Editor’s Note: Nine Days in Cape Cod is a two-part series detailing the Brewster Whitecaps’ 2017 championship season in which manager Jamie Shevchik assembled a ragtag bunch of overlooked and underrated college baseball players to face the Cape Cod League’s most elite MLB prospects. You can read Part I here.
Day 3 | The Whitecaps Shouldn’t Be Here
Shevchick looks at his roster card and his face is stoic, as it always is, but on the inside, he knows they could be in trouble. It’s the bottom of the eighth, two outs, Caps up by two. Yarmouth-Dennis (YD) is once again threatening with the bases loaded in a game that has been trading blows back and forth for three hours. One out and they move on to round two of the Cape Cod League playoffs. One hit and their season is over. They need a shut-down inning.
What arms do we have left? He must have asked himself this question thousands of times during his coaching career, but had never seen an availability chart so slim. The Caps blew a two-run lead in Game 1, then fought valiantly in Game 2 to dominate the Red Sox. Tonight, Milto and Schneider both weathered the storm of the Yarmouth-Dennis bats but they are the product of the same problem Shevchik sees staring back at him on his lineup card: They have no pitching left.
Two thousand people watched the lead toss and turn four times as the day faded to dust. The late afternoon sun set on Red Wilson Field just slowly enough to make the fans lining the fence with lawn chairs wish Cape Cod could stay summer forever.
It’s baseball at its finest, but the Whitecaps face the lineup whose clout might be the only thing that can overshadow New England’s golden hour.
Yarmouth-Dennis is not just a contender, they own the league.
They’ve raised the trophy in every season for the past three years and 2017 looks to be no different. Prospects that have dazzled scouts all summer sit in the dugout as a row of scouts are waiting to watch. The list of former Yarmouth-Dennis players turned MLB players could fill a scroll and alumni turned pro could fill all the white space between.
Yarmouth-Dennis was the easy bet. The Whitecaps were a team of Shevchik’s concoction of Cape Cod misfits who YD used as a punching bag during the season. Just getting here was an improvement from last year, but from a twitter poll just a few days before, fans thought Brewster had just 14 percent chance to advance. The Whitecaps were told, “it was a good season, enjoy playoffs and see you next year.”
The whole league was thinking the same thing – the same thing that’s irked Shevchik almost a year ago today – the Whitecaps shouldn’t be there.
Shevchik calls timeout and signals for Ryan Cyr, another shot in the dark who Shevchik took on a late temporary-sign. His only appearance in the regular season was two innings and a 4.50 ERA, coming into the game.
He hops on the mound and prepares to either hold or save the biggest game of the season with only six outs of prior experience wearing a Brewster uniform.
Cyr walks in a run and the lead is cut to one. A wild pitch scores another. The Yarmouth-Dennis crowd howls and the game is now tied – the fifth lead change of the night. It looks like a repeat of Game 1, as elimination now seemed inevitable. But, the Whitecaps should be here. A couple of weeks ago, they had their bullpen, they had their reliever and they had an ace up their sleeve.
But none of that matters now.
When Robert Broom stepped to the mound in his high socks and N. 7 jersey, people stopped and watched. He was a 6’1” right-handed country boy from the hills of Rising Fawn, GA – lanky, square jaw, broad shoulders – but he was different. He had long feathered hair. He sported a mustache at some point in his life. He was a submarine pitcher with an arm that hooked and swooped deeper than his southern draw. His pitches tumbled toward home plate as if they were tied to a string that he would rip just as the hitter tried to swing making the ball disappear.
By the time Shevchik saw Broom’s freshman numbers at Mercer University, he was already dialing their head coach.
“He’s got a rubber arm,” the coach told Shevckik. “And he can pitch on back-to-back days.”
In Broom’s freshman year, he led the nation with 44 appearances in a 56-game schedule with 75 strikeouts and 63 innings pitched. It was unheard of. But he wasn’t a prospect, yet. He just finished his freshman year, and as Cape Cod teams mingled with Mercer’s big brothers in Georgia and Georgia Tech, virtually no one had any idea who he was.
The coach continued to tell Shevchik that Broom would make Opening Day and pitch all summer. It was music to Jamie’s ears and he decided to sign him to a full contract. It was a good find, and an easy decision to make. He was the bridge their bullpen would need and felt good about the arms he would now have down the stretch. Before they hung up the phone, the coach thanked Shevchik because he said as a mid-major school, it is very tough to get his players to the Cape Cod League. Shevchik understood completely.
“This is the kid I want,” he told his coaches. “He’ll be here all year, he’s a mid-major kid that’s got a lot to prove. He’s the guy I want.”
The first day he stepped on the mound, his ball cut through the strike zone and hitters looked silly trying to swat at an 88-mph fastball. He fanned all three hitters. Tommy Weber, Brewster’s assistant coach, turned to Shevchik and said, “We got ourselves a unicorn.”
Shevchik believed Broom was the best pitcher in the league, not just from his Bugs Bunny pitches, but because he was ready to prove that he was not a novelty sidearm thrower, but a lights-out pitcher.
He was a small-school reliever who couldn’t light up a radar gun yet. Scouts were not breaking down Mercer’s doors to see him pitch. They liked him, as did everyone, but he was just a “freak show” and never fit the typical “prospect” mold. Playing well in the Cape could change all of that. This was his chance to prove he belonged, so he stepped to the mound every night on a mission.
His first outing, he pitched two innings, fanning four and facing the minimum. But, it was his second outing which proved the buoyancy this kid brought to the team each night.
On a pitch that didn’t dive as much as Broom hoped, the hitter got just enough of it to hit a slicing home run and give the Cotuit Keetlers the lead. Without pouting or complaining that it was a wind-aided, slicing home run, Broom simply called for a new ball, resets, and strikes out the side.
Every outing after that was lighting in a bottle. The Whitecaps sputtered around .500. They’d win two, then lose the same. Win a few more and take another two steps back.
“We labored through the season,” Shevchik recalled, as Mickey Gasper kept hitting, and Broom kept pitching. They were two of the only players keeping the 2017 season alive”
Broom was everything Jamie believed he could be, but in the middle of their season, their unicorn got a call from his coach.
He told Broom that he was heading home. The same coach who sent him to the Cape, was reeling him back to Georgia before the All-Star game.
“Well,” Broom told his coach in his true gentleman twang, “I’d like to stay. It’s looking like I can be an All-Star and I’d like to finish the year.”
The coaches agreed and Broom remained a Whitecap.
“I pretty much told him, ‘Good for you,’” Shevchik explained after that season. “It was good to see a player stand up to the puppet-master as a lot of these [coaches] are.”
That seemed to be the end of it and Broom headed to the Cape Cod League All-Star Game along with fellow Brewster selection and unofficial team captain, Mickey Gasper, who had been unstoppable since Opening Day and hit .320 leading into the break.
Shevchik’s bets were paying off and Broom proved that an upper-80s right-handed unicorn can, in fact, be one of the nation’s top pitchers.
But after the All-Star game, an ultimatum was delivered.
“He [Broom] and his parents came up to me at the field and said, ‘My coach told me I have to go home.’”
Broom was upset, but Shevchik was infuriated.
Instantly, Shevchik called Broom’s coach and was told the same story: it didn’t matter what the Caps wanted, or what Broom wanted. He was coming home, and that was final.
“He’s a Mercer Bear first,” Shevchik recalled from his conversation with their coach. “He told me, ‘You’re just renting him for the summer,’ basically.”
Shevchik would remember that conversation well, as he did their first. Broom could pitch back to back days, no innings limit and he’d be there all year. Shevchik didn’t hear one explanation for why Broom was coming home, and he felt the slap in the face all the way from Georgia.
“Just as a heads up,” Shevchik told Mercer. “You told me you have trouble getting kids into this league. So you better use the other nine teams because we’ll never have another Mercer Bear as long as I’m here.”
At the time, Brewster was wading at second-to-last-place in the division and later told Broom that if he was on a winning team, they would have let him stay.
“They actually apologized to me later, and we are still good friends today,” he continued, “They even joked, ‘if we knew you guys had a shot at playoffs, we would have let you stay.’”
Broom left and the bullpen now dwindled to an unproven, second-tier level of relievers, and Shevchik signed three more pitchers for playoffs. More players received a Cape Cod League hat due to availability rather than talent, and this time, Shevchik even questioned if his experiment has gone too far. The three pitchers suited up and were ready to take the mound, including a kid named Ryan Cyr.
With only a few days left in the season, the Whitecaps went on a winning streak and clinched playoffs. But, when Shevchik was asked how they were supposed to win without their best reliever and a hodgepodge of pitchers, he said, “Simple. Next guy up.”
Day 6 | More Than a Game
The Whitecaps survive.
Cyr gets out of the jam, the Caps score one in the top of the tenth, and the last-minute-afterthought pitches a flawless 10th to send his team to the second round of playoffs.
They now face the league’s regular season champion, the Bourne Braves and, as expected, the Caps drop Game 1, but when faced with the prospect of going home, they win Game 2 and head to another deciding Game 3.
This was their third elimination game in five games, their sixth game in six days, yet the team never looked more relaxed. Why shouldn’t they? The Caps just beat the best team in the Cape, fought back from two elimination games, and won the deciding game with a temp-contract starting pitcher and a late-sign closer.
In every situation, the Whitecaps are supposed to lose, yet have continued to win, so why would their series against Bourne feel any different?
But, it was for Shevchik.
This entire playoff, there was something missing. Something lost in the dugout that he usually never had any trouble finding. Something that has been part of his career as much as his Oakley’s and chinstrap beard: pressure.
For the last thirteen years at Keystone, Shevchik has been bound together and pulled apart by two forces: his instinctual and addictive desire to win at all costs, and his protective need to just lose. To end Keystone’s streak. To allow his team to play the game that’s already challenging enough without having to chase the ghosts of teams past. To start a new journey. To enter next year’s conference play as the Keystone Giants, not the 14th Consecutive Conference Champions Keystone Giants.
Each season, winning, losing, expectation, and pressure all seemed to swirl together and button its own jersey in every dugout Shevchik enters. The streak has held a longer tenure than most head coaches have even been at their school. At its inception, George W. Bush was still in office and soon, Shevchik would be recruiting players who we not even born during the first championship. Keystone has won so many titles that a season which doesn’t end with a championship and regional appearance is a failure.
He thinks a lot about when that day will come. He prepares for it, even welcomes it to just finally be done with, carrying the weight of every conference tournament with him everywhere he goes. But he fears the pain of that day and fears losing everything he’s worked so hard to achieve. He’s pulled in both directions and as much as he thinks about that day, he knows it will be the moment he finally splits in two.
He came close this past year. In the last 15 years, they’ve only lost three conference tournament games and two of them came in the last two years. In the 2017 Conference championship game, the Keystone Giants were actually losing going into the 7th inning. Shevchik sat on the bench and, oddly enough, felt relief. This was it, he thought, they were going to lose, finally, it would be liberating. He can go home to his wife and daughters as just a normal baseball coach and start over again. Start a new beginning as a coach that doesn’t spend another day configuring their lineup and another night asking himself the same question that wakes up with him in the morning, ‘what arms are available?’. The pressure and expectation to notch another tally next to the decade and a half of championships could simply end.
He could just lose. Just start over again, and just maybe, sleep.
He wishes he could just go back to being normal. But he knows it’s just a wish.
By the time his mind entertained the idea of losing, the competitor instinct wrestled back and Keystone kicked into an inevitable comeback. Something told him he couldn’t lose just yet, and then, the game of baseball made sure they wouldn’t.
With Keystone threatening to take back the lead, a fly ball was hit to the best player in the league and he dropped it. Keystone scored two and went on to win their 14th consecutive conference championship.
Shevchik gave the trophy to his team and checked the stat card, what arms are available?
Now facing elimination against the Orleans Firebirds, this was different. The competitor never left the dugout, but Pressure seemed to be missing.
“Once we beat YD, I think we thought we were playing with house money. The pressure was gone, and I think we started to believe we actually had a shot.”
There was no trace of losing in Shevchik’s mind and winning became common blood in the dugout.
Players started to emerge as post-season heroes and none greater than top-prospect, Hunter Bishop. As one of the youngest players on the team, and one of the highest touted players, Hunter entered his first summer from Arizona State with pressure and expectation to perform — something his skipper could clearly understand.
“I think having ‘MLB’ and ‘prospect’ connected with his name is too much pressure for anyone,” Shevchik said as Hunter went through the highs and lows of a Cape Cod season, “I finally told him: you have to forget about everything around you. Just be Hunter Bishop, and that’s good enough.”
In the playoffs, Bishop belted three home runs and knocked in five. He was relaxed, confidence, and looked like a weight was lifted off his shoulders. Then, just as Bishop and the team started to believe in themselves, the Caps caught a break.
“In Game 2, Orleans made one big mistake,” Shevchik said.
In playoff baseball, the bullpen becomes an artillery with all available arms ready to fire at a moment’s notice. Roles become blurred; starters could be long relief, set-up men can be starters, and closers, well, they’re closers. But in Game 2, Orleans took out their starter who appeared to be unhittable and brought in their closer – a move that was automatic during the regular season. But this is playoff baseball, nothing is relative.
The pitching change sparks a hungry Brewster lineup, and after almost 40 pitches and a lead that was all but fractured, Orleans escapes with the victory, but after laboring through the inning, their closer is no longer available for the deciding game 3.
For Brewster, the ball is given to Connor McNamara, like Ryan Cyr, he was another temporary signed pitcher in late July from Marist University with little clout and a lot to prove. He pitched only five innings as a Whitecap before players and in Game 3, completed 7 innings giving up only four hits and one run. It was a performance the Caps needed but in the 8th inning, Connor began to labor, and Shevchik looked at his stat card.
He saw the dwindling number of arms and Will Tribucher’s name starting back at him. And for the first time this year, Shevchik saw Tribucher as their best shot.
Tribucher’s transformation this season has been nothing short of metamorphosis. Tribucher was a Michigan Wolverine, a go-to bullpen guy Shevchik signed as a temporary fill-in. He signed full-time once the season took hold and lack of pitching depth threatened the Caps. Still, Tribucher never seemed to find his stride and in 26.1 innings pitched he held a 4.1 ERA. But in his last start of the season, something clicked.
“He pitched against YD right at the end of the season and absolutely dominated. It was the first time we beat YD all season and it gave Will and our team the confidence we needed,” Shevchik said.
Shevchik gave him the ball in Game 2 and Tribucher tossed 7.2 gems, giving up only one run on four hits. He was now the bonified go-to arm they needed, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. He should have another two days before heading back onto the mound, but – playoffs – and Shevchik knew what his gut told him to do.
“How do you feel, Will?” he asked.
It was next guy up – and Tribucher was standing at attention.
“It didn’t matter about innings or pitch count. I just thought, ‘give me the ball.’ My arm feels fine,” Tribucher said.
With only three day’s rest, Tribucher took the mound and nailed down a two-inning save leaving Orleans’ stat line empty. The team that raised more eyebrows at the beginning of the season than wins, was now two wins from raising the trophy by pitching performances from two pitchers, McNamara and Tribucher, who did not even have guaranteed contracts on Opening Day.
“There was something different about this team. Something that was never talked about, but just happened. And something you don’t win championships without,” Shevchik said.
It was something all coaches wish they could brew, bottle, and serve to every player at the beginning of every season. It was special, it was more than just baseball, and it was something that started by Hunter Bishop’s bat decal.
Their family noticed it years before the diagnosis.
At first, it was missing a turn on the road. Then it was losing her keys only to find them in the refrigerator. Hunter noticed it when she ran straight through a red light on the road, irritated his mother could be so reckless behind the wheel.
It was just a lapse of judgement; little accidents that everyone told them not to worry. Forgetting to put bread on a sandwich is just a mistake.
Suzy Bishop was once a UCLA track star, missing 1984 Olympics by a time that would keep any competitor up at night, then decided she would make it in Hollywood. She worked her way up the movie industry ladder, winning an Emmy, becoming a widely-respected executive producer traveling around the world filming and storytelling, even being inducted to the Hallmark Hall of Fame.
Now, more importantly, she is a wife, and a mother of two boys who both have undoubtedly received the heart for competition and athletic ability their mother gave to them. Anything she set her mind to she was going to succeed; except one morning when she couldn’t figure out why the blender she made her morning smoothie with was no longer plugging into the wall.
Her sister walked over and took the phone charger out of her hand.
Something was wrong with their mother, but doctors couldn’t figure out what was going on. How can a brilliant movie producer, a Hollywood success story, a woman who had been known for her quick storytelling ability and cunning intellect, forget what car is hers parked in the driveway?
Finally, the she received a diagnosis. One that was so rare, most couldn’t believe it. At the young age of 54 Suzy was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
It was heartbreaking. Hunter was only 14 at the time and lived through every stage with her. He stood by her while it eroded her memory. It started with the keys, the blender, the sandwiches; he remained by her while it spread took her memories, her movie career, her family’s names, and her past life, and he will remain there until it takes the rest of it.
Alzheimer’s usually gives a person between 8-10 years of life. It’s ugly. It’s slow. And currently, there is no cure.
Throughout the entire process, Suzy would always write notes of “Love and Laughter” and tell people to be brave. It was something her family needed. Alzheimer’s is frustrating and cruel to the victim, but it’s devastating to the people around them, only being able to watch as the person they once knew slowly fades away. Like everything else in her life, Suzy was going to face this disease head-on, and so was her family.
She started losing motor skills. Her notes became scribbled, incoherent lines, with only three words always boldly scratched into the paper, “Love and Lafter.” No matter how it was spelled, her family knew exactly what she was trying to say. Then she took a turn for the worst. She then fully lost her ability to write, then her ability to pronounce words, and today, she can no longer communicate.
One year after the diagnosis, Braydon Bishop, Hunter’s older brother, decided it was their turn to tell a story – the most important one yet.
Braydon was still a baseball player at the University of Washington before being drafted by the Seattle Mariners when they decided to start #4MOM. It started out modestly. Braydon and Hunter would write 4MOM on their arm before every game and simply tell anyone who asks what it means and why they are doing it. Then, the University of Washington decided to join the movement, then so did national publications, and players around the country started writing 4MOM on their equipment.
The goal is simple: raise as much awareness as possible and spread their mom’s message of “Love and Laughter.”
“As sad as it sounds, it made me appreciate her more.” Hunter said, “No kid expects their mom to die in the next few years, but now we have to cherish every moment because we never know when she can be taken from us.
So, when Hunter Bishop showed up in Brewster, MA, he placed a 4MOM sticker on the button of his bat, and the team took notice to his message.
“I started seeing guys write 4MOM on their hats, 4MOM on their shoes, and it was never something we told them to do. They just started doing it and the team rallied behind Hunter and his family,” Shevchik recalled.
It started with the 4MOM bat decals, then Hunter’s story, then players writing it on social media and every piece of equipment they have. At around the same time in the season, players then started showing up to the field early together – as early as Mickey Gasper who since the beginning of the season wore a constant hole in the pop-up net sizzling baseballs off a tee for hours before the game.
By the All-Star break, almost the entire team showed up for early work and this season was no longer about a stat line, but rather, something more.
They played for the team. They played with chips on their shoulders. They played for the playoffs. And now, they played “4MOM.”
“It makes baseball so minuscule. Baseball is something I love and I have dedicated myself to it, but I know I’m playing for much more than just a game,” – Hunter said.
Day 9 | The Will to Win
The Championship series started in a fashion that can describe their entire season: it wasn’t pretty, wasn’t what anyone expected, but they got it done.
The Whitecaps took the lead, gave up the lead, tied the game, then loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth for Chandler Taylor, Brewster’s bruiser from the University of Alabama, known for his all-or-nothing homerun or strikeout – even participating in the Ameritrade Homerun Derby on ESPN – and wins the game by a walk-off hit-by-pitch on a curveball that landed on his foot.
“Of everything that could have happened on a baseball field in that moment,” Shevchik laughs, “we win by a hit batsman.”
The Whitecaps fell apart in Game 2, but it didn’t phase them. Win or lose, the season boiled down to one day.
“No one thought we’d make it this far,” Shevchik told his team, “You guys were the ones who got us here, you guys proved you belonged, and now you guys deserve to win.”
Just like that, the Whitecaps were ready for tomorrow, and before the team could even pack their gear and head back to Brewster, Will Tribucher pulled his manager aside and said he wants to pitch.
Shevchik was taken back. He didn’t know who was starting Game 3, didn’t know who was in the bullpen, and didn’t even know who could physically pitch for nine innings.
“It was survive and advance,” Shevchik said, “We couldn’t think about tomorrow. All we could do was exhaust every chance we had to just win today and figure tomorrow out, tomorrow.”
But when Tribucher said he wanted to pitch, Shevchik said no.
The prospect of pitching Tribucher for the third time in eight days stretched beyond Shevchik’s jurisdiction. To push a pitcher that far, that late in the season was potentially dangerous. Shevchik told him there was no way his coach at Michigan would allow him to start on short rest.
But Tribucher wanted the ball.
Shev saw a flicker in his eyes that he couldn’t keep away, so he called his coach. He explained the situation: Tribucher’s season, his transformation, his dominance in the playoffs, they rest he has and hasn’t had, and the final championship game.
Without hesitation, his coach said to Shevchik, “If he wants to win the championship that bad, give him the ball.”
Just like that, the game was in Tribucher’s hands.
Game 3 was nothing they’ve ever seen at Stony Brook Field. Almost five-thousand people pilled around the field meant for five-hundred and homemade signs, cowbells, a crowd’s desire for a championship rattled through the town, and this time, they weren’t the underdog.
“It was electric,” Shevchik recalled. “There was something angelic about that park that day.”
Shevchik looked at the bench and saw the group of guys that deserved to be here more than anyone else. They set a record for most games ever played in a Cape Cod League season, won all five elimination games so far, and have now played nine playoff games in nine days.
Three months ago, when Tribucher unpacked his bags, he was a temporary contract, two-week fill-in guy and now he is the hope for a team that was told they had none. What Shevchik saw in this kid, was exactly what he saw in the other twenty-four players sitting beside him.
He saw a pitcher and a team who didn’t know they weren’t supposed to be here, or perhaps, a team that had been told they weren’t good enough one too many times to even care.
Tribucher sat on the bench – cap low, eyes locked – as a competitor that seemed to be un-phased by 1st round picks standing sixty feet, six inches in front of him and numb to the back to back to back games that he’s pitched on virtually no rest.
“I was ready to go,” he said, “just give me the ball.”
Tribucher stood up, went to the mound, and gave the team exactly what they’d been looking for the entire season – the only thing this team of misfits have ever been looking for – a chance.
The nine innings started to unfold as the storybook ending no one believed possible.
Tribucher cruised through Bourne’s lineup tossing 6.2 innings of scoreless ball. Then in the sixth inning, Hunter Bishop hit a two-out solo home run, his third of the playoffs, to give the Caps a 2-0 lead. Tribucher continued to be the guy who flew out of his cocoon nine days ago and finally exited in the 7th inning to a standing ovation after blanking Braves.
“I almost had tears in my eyes taking him out of the game,” Shevchik said, “to watch that kid turn nothing into something in the last two weeks and get a standing ovation from the crowd was special.”
The trophy was only a few outs away, but in the bottom of the inning with two out and the bases loaded, Lyle Lin, one of Bourne’s top hitters from Arizona State, connected with a deep fly ball into the left-center gap that looked to spoil the ending of Brewster’s fairy tale.
“It wasn’t a bad pitch,” Gasper recalls from behind the plate, “but all I could think was, ‘oh no. Please don’t go out.”
The sound off the bat made Shevchik’s head snap toward left field and he knew this could be the end.
“At best we were going to lose the lead. At worst, our season’s over,” he said.
Gasper’s heart jumped to his throat as the Brewster crowd’s followed, but out of the corner of his eye was the left fielder, Marty Costes, running full speed toward the wall.
And Gasper thought he had a beat on it.
Costes takes his last few steps and lunges for the ball on the warning track. The crowd was silent.
“All we saw were his white cleats, so we didn’t know if he caught it or not,” Gasper recalled.
The dive hurled him past the dirt and gravel and into the chain-link fence. No one could find the ball or where it could have gone, but then Marty sticks his glove in the air with the ball lodged in its pocket and the Brewster dugout exploded.
“It was the greatest catch to ever happen on a baseball field,” Shevchik said.
It was only fitting that Troy Miller, another Michigan Wolverine Shevchik signed late in the season by suggestion of Will Tribucher, came in to attempt a six-out-save. Two innings later, the team celebrated by grabbing the cooler and poured it over their manager’s head.
The Brewster Whitecaps were Cape Cod League Champions.
“No one realized the role each player was going to take during this season,” Shevchik said. “Even the most overlooked players played a vital role that gave us a shot.”
Tonight was exactly the ending Shevchik believed could happen. It was the ending he needed to happen. But tomorrow, the season will be over and the team will board planes and pack cars to wherever they call home and goodbye will be the last word most of them will hear from the other say in person.
Tomorrow, Hunter Bishop will be able to see his mother again and tell her all about his summer as Cape Cod League Champion, co-MVP of the playoffs, and noted as Baseball America’s #16 Cape Cod League Prospect. She won’t respond, but he’ll know she couldn’t be prouder.
Robert Broom will find out the Whitecaps won the championship and he’ll accept a heartfelt apology from his coach. He will go on to be an All-American and the ‘unicorn’ will be drafted in the 10th round by the Cleveland Indians. To this day, no Mercer Bear has been on the Brewster roster.
Will Tribucher will presumably spend the next two weeks with ice on his shoulder and board a plane back to Michigan. He will finish his career as a Wolverine, then receive a well-deserved shot in professional baseball with the Colorado Rockies. But, his standing ovation in Game 3 will forever remain a legend in Brewster folklore.
And tomorrow, Mickey Gasper, the first gamble Shevchik took on the 2017 team, will take the short drive back to Bryant University in a few weeks. His summer in the Cape proved to scouts he could flat-out hit, but his arm will still be a weakness almost no teams would consider taking on a catcher. The draft will come and once again, his name will be nowhere to be found. But then in the 27th round, the New York Yankees will make an announcement, and pick a small-school northeast catcher whose teammates call Gasper – as a first baseman.
After the game, the Brewster executives threw a party for their staff and invited Shevchik and the coaches as the guests of honor. It was exactly what you’d expect from a New England cocktail party: a lot of pastel button-down shirts and loafers with no socks – Shevchik’s chinstrap beard, farmer’s tan, and half-jacket sunglasses couldn’t be further away.
Shevchik was extremely grateful towards the community, the staff, and the front office for allowing him to roll the dice on a team no one thought would be here – but this wasn’t where he belonged. They had a drink and left.
Shevchik found his team, walked in the room, made sure all cameras were put a way, popped a bottle of champagne and toasted to their that proved they belonged amongst the best players in college baseball.
And tonight, Shevchik did, too.
But tomorrow, he will go back to the reality of being the head coach of not just the Keystone Giants, but the 14x Conference Champion Keystone Giants, and back to holding onto what he’s worked so hard to build. He will unlock his office door, turn on his computer, and begin his search for the future.
He’ll look for his 2018 Brewster Whitecaps but underneath it all, he’ll continue a search that no longer keeps him up at night but will certainly make him reach for his dip can a few extra times.
He’ll glance at the next young prospect for the 2018 Cape season, then glance at the newest ACC hire of a 27-year-old with bad facial hair whose only experience was volunteering at his alma mater. He’ll check his voicemail and hear a line of college coaches pitch the next great prospect that belongs in a Brewster uniform next summer and not see a reply from his application to an open coaching position that would allow his wife to stop waiting tables each night.
It’s been 15 years and has never received a call back.
He took the job as Keystone’s head coach at the young age of 24.
“What was I supposed to do?” I got a full-time job right out of college. I had to take it. But I don’t know, maybe that hurt me,” he said.
Shevchik never took a volunteer assistant job, cleaning cleats and throwing batting practice, early in his career to get his foot in the door. He was too busy actually leading a program: balancing budgets, recruiting, scheduling a season, and winning baseball games.
“Looking back, I may have needed to volunteer and make $2,000 a year running camps to break into [Division I], but, “he said again, “I was 24 with a coaching job that could pay me a decent living, what was I supposed to do?”
He remained at Keystone, and the revolving door of Division I coaches swung open and shut without him.
This year, Shevchik will be inducted to the Keystone College Hall of Fame this fall, still as the current head coach, and can only half-heartedly grin when he thinks about it. He’s happy with what he’s accomplished and for a moment, feels satisfied. It’s well deserved and a great honor, but his voice changes when he mentions the ceremony. It’s a night meant to honor his legacy between the lines, but for Shevchik, it’s a night that will solidify his deepest fear: permanently being cemented within these walls.
“I’ve done everything I could,” Shevchik said. “I even started coaching in the summer to prove I can coach at that [Division I] level.” As quickly as he talks about the future, he digresses, “but, I have a good job, a good family, and a good life. I can’t lose this.”
Like his streak, his championships, and his career at Keystone and he’s pulled apart by the things he can’t lose and pushed by everything he still wants to achieve.
At one point, after staring at his motionless phone for too long, he picked it up and dialed the head coach of the University of Michigan. They’ve become friends over the years and he called him not for their next prospect in the cape, or even a potential job offer, but simply for advice.
He told Shevchik most schools have been lobbying the NCAA for a fourth paid assistant coach instead of the current three paid, one volunteer, and Shevchik would be the perfect fit as the fourth man. It’s encouraging for Jamie to hear one of nation’s top coaches praise Shev’s career, but Shevchik hangs up the phone with a small knot in his stomach.
He’s is a six-time Coach of the Year selection, a two-time College World Series participant, 2018 Hall of Fame inductee, the most decorated DIII coach in the country, and his only shot in D1 might be through a position that doesn’t even exist.
Tomorrow, when Shevchik makes his decent back down to his DIII home and sits in his office alone, he will begin searching for another 2017 team. He will be searching for another gamble on the overlooked and underrated. He will be looking for the players no one else thought could play at this level. But ultimately, when he sits down at his office and stares at a phone that hasn’t rang in years, he will continue to search, and continue hope a Division I school sees in him what he saw in the 2017 Cape Cod League Championship roster: a chance.
Until then, he will keep winning, keep proving himself just to prove it all over again, keep inching his way up the college baseball ladder, and wait by the phone for a call. But he knows, like finding the another Will Tribucher, another Hunter Bishop, or another Mickey Gasper – it may not ever happen.
“I work so hard,” he says as his voice begins to fade, “I work so hard not to lose my place in line, but honestly, I don’t even know where I stand on it.”
Tomorrow, Shevchick will go back to his office and wait. But tonight, he’s still a Brewster Whitecap. He’s still at the pinnacle of college baseball. And tonight, he is still a champion.
This piece could not have been created without the brute honesty from Jamie Shevchik. Thank you for trusting me with this story and giving me the opportunity to tell it. Along with the extensive interviews, research and experience, I want to thank Tommy Weber for his thoughts on the season and sharing his interviews found here. Thank you to the Brewster Whitecaps, their first story I found on this incredible year, their staff, the team, and specifically Robert Broom, Mickey Gasper, Will Tribucher, and Hunter Bishop for their participation in this story.