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Through 20 summers on the Cape, Nicholson reflects on two decades of baseball bliss

Head Coach Kelly Nicholson is joined by friends and colleagues in a pre-game ceremony. MICHAEL ROPER/ ORLEANS FIREBIRDS

By: Cole Bradley

ORLEANS, Mass- Orleans Firebirds Head Coach Kelly Nicholson has called the far corner of the Eldredge Park dugout his home for quite some time.

For the past 20 years he has been a part of one of the top teams on the Cape, starting as a pitching coach with Orleans in 2001 before taking the reins as the head skipper in 2005. The four-time Mike Curran Award winner has seen a lot during his tenure with the Birds, and on Wednesday he received some well-deserved recognition.

Prior to first pitch against the Chatham Anglers, Nicholson watched as former players, fellow coaches (former and current) and long-time friends congratulated him on his achievement.

Among those in attendance was CCBL Hall of Fame Coach John Schiffner, who spent 25 years as Chatham’s manager and is widely regarded as the most successful skipper in Cape League history. Schiffner said a few words on behalf of his longtime rival after managing against him for 13 summers.

“It meant a lot for John to be here and for him to speak,” Nicholson said. “The Chatham and Orleans rivalry when I first got here was pretty heated. I got to know him during the 04’ All-Star Game and I realized we were a lot alike. I missed John a lot up here. He has been the face of Chatham and the Cape Cod League ever since he’s been here.”

Through all the battles with his opposing numbers, Nicholson has a winning record against every current and former Cape League manager except two, Y-D’s Scott Pickler and Bourne’s Harvey Shapiro. Against Schiffner in particular, Nicholson went 40-36-2, going 8-3 against him in the postseason.

His success against one of the most influential and respected men in CCBL history is something he’s very proud of.

In 2005, Nicholson led the then Orleans Cardinals to a 30-win regular season and a date with Schiffner’s A’s in the Eastern Division Finals. This particular series is one that Nicholson remembers vividly and in all its glory.

After Chatham took Game one in Orleans, Nicholson’s bunch swept the final two games, finishing Game two after a fog delay cut it short the same day the series moved back to Orleans for the final game. The Cardinals would go on to beat the Bourne Braves in the CCBL championship, going down as one of the greatest teams in Cape League history.

“I think if you asked anyone about any Chatham and Orleans series or game they would talk about that one,” Nicholson said. “It’s a good thing that Chatham and Orleans are so close together. That was pretty special and that group obviously went on to win it all.”

Nicholson has been a part of many moments that embody not just the Cape League but the essence of the game itself. He has helped mold the next crop of Major League talent through his constant emphasis on playing passionately and the right way.

Coach K has seen 98 young men go from Orleans to the big leagues since he’s been on the Cape, 28 of which have been first-round picks in the MLB draft. His leadership has only allowed those around him to admire him more, including Assistant Coach Jamie Quinn, who is finishing up a fifth summer on Nicholson’s staff.

“He’s a good genuine person and a good mentor,” Quinn said. “He’s been good to my family and my wife, he’ll even watch my dog. The one thing I do enjoy is breaking it down in the clubhouse everyday with him and the other coaches.”

Quinn and the rest of the coaches call Nicholson a friend and a brother, someone who lends perspective on not just baseball but life itself.

“He preaches that you do things the right way,” Quinn said. “It’s not his way, your way, my way, it's the right way. Yeah we coach these kids up on baseball stuff like mechanics but holistically it’s everything. It’s all well deserved for him.”

Nicholson’s life changed when he came to the Cape, and it’s a place he is forever tied to. He has always been a model of consistency, hard work, success and most importantly leadership for so many players and coaches alike.

For Quinn, a particular word comes to mind when talking about the way Nicholson has made him and an entire community of people feel.

“Like family,” Quinn said. “He’s built a family here for 20 years with everybody in the organization. It’s been a pleasure to be here with him.”

After a warm embrace and no shortage of smiles before Wednesday’s game, Nicholson got back to doing what he has dedicated over two decades of his life to, leading a group of baseball’s future stars.

“It’s been a privilege to watch literally some of the best players in the world grace the fields of the Cape Cod League,” Nicholson said. “It’s all about friendships and the people that you meet and the relationships you develop. I wouldn’t trade this night for anything in the world, I’ll remember it for a very long time. Orleans has given me an opportunity that has completely changed my life.”

Coach K during the ceremony. RAJ DAS/ ORLEANS FIREBIRDS

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