NORTH ADAMS, Mass.
– In a summer that was defined by record-shattering numbers of the offensive side of the ball, the North Adams SteepleCats managed to tack on a bit of history of their own in their 11th season in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.
While the summer of 2012 did not see the SteepleCats lay claim to their first Fay Vincent Cup in franchise history, the Berkshires were graced once again by one of the most competitive teams in the NECBL that was a blend of both familiar faces and a slew of new players who wasted little time in etching themselves among the best in franchise and league history.
Under the tutelage of first-year head coach Bryan Adamski, as well as assistant coach Tony Dismukes and pitching coach Kevin Smith, the SteepleCats soared out of the gates in 2012, matching the franchise’s best four-game start with a 4-0 record that had the community abuzz in the early goings of the season.
That fast start propelled the Black and Gold to first place in the Western Division, and North Adams would maintain that position until an early-season showdown against the eventual division winners, Keene. While the SteepleCats fell by a run against the Swamp Bats in the first of eight meetings, the game was an early indicator of just how intense the two teams’ rivalry would become over the course of the year.
The SteepleCats endured an up-and-down stretch to close out June but ended on a high note, finishing the first month of the year five games over .500 and near the top of the Western Division standings. North Adams went a perfect 5-0 in cross-division matchups against the Eastern Division to start and posted one of the best road and one-run records in the first month of the year.
Heading into July, the SteepleCats kicked things off with an exhibition showdown against the Great Britain Under-23 National Team at Joe Wolfe Field. It marked the first of four games pitting Team Great Britain against the NECBL, as the SteepleCats greeted England with a pregame flyover preceding a 7-0 shutout victory in a joy-filled and lighthearted evening that doubled more as a learning experience for the visitors than the win did for the home side.
Entering the second and decisive month of the 2012 season, the SteepleCats turned to July looking to catch Keene in the Western Division race and maintain the hot start that propelled them through the first month of the year. While July was not as kind in the win-loss column, there were several highlights.
Of the most notable, five SteepleCats were chosen to represent the Western Division in the 2012 All-Star Game hosted by the Vermont Mountaineers at Montpelier Recreation Field. Center fielder Jeff Roy (URI) was named a starter while righty reliever Tom Bammann (Dowling) was tabbed as the West’s closer. Meanwhile, Brett Clements (Nova Southeastern), Charlie Law (Rutgers), and Matt Longfield (Villanova) all represented the SteepleCats in the All-Star Game eventually won by the West, as well.
As the season progressed, a number of SteepleCats began to inch closer toward franchise and league milestones. First, it was Roy establishing himself as the new franchise single-season leader in stolen bases, as the speedy outfielder and 2012 Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year surpassed the previous single-season mark of 19 stolen bases established by John Schultz (2009) three years ago, as Roy finished the regular season leading all players in the league with 24 swiped bags in 25 attempts.
That would not be the only mark that Roy would set, as the sophomore edged ahead of Mike Wagner’s original record of 39 runs established back in the inaugural 2002 season. Roy would eclipse that mark by one run, finishing the season with 40 runs scored to set the new single-season mark in SteepleCat history.
Finally, Roy etched himself in league lore by becoming the first player in NECBL history to steal more than 20 bases and compile more than 10 doubles in a single season, as Roy drilled a team-leading 11 doubles over the course of the year to help accomplish that mark. His 48 hits are tied with Nathan Sensing (’05) for fourth-most in single-season SteepleCat history.
Moving from speed to power, North Adams was well aware that it had a deep threat with the return of Law, who was a part of a 2009 SteepleCat squad that won 25 games. Law showed that his second summer in the Berkshires was even better, as the 6-foot-7 first baseman mashed nine home runs while driving in 41 RBI, both team highs and both good for new single-season records in franchise history.
Finally, Longfield clawed his way into the record books out of the bullpen. Not only was the all-star lefty reliever dominant as far as from the statistical standpoint (1.69 ERA, 39 strikeouts, 5 walks, 5-1 record), the Villanova southpaw was an absolute workhorse for the SteepleCats. His 28 appearances not only blew away the old single-season appearances benchmark in franchise history, but Longfield became the NECBL record holder in appearances in a single campaign, compiling two more games than the previous record holder, A.J. Balsinde of Vermont from the 2008 season.
Not to be forgotten was the unprecedentedly stellar eye of Sheehan Planas-Arteaga (Barry). The outfielder led the league by a wide margin with 37 walks drawn over the course of the season, good for the second most in team and league history behind 2009 SteepleCat Paul Hoilman, whose mark of 47 base on balls still stands as the single-season league record to date. Planas-Arteaga did, however, set a new franchise record in on-base percentage (.535), a mark that was just shy of Jeff Melillo’s mark of .548 that shattered the old single-season league record.
Other notable SteepleCats included second baseman Adrian English (Barry), who led the team in hitting and made tremendous strides as the season progressed along with fellow middle infielder and SteepleCat shortstop Shane Klemcke (UT-Pan American). Redshirt junior Shane O'Connell (URI), who did not play at all this past spring due to NCAA transer rules, split time behind the dish with Clements and led the league in stolen base defense with a league-high 14 runners thrown out on the year.
In the outfield, Conor Biggio (Notre Dame) often complimented Roy and Planas-Arteaga, and the freshman began the year with a bang, hitting for the cycle in the SteepleCats' opening-day win and was named the NECBL Player of the Week for the first week of the season.
As a team, the SteepleCats established several single-season records on offense, which came as no surprise considering just how much of an offensively fueled summer it was across the entire league. North Adams established new season records in team batting average (.271); hits (379); home runs (29); total bases (537); walks (181); slugging percentage (.383); and on-base percentage (.362) over the course of the year.
Individual and team milestones set aside, the franchise goal of postseason success was still at the forefront as the calendar turned to August. The SteepleCats punched their ticket to the playoffs with a win at Vermont to conclude the two teams’ eight-game regular-season series in late July, and after some jockeying in the standings down the stretch, North Adams wound up as the No. 3 seed in the West and found itself matched up against Danbury in the first round of the playoffs.
The SteepleCats traveled to Rogers Park to begin the best-of-three NECBL Western Division Semifinals and fell in the postseason opener, 14-4. But North Adams bounced right back with a 4-2 victory at home thanks to some late heroics to split the series, sending it back to Connecticut for a third and final game to determine who would face Keene in the Western Division Finals.
Unfortunately, after the SteepleCats pushed ahead by a run and were forced to return a day later after the game was suspended due to heavy rains, the Westerners eventually emerged on top, winning the final game of the series to send the SteepleCats home in the first round of the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 postseason trips.
While the Berkshire’s Best fell short of the ultimate goal of a first-ever Fay Vincent Cup and NECBL championship, the franchise is poised for another run next summer and proved that a disappointing 2011 season was nothing more than an aberration for a program that has established itself as one of the most consistent and competitive in one of the best summer collegiate leagues in the country.
There were several other off-the-field highlights in 2012, as familiar sponsors and brand-new theme nights made their appearances at The Joe over the course of the season. Hoosac Bank was at the forefront to kick off the season, serving as the opening-night sponsor on June 8 against Vermont. The “Mountain One Financial Partner” served as sponsor once again later in the season.
MCLA took over on June 13 before Williamstown Savings Bank did likewise later that weekend as game-night sponsors. Berkshire Bank and Greylock Federal Credit Union also proudly sponsored a game apiece before The Transcript hosted its annual game night and distributed their SteepleCat Baseball Cards late in the year, as well.
The SteepleCats hosted several new events for the first time in the 2012 season, including Slider’s Birthday Night; Country Night; Bingo Nights; Beach Night and Olympics Night. Other favorite and familiar themes returned in the form of $1 Hot Dog Nights; Father’s Day at the Ballpark; Hometown Heroes Night and Fan Appreciation Night. Along the way, the franchise distributed countless free giveaway items for each of the team’s 23 home games, including exhibitions and postseason, culminating in another season that saw the SteepleCats rank among the top-four in average attendance in the NECBL.
In addition to the young men and coaches who helped put together the product on the field, there were several individuals and groups who helped make the 2012 season the best yet in Berkshire County.
At the forefront were Team President Dan Bosley and General Manager Sean McGrath, both of who combined to assemble the components that were the 2012 SteepleCats and help organize another successful season from the back end of the franchise.
Led by 2012 interns Casey Winston and Zach Tanne, the SteepleCats were operated as one of the best in the league. This dynamic duo essentially ran the team from every aspect since arriving in North Adams in mid-May, overseeing aspects of operations, marketing, promotions, sponsorships and more throughout the season. The franchise could not have gotten by without them, and was truly bolstered by the services of two of the finest interns in the league.
In the press box during home games, fans were treated once again to the dulcet tones of arguably the best public address announcer in the league in Kevin Hempstead, while local hero John Morocco served again as scoreboard operator. Ken Aubin and Adam Richardson provided the music and sound engineering, while Tom Decker resumed his annual role of official scorer.
Behind the scenes, Mike Merrill once again ran the all-important social media outlet in the online home of SteepleCats baseball at www.steeplecats.com, while Nicholas and Josh Mantello offered their brilliance as the team’s official action photographers on game days and throughout the season.
The team also enjoyed the essential services of the Director of Housing Judith McConnell – arguably one of the more difficult tasks earlier in the summer! – and both Lisa Briggs (Manager of Concessions) and Tony DeMarco (Concessions Stand Chef). Finally, Mark Vadnais offered his unlimited services in varying degrees throughout the course of the season in his role as Director of Concessions and Fan Services.
Finally, the lifeblood of any summer team are the volunteers and host families, and for the 11th season in franchise history, the SteepleCats were treated by some of the best yet. Dale Watterman was invaluable in serving as the Volunteer Coordinator once again, while several volunteers and host families enabled the SteepleCats to thrive again as one of the best-run organizations in not only the NECBL, but also the country.
While North Adams fell short of its goal as NECBL champions, there certainly was enough that occurred throughout the 2012 season to reinvigorate and reenergize one of the most loyal fan bases in the league this summer. Indeed, the future has never been brighter for the North Adams SteepleCats.