By: Cole Bradley
ORLEANS, Mass- The summer of 2019 was a quiet one at Eldredge Park.
The famous hill nestled between Nauset Middle School and right field wasn’t filled with chairs belonging to anxious fans, the lights didn’t shine bright above some of the best collegiate talent in the country.
Instead, the Covid-19 pandemic took away all the things that used to be perceived as normal, including great baseball.
After a 671-day hiatus, it finally returned, the fans, the sights, the sounds, and most importantly, the baseball. For the first time in what has felt like a lifetime, Cape League Baseball is back.
The Firebirds opened on Father’s Day at Eldredge against the defending East Division Champion Harwich Mariners.
Head Coach Kelly Nicholson, back for his 20th summer on the Cape, sent right-handed pitcher Johnathan Cannon (Georgia) to the mound to open the summer for the Birds. His opposite number, Nick Sinacola (Maine), took to the hill for the Mariners.
Sinacola, fresh off a season where he struck out a whopping 139 batters in 79.1 innings, found an early groove, retiring five of the first six Firebirds he faced. The Firebirds inevitably found the scoreboard in the third when designated hitter Julio Marcano (NJIT) belted a solo home run over the left field fence for Orleans’ first hit of the summer.
“It was a bit of a slow start for the team,” Marcano said. “When I came up there, I had one goal and that was to get on base. I’m glad I did it in the way that I did. I got things started for us and the team took it from there.”
From that point on, Orleans controlled the game on both sides as Cannon worked four scoreless allowing just two hits and no runs. Michael Polk (Georgia) and Carter Smith (BYU) also tossed a combined four scoreless innings while striking out five Mariners.
“We had a really great three workouts and so we trusted our defense after seeing them work,” Smith said. “Just pounding the strike zone, that's what our whole bullpen did. Cannon came out and set the tone for everyone. It was super fun to be out there.”
Offensively the Firebirds took advantage of almost every opportunity they got as well, tallying seven more runs en route to an 8-1 win on Opening Day.
The Firebirds scored twice on plays at the plate, once on a wild pitch in the fifth from Mariners pitcher Dalton Smith (Georgia Tech) that allowed shortstop Jordan Sprinkle (UC Santa Barbara) to score from third. The dagger came in the seventh when right fielder Chase DeLauter (James Madison) crushed a three-run dinger to left, putting the score way out of reach.
“When I was going up to the plate I wasn’t trying to do too much,” DeLauter said. “I saw the fastball out of the hand on the outer half and I just tried to put a good swing on it, and I got a lot of barrel on it.”
The Birds played some stellar defense all evening as well, the highlight of the night coming from second baseman Jace Jung (Texas Tech), who cut down a runner at the plate to keep the Mariners off the board in the eighth. DeLauter relayed the ball into Jung after retrieving it at the wall in right to help get the big out.
“We were actually playing in because there was a righty up,” DeLauter said. “With wood bats and hard throwers, we figured if a ball was going over our heads it’s a tip of the cap to the hitter. I knew it was my ball so I kind of just chucked it back into the infield. Jace made a really good relay off that.”
The Mariners tried to salvage some sort of comeback against right-hander Nick Wallerstedt (Arizona State), who labored through the ninth, throwing 37 pitches. He finally shut the door after giving up the only Mariner run on an RBI fielder’s choice from second baseman Cory Acton (Florida), getting Andrew Jenkins (Georgia Tech) to lineout to Jung to end it.
The win gets the Firebirds out to an early lead in the East, as of now they are the only team with two points in the Division.
With their first win out of the way, the Firebirds have their sights on Chatham for a Monday evening match up at Veteran’s Field. At the end of the day, excitement has never been higher, and it’s good to have baseball back on the Cape.
“The lights were bright, and the crowd filled the hill, and the Birds got a win,” Nicholson said.