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Fresh faces critical for experienced Firebirds in Championship run

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

By Brendan Nordstrom

Margaret Nye Photography

On June 7, the Firebirds had their first practice of the summer at Eldredge Park. 10 of the players who were in attendance will have their names on a Cape Cod Baseball League Championship lineup card two months and 48 games later.

“We just know what to expect from each other,” catcher Owen Carapellotti, one of the 10, said. “We’re really good friends off the field, and being friends off the field is what correlates to playing well together on the field.”

Those 10 players have experienced everything together. From a five-game losing streak in the first week of the season and heartbreaking shutouts to five thrilling walk-offs and a late-season pennant chase, those players have been through the highs and lows of summer ball. And with several others, such as second baseman Jo Oyama and first baseman Matt Halbach, joining the team in the first week, a majority of the team has spent the summer's entirety as teammates.

It’s what makes the 2023 Orleans Firebirds special.

“Seeing everyone progress throughout the summer, going through highs and lows, how everyone handles that, we all have a good sense for each other, and we all care for each other,” outfielder Fenwick Trimble, another one of those players, said. “That’s really important in this run.”

While the team chemistry over the past 64 days has been crucial, the Firebirds need more than 10 players to keep them afloat in this championship run. That’s another reason the team is special — a team culture so strong that even new players on the roster contribute meaningfully and feel just as involved.

“It starts with including them in any way we can,” Carapellotti said. “You have to make a purpose of including them in conversations or playing catch, something simple like that.”

Infielder Brandon Stahlman mentioned it when he first joined the Firebirds mid-way through the season. Stahlman was the most recent hitter added to the lineup, and he said the team immediately “welcomed [him] with open arms.”

When it’s the playoffs, every hit, base runner and pitch is all the more important. Two Firebirds pitchers — Jaden Winter and Everett Catlett — have been crucial to the team’s playoff dreams, and they didn’t make an appearance in Orleans until just over a week ago.

Georgetown left-hander Catlett joined the team just nine days ago after spending most of his summer with the Mystic Schooners of the New England Collegiate Baseball League. The NECBL All-Star pitched over 31 innings with 34 punchouts, allowing a measly three runs for an impressive 0.86 ERA.

Catlett drove up all through the night on August 1 to get to Orleans, and the same day he arrived, he was given a Firebirds jersey and an appearance on the mound. Carapellotti said he “gained a lot of respect” for the quick turnaround, even if he didn’t show his best stuff due to the long night. In that regular-season finale against Chatham, he threw one inning, giving up three earned runs.

“His first outing, we didn’t put him in a good situation,” manager Kelly Nicholson said. “He had driven all night and not had much sleep, but he’s good or he wouldn’t be here.”

Despite a shaky first outing, Nicholson leaned on him heavily in game one of the semifinals. After starting right-hander Evan Truitt delivered four innings of three-run baseball, Catlett was thrown in to keep the Red Sox stopped long enough for Orleans to mount a comeback.

Catlett did just that with five full innings of work, allowing just one run on a pop fly home run to center field, and giving up only four hits total. He earned the win in the contest to push Orleans one game closer to the Championship.

“He stepped up big when we needed him. He was absolutely nails against Y-D in game one,” Catlett’s Georgetown teammate Carapellotti said. “He didn’t let the moment get too big, just threw strikes, trusted the defense and it all ended up working out.”

Another pitcher, Jaden Winter, was given a tall task when his name was first etched into the starting role. The East Carolina right-hander had spent the early part of his summer with the Olney Cropdusters of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League, where he worked a 3.06 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 17.1 innings. Arguably more impressive is the minimal free passes awarded, giving away only three.

He brought that same summer magic to the Cape. When he was first slated to start, the Firebirds were a game behind the No. 1 Y-D Red Sox and were set to face off against them at Red Wilson Field with just two games left in the regular season. Orleans had a depleted bullpen, so Winter stepped into the role with two innings of one-run baseball

“Everyone was very welcoming right when I got here, and it’s a tight-knit group of guys,” Winter said. “It’s great to be able to deliver and help this team win, even if I haven’t been here a long time.”

Then, Winter was thrown into a pitcher’s duel in the clinching game of the playoffs’ opening round against Harwich. The Mariners held a 2-1 lead, so every out was emphasized.

Winter delivered — He tossed two innings of no-hit, no-baserunner baseball, tacking on a strikeout. He eventually got the win as Orleans advanced to the semifinals.

If that wasn’t enough pressure, Winter was chalked in as the starting pitcher in the clinching game of the semifinals against Yarmouth-Dennis. Every square inch of Eldredge Park’s hill was filled with 4,633 Firebirds faithful hungry for the team’s first Championship appearance since 2013.

Facing off against the team he first started against — a team with a more potent offense — Winter pitched four innings, giving up only one run on five strikeouts.

“I learned what they like to chase at and their approach the first time,” Winter said. “It really helped me build off and give a good start this time.”

“Special” has been a word that’s surrounded this team since that first practice. Infielder Johnny Olmstead, who was drafted by the Miami Marlins, re-emphasized the special environment of Orleans — the team with the highest attendance numbers of the summer.

Left-handed pitcher Derek Clark, the winner of the CCBL’s Manny Rebello 10th Player Award, also mentioned it after his final start of the summer before he left for West Virginia.

“I’ll definitely miss a lot, but the most I’ll miss is the guys,” Clark said on July 31. “I’ll definitely miss being around this team because there’s something special going on here.”

It starts with the foundation built by the 10 players here on day one. It continues with every new player that joins the fold. There’s something special in Orleans — and every player is needed.

“We’re all actually good friends, and I think we all plan on keeping in touch after the summer ends,” Carapellotti said. “That’s what makes us different.”

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