MONTPELIER — The Vermont Mountaineers are entering a make-or-break stretch of the season with seven road games scheduled in eight days.
With guys like Connor Charping and Straton Podaras on board, manager Charlie Barbieri isn’t worried.
Charping is a 5-foot-10, 200-pound standout for Western Michigan University. He arrived in the Green Mountain State with intentions of playing behind the plate, or possibly in the outfield. Five weeks into the season, he’s filled in at five separate positions while leading the team with a .333 batting average.
“It’s game-to-game,” Charping said of defensive roles. “I come to the field and coach lets me know. I get my reps pre-game and then I go play that position. …I came here as a catcher-outfielder, but I’ve been playing all over. And I’m not complaining.”
Offensively, Charping is 23-for-69 with a double and eight RBIs. He’s recorded nine stolen bases and scored 11 runs.
“I’m just trying to feel my swing a little bit, trying to pick good pitches and find myself some good pitches I can drive,” Charping said. “I’m kind of looking to right field, and working myself in if the ball comes and I’ve got to react to it. Our team has been coming along well and playing well.”
As a catcher, Charping has nine putouts, two assists and one error. He’s recorded 51 putouts, five assists and one error while playing first base. He’s error-free as an outfielder with 11 putouts.
“(Charping) will play wherever we need him to play,” Barbieri said. “We’ve got infielders that are willing to move all around. It just shows the unselfishness of the players here.
“For me, the wins and losses are one thing. But you talk about a team and a family that we’re trying to create here. The guys have each other’s back. It’s a really good feel here, and a lot of that is because of guys like Straton (Podaras) and guys like Connor Charping. They’ll do whatever it takes to win.”
Podaras also arrived in Vermont as a catcher but is keeping his fielding options open heading into the final two weeks of the regular season. He has gone 13-for-54 at the plate (.241) with two doubles, one home run, seven RBIs and six runs scored. He has 98 putouts, 11 assists and no errors as a catcher. The team recently needed him to player third base twice, and he rose to the occasion with five putouts, four assists and no errors.
“Straton is one of the best catchers in the league defensively,” Vermont GM Brian Gallagher said. “In the big games, he throws guys out and people don’t run on him.”
Podaras and Charping haven’t been the only Mountaineers to do some heavy lifting in the last few weeks. Shortstop Austin Gauthier has been a machine, going 34-for-102 at the plate (.333) with eight doubles, a triple, 14 RBIs, 12 stolen bases and 24 runs scored. He has reached base 17 times on walks. Outfielder Cam Climo (.317) is 20-for-63 with five doubles, two triples and two home runs. Second baseman Matt McDermott (.301) is 25-for-83 with four doubles, one home run, 13 RBIs and 14 runs scored.
“Matt McDermott has been doing a great job at second,” Gallagher said. “He runs through walls. He’s a kid who hates making a mistake and he’s in our lineup all the time.”
Outfielder Curtis Robison (.294) is 30-for-68 offensively with six doubles, two home runs, 11 RBIs and 14 runs scored. Another outfielder, Corey DiLoreto, is 24-for-100 (.240) with three doubles, two home runs, 19 RBIs and 12 runs scored.
“It’s good to know that I’m playing with really good guys,” Charping said. “They come in to hit early, and I try to get here early with them. A lot of us are always putting in the extra work.”
Vermont will host Newport on Saturday before embarking on a three-game road trip with contests at Valley, Danbury and Keene. Following a home game Wednesday at Upper Valley, the Mountaineers will hit the road again to face Martha’s Vineyard, Newport, New Bedford and Mystic. Vermont will stay at a centrally located hotel during the second road trip, but players and coaches will return to Montpelier after facing Valley, Danbury and Keene.
“The three-game trip we’re bouncing back and forth, so that will be a challenge,” Barbieri said. “Our mindset is if we can take two out of three on that trip, that will be really good. There’s a lot of parity in this league. Anybody can beat anybody. If we come out and play our game, I think we’ll be OK.”
July 22 will mark the team’s first day off in 19 days. And if Mother Nature cooperates, players could have three days off in a row during the All-Star break from July 27-29.
“All of us are trying to work out, stay healthy, get to the ball field, play games, eat healthy,” Charping said. “We got home late last night — I got home at 2 a.m. …And living life on the road is kind of tough. You don’t get to do your routines, you can’t work out, you don’t get to eat what you want. You’re usually not sleeping in your own bed. But we all love the grind.”
Three Northern Division teams will make the playoffs, and the North Adams SteepleCats lead the standings at 16-8. Close behind are the Keene Swamp Bats (15-10), Upper Valley Nighthawks (16-11) and Valley Blue Sox (13-11). The Mountaineers (15-13) are comfortably in front of the Sanford Mainers (9-17) and Winnipesaukee Muskrats (7-17).
“I look at the standings, but I don’t delve too much into it,” Barbieri said. “We still have about a third of the way to go. Our mindset is just one game at a time. And a lot of those teams are about four or five games behind us as far as games played. So they’re going to be jammed up late in the year. As long as we stay the course and take care of of our own business, I think we’ll be OK.”
Making things especially interesting is the fact that Vermont will play Keene, Upper Valley and Valley two times apiece before the end of the season. With the Mountaineers only three games out of first place, victories over those rivals could have a major impact in the standings.
“We want to play those teams because we’re basically controlling our own destiny,” Barbieri said. “If we’re chasing a couple teams, and we don’t get to play them anymore, then you’re relying on other people to do the job for you. So it’s great for us. We know how important the games are. But we don’t press. We just come out and compete the way we we’ve been competing all year. I have all the confidence in the world in this group of guys.”