By Brendan Nordstrom
Yarmouth-Dennis pitcher Cole Carrigg was set in the windup. Carrigg kicked and delivered strike three into the glove of catcher Waldier Perez, sending the Red Sox to the next round and the Firebirds to the offseason.
When the dust cleared at Eldredge Park following that strikeout, the preparation for the 2023 season began.
“The expectations are always high,” manager Kelly Nicholson said. “We expect our pitchers to command the ball. We expect our batters to put the ball in play. We expect our defense to play catch.”
The Firebirds will open the regular season this Saturday against the Hyannis Harbor Hawks at McKeon Park with a 6:00 p.m. first pitch. The home opener on Sunday against the Harwich Mariners will begin at 5:00 p.m.
“It’s pretty special to get an invite to come out here,” Johnny Olmstead, an infielder from the University of Southern California, said. “As far as summer ball goes, this is the place to be.”
Manager Kelly Nicholson brings consistency in his 23rd summer
While the rosters may change year to year, there has been one constant at Eldredge Park for the last 23 summers: Manager Kelly Nicholson. Going into his 18th season as the head man of the Firebirds, Nicholson said he looks to be “the same guy every day.”
“I love each and every one of them because they’re Orleans Firebirds, and now we have a new family this summer,” Nicholson said. “This group becomes the 2023 family.”
Nicholson, the seventh most-winningest manager in CCBL history, is just 10 wins away from the 400-career win milestone. When asked what this means to him, Nicholson answered simply: “It means I’m old.”
While players have only had two practices under Manager Nicholson’s guidance, his message of respect has already taken root.
“Coach Kelly’s awesome,” Olmstead said. “The energy that he brings, the attention to detail and his commitment to not only make us better baseball players but better men, in general, is what makes him so special.”
New rules coming to the Cape Cod Baseball League
The CCBL, which is celebrating its Centennial Anniversary this summer, is adopting a number of rule changes that mirror those in the MLB.
The most noticeable change is the introduction of a pitch clock. Four teams — the Chatham Anglers, Cotuit Kettleers, Harwich Mariners and, most notably, the Orleans Firebirds — will have pitch clocks installed at the field.
“I love it,” Nicholson said. “I’m big on tempo, and I love the pitch clock, so I’m all for it.”
The pitch clock, which entered Major League ballparks this season, allows 15 seconds between pitches when the bases are empty and 20 seconds when not.
The goal of the pitch clock is to cut down on dead time in baseball to speed up the game. Since its introduction in the majors, games have been an average of 31 minutes shorter, according to ESPN.
Luckily, college baseball players have dealt with some form of a pitch clock since the 2020 season, so the increased tempo is nothing new.
“Most of us are pretty prepared for it and have dealt with it in the past,” Olmstead said. “It shouldn’t be a problem going forward.”
Another rule change coming to the CCBL is the MLB’s “Ghost Runner” rule. Implemented in 2020, every team will automatically get a baserunner on second base to start extra innings.
Similarly, games will cap at 10 innings this season with a tie awarded if there is no winner.
Players bring ‘energy’ early
The players have already made an impression as Nicholson specifically mentioned their “enthusiasm.”
“The guys around the clubhouse seem like a bunch of really, really good dudes, really talented baseball players and guys I look forward to making lifelong relationships with,” Olmstead said.
Olmstead himself batted a career-best .288 average with 11 long balls and 48 RBIs in his senior season at USC.
The team will have a chance to build chemistry at Fenway Park this Friday when they participate in the annual workout day in Boston. This will include infield and batting practice alongside the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox and the New England Scout Team. Following the workout, the Firebirds will scrimmage against the NE Scout Team.
“It’s always a dream come true to play where all those greats have played,” Olmstead said. “[I’m] looking forward to soaking it all in.”