Ronnie Shaeffer (UC Irvine), the ninth run of the game.

On the next play, Tarran Senay (NC State) hit a deep fly to left-center field that the left fielder tracked down, but he was unable to make the catch, and Lowenstein scored. That notched the tally at 10-2, the way it would end.

Kenny Long (Illinois State) and Tyler Johnson (Stony Brook) each made scoreless appearances out of the bullpen, preserving the Firebird lead.

As the 2-4 batters in the Orleans lineup, Gomez, Duffy, and Waldrip combined for nine hits and seven runs, making a huge impact in the game.

“Those guys did a really good job tonight,” Nicholson said. “They got good pitches to hit, and they capitalized.”

With 14 hits and 10 runs on the night, the Firebirds put on an offensive showcase, all without batting practice prior to the game. Regardless, Nicholson was pleased with the outcome

“Kind of a crazy game,” he said. “We don’t take BP and we score 10 runs. Go figure.”

Firebirds Return To Form At Home

By Greg Joyce

It had been a frustrating few days for the Orleans Firebirds, dropping five of their last six including one-run losses in their last two games. On Saturday night at home though, the Firebirds put it all together for one of their best wins of the season, defeating the Falmouth Commodores 7-3.

Orleans was anchored by the impressive start of Ryan Carpenter (Gonzaga), who turned in another strong performance. The lefty finished pitching six innings, allowing two hits, one run (unearned), one walk, and striking out five.

“I thought Carp had a good start and that’s where it all kind of begins, with your starting pitching,” field manager Kelly Nicholson said.

It was the second straight start in which Carpenter threw six innings, and he picked up his third win of the summer, lowering his ERA to 2.77 in the process.

“I thought Carp threw the ball well tonight,” Nicholson said. “I thought his stuff was good from the stretch. That’s kind of what we expect from Carp when he toes the rubber: five or six strong innings, 85 pitches, zero or one run.”

The Firebirds jumped ahead in the third inning off a home run from Andrew Aplin (Arizona State), and that provided a spark in the club, as they would never look back after that.

Carpenter allowed the only run of his start in the fourth inning, but it was unearned. That tied the game at 1-1, but the Firebirds were quick to take the lead back.

Batting third in the lineup for the first time all season, Matt Duffy (Long Beach State) led off the fourth with a double down the left field line. Ben Waldrip (Jacksonville State) followed by laying down a perfect sac-bunt to move Duffy to third with one out. After Jayce Boyd (Florida State) walked, Matt Koch (Loyola Marymount) came through with a single over the third baseman’s head to score Duffy.

Back on the mound with the lead, Carpenter settled in nicely in his last two innings of work, and retired the last six batters he faced in a row.

The bottom of the fifth inning featured Orleans tacking on more runs, and again the rally started with a double down the left field line. This one came from Jake Stewart (Stanford), who then moved over to third on a passed ball.

That set the stage for Anthony Gomez (Vanderbilt), who found a hole on the right side for a single that brought home Stewart, making it 3-1 Orleans.

The Commodores made it a one-run game in the seventh inning when Max White (Oklahoma) hit a home run off Matt Boyd (Oregon State), prompting the Firebird offense to step up again in the bottom of the inning.

With one out, Stewart reached on a base on balls, and then took advantage of Falmouth miscues to cross the plate. He advanced to second on a passed ball, got to third on a wild pitch, and then finally scored on another wild pitch.

In that same at bat, Aplin also reached via a walk, followed by Gomez reaching with a walk of his own. The two speedsters each advanced a base when they executed a double steal during the next at bat.

Then it was time for Waldrip to add to his team-lead in RBI, as he smacked a line drive into center field that scored both runners and gave Orleans a four-run lead.

“Ben Waldrip came up in that situation and got a couple RBI, a couple insurance runs, and made it a lot easier on the back end of our bullpen tonight,” Nicholson said.

After the Commodores added a run in the eighth off Boyd to make it 6-3, but that was as close as they would get.

In the bottom of the inning, Koch led off with his second hit of the night, a single to left field. Following walks to Rudy Flores (Florida International) and Matt Lowenstein (Loyola Marymount) and a flyout by Stewart, Aplin notched his second RBI of the night with a sac-fly to center field. Koch scored the seventh run of the night for Orleans, ending the scoring for the Firebirds.

Trevor Gott (Kentucky) pitched a scoreless ninth to secure the win for the Firebirds.

Duffy finished with a three-hit night out of the three-spot, continuing his successful season at the plate. He is now hitting an impressive .310 which leads the team.

“Duff is just a really good baseball player,” Nicholson said. “The thing I really like about Duff is that he pays attention to the game. He’s got a high baseball IQ. He’s into every pitch. He’s our leading hitter, and that’s why we put him in the three-hole and moved Boyd down. We just tried to mix it up a little bit, and we got a nice result out of it tonight. He had a solid, solid game tonight.”

Given the promising results, Nicholson said he sees more lineups in the future with Duffy batting third.

This important win comes after a tough stretch of losses for the Firebirds, and they will now look to build on the victory going forward.

“Every team, every summer, is gonna go through a little down period,” the skipper said. “And you just gotta kind of weather the storm and kind of keep your head above water. Hopefully this thing will get us going.”