Sharks Strike MV

As the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks head into year two, we look back at the collegiate baseball league’s premier season last summer.

June 10, 2011. It’s the night before the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks of New England’s amateur Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL) open their first season against the Seacoast Mavericks from Rochester, New Hampshire.

The players gathered at Zephrus restaurant in Vineyard Haven are not your grandfather’s prospective major leaguers. Mostly over six feet tall, with thick biceps and six-pack abs, they include pitchers who throw over ninety miles per hour and batters who hit the ball four hundred feet. All of them are collegians, and most of them play baseball for three out of four seasons, with winter reserved for conditioning. There are athletes from Harvard and Brown; a surfer dude from California; players from Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish backgrounds; Anglos and Latinos. They sit at tables in shorts, sneakers, and T-shirts, bonding like fraternity brothers.

The Sharks will play forty-four games during fifty-one days against the league’s other teams – the Mavericks, the Nashua (New Hampshire) Silver Knights, and the Torrington (Connecticut) Titans – plus a few other games against non-conference opponents. Their shortest bus ride is around two-and-a-half hours. Major league scouts will take copious notes. High-level baseball on Martha’s Vineyard! Not only that but high-level baseball using wooden rather than composite wood/aluminum bats, a pleasure usually reserved for pros.

Wearing longer pants with only slightly more ample midsections, two accomplished club executives are beaming in an adjacent room. “This is something I wanted to do before they pour dirt on me,” says Sharks Vice President of Baseball Operations Bob Tankard, a management consultant whose lengthy CV includes stints as head football coach at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and principal of the West Tisbury School. He currently serves on the Tisbury School Committee, is vice chair of the Cape Cod Collaborative serving kids in need, is a board member of Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank, and is host of Tank Talk on Martha’s Vineyard Community Television. “What a fine thing to do: baseball, hot dogs, affordable family entertainment, with adults paying $5 and kids $3. This is almost like the minor leagues in 1961.”

Bob motions over General Manager Jerry Murphy, who is retired from his work as a bank executive and CEO of a software company and a renewable-energy project. Jerry has coached the junior varsity baseball team at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Both he and Bob were hired by the Sharks’ majority owner Chris Carminucci, whose Carminucci Sports Group operates the Torrington club and the Brockton Rox of the professional Can-Am League. Chris landed a five-year, rent-free lease with the school system to play at the high school’s Vineyard Baseball Park. In return, the Sharks guarantee year-long maintenance of the playing grounds, and by opening day have already spent about $250,000 to build a storage shed, construct outbuildings, buy a tractor and other equipment, add bleachers, and install a new watering system and underground electrical lines to upgrade the field. For their part, Bob and Jerry have signed up some seventy sponsors. “We’re the Cisco Kid and Pancho,” Bob says.

“Which is which?” Jerry says. Turning more serious, he adds, “Our success will depend on whether we’re competitive and get support from the community, with the ultimate goal of generating excitement for baseball among Island kids. There are three hundred of them on Little League teams, but then they seem to disappear into summer jobs, which are more important for youth. We’ve gone out of our way to hire high school kids as interns.”

At that moment a veritable apparition, a regular Roy Hobbs, appears. It’s six-foot-four Garrett Autrey, who is entering Lamar University in Texas with outta sight junior-college stats from the previous season. “Didn’t you hit something like .750 last year?” Jerry asks him.

“Something like that,” Garrett murmurs.

“And wasn’t your on-base percentage about .850?” Bob wants to know.

“I guess.”

“I want all these kids to have a great time, win some games, and improve a part of their game,” says head coach Ted Currle, whose Norton High School team won the Massachusetts Division 3 title in 2010.

By league fiat at least thirteen of the twenty-four Sharks must live in New England or play for area schools, and the players were chosen from more than two hundred candidates, with the help of a scouting bureau and college coaches. The players and the team kick in $300 apiece to pay the families who put them up – after the hosts undergo a criminal-record check. The players sign a disciplinary sheet promising that under-twenty-one athletes will avoid bars, and everyone will smile, sign autographs, appear at functions, help maintain the field, perform up to twenty hours of community service, and stay out of trouble. Some will also instruct kids on the finer points of the game at Jerry’s baseball camp, a labor (mostly) of love that will net them $10 an hour.

Opening day

June 11, 2011. During a break from warm-ups, the team’s only Vineyard resident, Tad Gold of Vineyard Haven, fields questions in the dugout. The son of Walter, a carpenter, and Melissa, a bookkeeper, he is wearing his pants high, exposing black hose almost to the knee like old-fashioned ballplayers. “Lacrosse takes a lot of [high school] players from baseball,” says Tad, a sophomore at Beverly’s Endicott College. “I just kept at it. The Sharks could mean a lot for youth programs and more players in high school.”

Tad himself could mean a lot for Vineyard baseball. The lad is a fifteenth-generation Vineyarder on his mother’s side, with antecedents dating back to the Mayhews and Leonards and Chief Sengekontacket, or so say relatives. “He took a post-graduate year at Bridgton Academy in Maine,” says his grandmother Cynthia Schilling, a trim, white-haired woman wearing a Sharks cap, a Black Dog T-shirt, blue jeans, and sneakers. “They couldn’t say enough about his athletic prowess in hockey and baseball. He’d never run track before, but he was the fastest runner they ever had at Bridgton.”

She’s just getting started. “He was as comfortable with his great-grandparents as he is with his peers. We have a photo of him with his ninety-six-year-old great-grandmother when he was eighteen. He’s looking down at her, and she’s looking up at him. ‘I love you, Tad,’ she’s saying. ‘I love you, Connie,’ he tells her.”

Some of Tad’s teammates sign balls, others play catch with a little kid on the sidelines. First baseman Anthony Boix of Tennessee Wesleyan College bops to music over the PA. “You gotta dance, man,” he says. “You gotta have fun at the ballpark.”

French-surnamed Anthony, who has a father of Cuban ancestry and a mother of Dominican and Peruvian roots, converses with Jeramy Matos, who cites Puerto Rican, French, and Turkish ancestors. “I don’t speak Spanish, but I understand my grandmother when she speaks it,” Anthony says.

“That’s more than I can do,” Jeramy says.

By the 5 p.m. start, established that early because of the lightless field and the need for visiting teams to make the last ferry, fevered preparations are complete. Hannah Schley, the twenty-four-year-old club president, grins over the purple coat of paint she has applied to the inside of the dugouts. Ads for Island businesses such as Vineyard Cash & Carry and Our Market adorn most of the outfield fences. Head coach Ted lays down chalk on the first-base line. General Manager Jerry staffs a concession stand. You can’t make these kinds of things up.

Former Red Sox right-hander Bob Stanley throws out the first pitch. The game moves along quickly, with the pitchers aware it must be completed in daylight. Before, during, and after games, there’s a sack race, a trivia quiz on Jaws for a player from Florida (fans helpfully calling out answers), a contest between two boys to see who can don the most T-shirts in a minute, a race among youngsters and the mascot Sharky (you can imagine who finishes last).

“I called some minor league stadiums to see what works,” says pastor Jeff Winter of Faith Community Church of Martha’s Vineyard, who supervises on-field promotions. “I have about forty different things to use, some of which I made up. My favorite is asking Sharks players questions about Martha’s Vineyard.” He pauses and smiles. “They know a lot about baseball.”

With the Sharks trailing, 1–0, in mid-game, Tad reaches first on a strike-three passed ball, two teammates get on to load ’em up, and the ebullient Anthony Boix triples everyone home. The Sharks go on to win, 6–1. You doubtless noted that the Vineyard kid scored the team’s first run of the season.

An overflow crowd of about 2,100 leaves well entertained. During the following weeks, the Sharks stage special promotions for groups they hope will be repeat customers: the Martha’s Vineyard Boys & Girls Club, Camp Jabberwocky, Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank, Island Elderly Housing, volunteer firemen, families, even dog owners. Each game’s guests get wristbands guaranteeing them free food. For youngsters with short attention spans, there’s a Kids’ Zone down the left-field line with a sandbox, a bouncy castle, and a hoop-shooting apparatus. People dodging the sun can retreat to a two-thousand-square-foot tent area. There’s a “shark launch” using toy fish and slingshots. Kids linger behind the stands, because if you catch a ball, you can turn it in at a concession stand for a free cookie or some other dessert. Because home games are played on high school land, smoking and alcohol are verboten. Talk about family entertainment!

Good sports

Anticipating some burnout, Ted girds for the time in early July when “they’ve been playing since February.” Indeed, games follow in which the pitchers are so wild they allow eight runs on only six hits, days when the PA plays “rally” music when the other team is batting. But there always seem to be at least a few hundred people at the park, with visitors from places like Georgia, Tennessee, Nebraska, South Carolina, and, believe it or not, Mongolia. The fans chant for the Sharks even when they’re behind by six runs with two out in the ninth. Good humor is always the winner. “What time is it in Vancouver?” a hockey fan asks Ken Goldberg, who broadcasts some Shark games on cable TV. Then he answers his own question: “Twenty minutes past Luongo,” referring to the Vancouver goalie bested by the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals.

The players relish their summer, and not just because they use pro-style wooden bats. “They’re so polite,” says Joan Dunayer, owner of Martha’s Vineyard Real Estate and host for catcher Anthony Corona. “Anthony always hugs me and says, ‘Good morning, Joan,’ and ‘Good night, Joan.’”

“When we get a day off, we’ll go to South Beach,” Tad says, apparently speaking for the entire team.

You want a feel-good story? In his junior and senior years of high school in Southbury, Connecticut, pitcher Adam Cherry raised enough money on behalf of the Connecticut Food Bank to provide 28,000 meals. “He’s a good kid, a good boy,” says his mother, Maryanne. “Not that any mother would say that.”

As the tourist season starts, there’s more than just baseball to keep the faithful coming. Volunteers launch T-shirts into the stands. The sack race always seems to involve a tall boy, a small boy, and a gremlin-sized girl. One kid is seen with four foul balls he has caught after scouting the busiest locations.

“The ball boys are so cute!” Hannah Schley says. One of them goes to work with the remnants of a blue Slurpee covering his mouth. Another runs out with the coaches to comfort Corona after he takes a foul tip off his hand.

Because buses and boat trips cost about $1,500 per round trip, the Sharks cannot afford to stay overnight on the road. Even when they have two successive road games, they get up early, take the bus to Torrington, Nashua, or Rochester, play the game, get back on the bus, and arrive in Falmouth bleary-eyed. After Steamship Authority hours, the team uses the Patriot, a Falmouth-based delivery boat that brings newspapers over each morning.

The players endure all inconvenience in good spirits. Bob Tankard anoints catchers Ronnie Rosario and Corona as leaders. “By the nature of [your] position, you’re the team leaders,” he tells them. “You’re the only guys who can tell the coach to take the pitcher out.” It helps that Corona and Ronnie are good citizens and role models. In the little free time he has, Corona works as a bouncer at the Edgartown nightclub Nectar’s.

A midsummer’s daydream

July 8, 2011. Though some players are fighting a stomach bug, the second-place Sharks nonetheless field a team to play first-place Nashua. (The top two teams will qualify for a best-of-three championship playoff in early August.) Fighting injury rather than sickness, Jeramy Matos, who has a sculpted fringe beard à la David Ortiz and a nose that meanders like the Nile, has been hitting like Albert Pujols. In fact, the former Cardinals star, now with the Los Angeles Angels, is his role model. Major leaguers have been restricting the strides with their front foot or eliminating them altogether. “I’m a big fan of The Mental Keys to Hitting by Harvey Dorfman,” Jeramy says. “[Striding with the front foot instead of planting it] makes your eyes drop. See the ball, know your strength, keep your head still. Pujols especially. That’s why he’s called ‘The Machine.’”

Around 4 p.m., Jeramy repairs to the right-field stands and drops his pants to just above his knees. Wearing boxer-like undershorts, he’s preparing his ailing legs for physical therapy.

Susan Sanford, a gum-chewing blonde in flip-flops, jeans, a sleeveless blouse, hoop earrings, and sunglasses perched atop her head, approaches. A licensed physical therapist and certified sports medicine acupuncturist who’s the president and CEO of Vineyard Complementary Medicine in West Tisbury, she applies gel to the quadriceps, covers it with a pad attached to a small electrical box in her hand, and uses low-frequency stimulation over specific points on the muscle. The muscle jumps. “The idea is to twitch and stimulate muscles to recovery,” she says. “When you cause an involuntary muscle contraction, you’re pressing the neurological reset button to restore function, reduce pain, and eliminate spasms.”

Music chosen by the players blares over the PA. “Good time,” Jeramy sings to it, “boogie.” A rap song whose most innocuous word may be “bitch” follows, to Jeramy’s dismay. “You never used to hear the B word,” he says. (Cleaner music will play when the fans show up.)

“I’m really sore,” says Jeramy. “I’ve had two strained hamstrings for a month. It sucks. I can’t sprint. The only way to deal with it is to take time off, but–”

He doesn’t need to finish the sentence: Time off is not an option when you aren’t crippled by injury and you’re trying to impress pro scouts over a short season.

Susan massages his quadriceps muscles and instructs Jeramy to do a quad stretch. He grabs his right instep and swings it to his butt, knee facing the ground. “I couldn’t do that this morning,” Jeramy says.

Before releasing him, Susan applies two long stretches of pink Kinesio Tex Tape covered by two horizontal strips to each quad, giving him support without reducing flexibility or circulation. “I don’t feel it when I play,” Jeramy says of his pain. “I play through it. I have to.”

“All right!” Susan says. “Knock ’em dead! Hit ’em out of the park!”

The game begins with a fog creeping over the center-field fence. Ah, Vineyard fog: not too hot, not too cold, with a comforting little breeze.

As cleanup hitter, Jeramy strikes out on a breaking ball in the dirt his first time up. But on his second at bat, he picks off a hanging curve and hits a three-run homer over the left-field fence. He taps batting helmets with the two base runners when he crosses the plate. Later he drives in a run with a single. Give Susan an assist for getting him in playing shape.

“I thought I lived in a paradise – this is paradise,” marvels David Goodman, a diamond dealer from Del Ray Beach, Florida. “It’s a fantasy what they do for the families and kids.”

The Goodmans’ gifts are piling up. David’s wife, Lisa, a chic brunette in Jackie O sunglasses, is picked out of the crowd for a pre-game promotion and wins two free ice creams with a close-enough guess about the total price of four Stop & Shop items. She gives them to a little girl. The Goodmans’ son Max, called up to the Sharks when Garrett Autrey is hurt, starts in left. He and Jeramy are longtime friends. In fact, Jeramy’s father, Ralph, recommended Max to the Vineyard staff when the vacancy opened.

A muscular little guy, Max steps in and assumes a stance that begins with a lean backward as if he were evading a bully’s fists. “I don’t know where he got that,” his father says appreciatively. “He got that from himself.”

Max, who is listed at 5 foot 10 but stands 5 feet 8 1/2 inches, gets a single and also hits a sharp grounder that the pitcher blindly stabs at and knocks down before throwing in time to first. Max has hit .353 at Miami-Dade Junior College, where major league teams drafted five of his teammates. “He’s our little prospect,” his father says. “I don’t know if he’s anybody else’s.”

A catcher in the Cincinnati Reds’ farm system before a career-ending injury in A-ball, David Goodman supplies knowing commentary during the game while Lisa offers popcorn to a new acquaintance. The game is called off because of fog with the score 5–5 in the eighth inning, but everyone leaves well entertained. (The Sharks will win when the game resumes on July 20.)

The big picture

In baseball, the only constant is change. On July 12, Susan rolls her eyes when asked about Jeramy’s condition. After the game starts, he runs stiffly to first on a ground out. Pretty soon he may be used as a pitcher when he isn’t lumbering along as the designated hitter.

“See that speed?” Bob Tankard says after a new player, Calvin Graves, legs out an infield hit. “He must have gone down there in four steps!”

There’s growing attention now on shortstop Robbie Zinsmeister from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He not only has good hands afield but is among the team leaders in every important offensive category, including stolen bases.

Blond and pleasant, Robbie deflects attention from himself. “I’m from Hatfield in eastern Pennsylvania, and I go to school in the western part of the state,” he says. “People are different there.” He chuckles. “They say ‘pop’ instead of ‘soda.’”

Asked to explain his summer success, he says, “Maybe the pitching is tougher in my college league.” Maybe, but he was also an all-star for the Quakertown Blazers in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League the previous summer.

By the sizzling Friday night of July 22, the real world begins closing in on the Sharks. They’re now in third place, with only a week and a half left. It’s ninety-three degrees at game time. “If I go six for my next six, I’m going home!” Boix shouts to hoots from his teammates.

Not a chance. There are no unions or agents for summer players, and no one wants to build up a bad reputation. When a coach tells you to jump, you ask him, “How high?”

Calvin Graves has a hamstring problem and decides to leave the team to recuperate before fall practice at New Hampshire’s Franklin Pierce University. Jeramy sticks it out, although he can’t bend his knee behind him at more than a ninety-degree angle. Nonetheless, he repairs to the batting cage, where a teammate lobs balls underhand and Jeramy hits them with only his left hand on the bat.

Darren Harrison-Panis, a part-owner and Sharks representative on the FCBL board of directors, originated the idea of the league, with a team on the Vineyard. It’s no surprise that he looks at the big picture when he’s asked to evaluate the season. “We’re averaging almost seven hundred fans a game here,” he says. “It’s become part of everyone’s summer tradition. When people come here, they go to a Sharks game.” Even though actor Bill Murray is also a part-owner, the games have a laid-back, non-celebrity feel to them.

Officials from an insurance company and Island Elderly Housing throw out first balls. The sweating Sharks lose, 2–1, despite a Jeramy homer to center. So what if he can’t run?

The bigger picture

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could look back to the summer of 2011 and say, “That was the year so-and-so came of age as a ballplayer en route to the majors”? That’s certainly the goal of every Shark. On Monday, July 25, eight Sharks head to the Brockton ballpark for a Scouts Day. Matos, Zinsmeister, Corona, Boix, and pitchers Zach Rafferty, Jay Swinford, and Ryan Morris make the trip, along with Eric Jensen, who is subbing for the injured Ronnie Rosario. Working out before representatives from eighteen major league teams and two more from the Major League Scouting Bureau, the eager eight and players from other FCBL teams take infield practice, show off outfield and pitching arms, take batting practice, and play a simulated game with hitting and pitching but no base-running.

“Scouts are strange guys,” Bob says. “They’ll look at you like this” – he faces forward while looking out of the corners of his eyes – “because they don’t want you to notice. But when they get back to the office, the phone starts ringing.”

If Robbie Zinsmeister, considered the best all-around Shark, is disturbed that he didn’t get much visible attention on Monday, he doesn’t show it on Tuesday. Robbie’s eighth-inning homer gives the Sharks a 2–1 win over Torrington. It’s win-or-else time. The Sharks are three games behind Nashua and Torrington, who have identical first-place records, with just seven games to go.

The Sharks win on Wednesday, and then win in spectacular form on Thursday, when Jeramy hits a three-run homer in the first, followed by solo shots in the third and fifth. But a walk-off homer in the ninth by – whom else? – Robbie gives the Sharks a 7–6 win over the Silver Knights. Martha’s Vineyard is now one and a half behind league-leading Nashua and a game behind Torrington.

Then, after some tough losses, August 2 arrives with the Sharks trailing Torrington by two; two games, both with the Titans, remain on their schedule. That means the Sharks will have to beat Torrington twice, then beat them again in a one-game playoff. The players are remarkably relaxed, willing even to talk about their futures. “I’ve worked hard on my running,” says Corona, “running with a parachute in the winter and trying to perfect my jump off first. There aren’t many fast catchers, and I’m glad I’ve stolen a few bases this summer. I’ve always looked up to pros like [free agent catcher] Jason Kendall.”

Wouldn’t you know, a few hours later Boston catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia pinch runs for Jason Varitek and races home for the winning run against Cleveland?

Before the first Torrington game, the Sharks line up their Vineyard hosts, who throw baseballs to the players they house. Another good move by team management. The Sharks don’t make the postseason, but not for lack of trying. Tonight’s 2–1 loss to Torrington kayoes them. But with or without the playoffs, it’s a successful season. The Sharks finish with a 23–21 league record and lead the FCBL in hitting. Four players make the FCBL’s all-star team, and Robbie Zinsmeister is elected the league’s MVP.

“Coming up short left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, but every kid who put out showed improvement,” head coach Ted Currle says. In addition to citing players like Robbie (“the full package”), Jeramy, Anthony Corona, and Zach Rafferty who may be drafted by major-league organizations, he adds, “[Third baseman] Steve Schoettmer struggled but came to the park every day to work on his hitting and improved his average by about 100 points.” Alas, the Vineyard’s own Tad Gold had just fourteen hits, all singles, as he struggled to pivot off his back foot.

Good times

August 3, 2011. A couple of hours after their last game, Sharks players Max Goodman, Eric Jensen, John Keating, and Anthony Corona sit on an Oak Bluffs porch eating pizza and corn on the cob. There’s no bragging and surprisingly little talk about baseball. Unlike so many college-age men, they’re focused – and not just on baseball. Max is majoring in business administration and plans to go into business with his father when his baseball days are over. Eric is majoring in math and economics at Norton’s Wheaton College with an eye toward going into statistics. His schoolmate John is a sociology major who has been working with his father in sales the past three summers and at some point also may branch into coaching. And then there’s the team’s most extraordinary individual: Voted the leadership award by his teammates, Anthony is the son of a retired New York City cop and is majoring in education at C.W. Post College, his future in mind.

Anthony dreams of landing in The Show. But if the pros don’t draft him, he plans to be a volunteer assistant on the C.W. Post team, because the school will pay for his master’s in education. Then he’ll teach history in high school (he’s already researching a book on the Battle of Gettysburg) and may end his working life as a state trooper. He’s already taken the NYPD test.

“It was great playing ball on the Vineyard,” he says, musing, “the beautiful beaches, the interesting things to do.” He adds his thanks to Vineyarders for their support and hospitality (and later publishes a letter expressing those sentiments in the Vineyard Gazette).

“Most college leagues are in small towns,” Max says in further appreciation of the Island’s many pleasures.

“In school, it’s all about winning,” Eric adds. “The coaches have to win or they’ll lose their jobs. This was much more fun. The coaches let us play.”

Asked about some humorous experiences, they all cite the game in which pitcher Kody Kasper tackles a mascot called Monkey Boy at a Nashua Silver Knights game. Though the event quickly becomes a YouTube hit, the league immediately kicks Kody off the team for misbehavior.

“Bad decision by Kody,” Anthony says.

“Also one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in baseball,” says John.

When a game in Nashua gets rained out, players from both teams disport themselves doing tarp slides. The Sharks spend every free day at the beach. When Matt Hegarty’s little cousins pull some garter snakes out of a bag, Kody runs a quarter of a mile down the beach. When the kids follow him, snakes in hand, teammates swear he runs another mile.

“In baseball, you don’t want to tell people your phobias,” Max says.

On endless bus rides, players watch movies and play celebrity/athlete guessing or card games such as spades. Their longest trip takes them to a non-conference game in Oneonta, New York, and they visit the Hall of Fame in nearby Coopers-town. The bus back arrives in Woods Hole around 3 a.m., several hours before the first ferry to the Vineyard. “We were sleeping on benches like monks,” Anthony says.

But they played like Sharks.

2012: Looking at year two

Some minor problems arise. Sharks officials don’t always keep school superintendant James Weiss apprised of their activities. Graphics on the team’s web page make it hard to distinguish wins from losses. Of more concern is the Sharks’ connection to the Brockton Rox, who allegedly have stiffed some creditors. “The club was $1 million in debt when we bought it in December of 2009, and we reduced the debt by more than one-third,” Sharks’ co-owner Darren Harrison-Panis says.

Mostly it’s onward and upward, both for the Sharks and their league. Chris Hall, commissioner of the FCBL, hoped the four teams would average 500 to 600 fans a game. The Sharks place second at 641. The FCBL adds a fifth team, the Wachusett Dirt Dawgs, who will play out of Leominster. That’s a shorter trip from Woods Hole than, say, Torrington. The Sharks are looking into minivans to replace expensive buses. In addition, Chris Carminucci says the FCBL is toying with ideas like three-game series in which the visitors are housed with the home team’s hosts. “The biggest thing is reducing travel,” Chris Hall says. But no one is objecting to a sixth team out west in Pittsfield, where the Suns will represent a community with a rich baseball history. Much less three more additions: the North Shore Navigators (based in Lynn), the Orchard Beach (Maine) Raging Tide, and the Brockton Rox (which is turning from professional to amateur in an effort to combat red ink). Expanding from four to nine teams in a single off-season might be regarded as a certain measure of success.

Last year the Sharks made an outsized contribution to the league. “Everybody enjoyed going to Martha’s Vineyard; the players loved every minute; the community treated them like gold,” Hall says.

“We only had six months to prepare for the 2011 season,” Darren says. “We’ll be back, better than ever, with more promotions, sponsors, and community programs. A lot of people experienced a Sharks game: young and old, no matter what skin color or economic background. The community really opened itself up to the ball club.”

The 2012 Sharks season will have a series of hot-dog-eating contests ($2,500 for the overstuffed champion), bands, bingo, a roster that can expand to thirty, and a fifty-four-game league schedule.

Looking for a head coach with college experience and a hands-on style, the Sharks thank Ted Currle for his service and replace him with Trinity College (Connecticut) assistant coach Ernie May. The Sharks re-sign Vineyard resident Tad Gold, but they expect him to develop a power stroke. Other Sharks will return, move to the prestigious Cape Cod League, or get drafted by major league teams.

But based on their inaugural season, the Sharks won’t have trouble recruiting new players. They’ll be turning them away.