The Vermont Mountaineers baseball team is at midway point of the summer, and things are quite literally in full swing.
The Mountaineers have played 24 games out of the 47-game season, and they have a 13-12 record. They’re in fourth place in the Northern Division, and if they make it into the top three by the end of the regular season they’ll head to the playoffs. Ahead of them in the division are the Upper Valley Nighthawks (15-10), the Keene Swampbats (14-8), and the North Adams SteepleCats (15-7).
On Monday, the Mountaineers faced the Winnipesaukee Muskrats and suffered an 8-1 loss. Here are five things you should know about the Mountaineers and their fans, and how the season is shaping up:
Searching for consistency
The Mountaineers have been on and off lately. Recently, they went on a nine-game winning streak. When their streak was ended, they proceeded to lose four straight games. Then on Sunday evening, they beat league-leaders Mystic Schooners 6-5. Their track record might show a team seemingly all over the board, but Mountaineers head coach Charlie Barbieri attributes the fluctuation to the competitiveness of the NECBL. “I think that it speaks to the parity in the league,” Barbieri said. “I think the league is really good, and it’s one of those things where anybody can beat anybody on any given day.”
It’s important to stay level-headed as a baseball team, especially when during a slump, and coach Barbieri knows it. There are ways to do so, too. “I think our coaching staff lends itself well to that,” Barbieri said. “I think we’re just a consistent group as far as emotions go.
“I think as long as these guys come to the park and work hard every day, the results will kind of show. We have a lot of hard working, grind-it-out kind of kids, so (if) you lose a couple of games in a row you gotta shake it, have a short memory.”
Long, hard work
Right now, the Mountaineers are in an 18-straight game run. One must wonder how a team plays a game every single night for 18 nights, but the boys are up to the task.
“It’s a grind,” Barbieri said. “And we don’t have a huge roster, so it’s a matter of taking care of their bodies, eating right, getting a good night’s sleep every night, and I think communication is really important with the coaching staff. So if a guy is a little tired, he’s gotta tell us and we give him a day, and get a fresh guy in there. I think our pitchers are really fresh--which is good--for this stretch run.”
There are many pitchers ready to go on the Mountaineers, so Barbieri knows that that won’t be a weak spot during the 18-game stretch. Overall, he says, the team can do it.
“We have guys in the pen that still want more innings, so I think we’re in a really good spot with that. I think we’re really well-equipped to handle this run just because of the mentality of our guys, but also just ‘cause I feel like we do have a group that’s pretty fresh right now.”
The Mountaineers will have a multiple-game Southern Division series, where they will stay in a hotel that’s within a few hours of each game. It’ll alleviate the burden of having to drive many hours to a game and drive back to Montpelier, only to have to do the same thing the next day.
Coach Barbieri says that the team roster pretty much set, aside from adding Ciaran Devenney. Devenney joined the Mountaineers from the Cape Cod League in Massachusetts.
“If we need to add somebody we will, but I’m pretty confident with the 25 guys we have. They’ve been here, they’ve shown the ability to get it done, and I’m not looking to bring anybody else out. I love the group that we have, I think we can win with this group, and I’m confident in them.”
The annual NECBL All-Star Game is on July 28th, and the Mountaineers are hosting this year. As of now, selections for the teams have not been made, but the excitement is mounting. Many scouts from Major League organizations will be present, but Barbieri believes the boys aren’t letting it distract them.
“I don’t think they’re thinking about it, I think it’s a good thing,” Barbieri said. “I think they’re really focused on the next day. I think that’s really important, and this is what this group is — when I recruited these players I knew the kind of kids we were getting. These are, like I said, scrappy, grind-it-out, get-everything-it-takes ballplayers. So they’re thinking about tomorrow’s game, so I think that that’s a huge advantage.”
The Mountaineers had their first season in 2003, and have called Montpelier Recreation Field home ever since. Many people in the area enjoy coming to a game now and again, but there are some fans who are more dedicated.
Donna and Philip Leno have been fans for about seven years, and keep coming back for more Mountaineers action. Donna is especially amazed by how the players are able to get together for a summer and become good friends. No season in particular has stuck out to them in a big way, but they say that they’ve all been great. What is it about the Mountaineers that keeps them coming back?
“It’s a family thing,” Donna said. “You meet a lot of people you become friends with, it gives us time to do something outside of staying home and working.”
Another longtime fan of the Mountaineers is Alice Angney, the grandmother of one of the bat boys on the team. She’s been a fan of the Mountaineers since it was first created, and she loves coming to games. Her grandson JT has been a batboy since he was 6 years old, and has been a fan of the team for longer. Alice enjoys the team because of the ease of access to watching, and the quality of baseball fans get to see.
“You can be right here, this is a great field,” Alice said. “It’s good family fun, it’s good for the community, the players are always awesome.”
“It’s just a great organization to support because it supports the community.”