On an early summer evening made for baseball, in a game dedicated to the Island’s first responders, the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks and Worcester Bravehearts squared off in a Future Collegiate Baseball League game at the high school Saturday night. Although the contest would turn out to be a lopsided win for the visitors, let it be known that the results of the game in no way dampened the spirits of the more than 50 fans in attendance.
One veteran baseball fan, Frank Meade of Boston and Oak Bluffs, was on hand “to enjoy the lovely evening and to show support for the Sharks.” Frank has an appreciation for good, fundamental baseball regardless of score. He watched the game from behind home plate, where he could be close to the action, observe the pitchers, and pick up the infield chatter.
“I like watching young players on their way up,” Frank said. “You can get a sense, sometimes, of which guys might have a future in the game.” Watching and discussing the game with Frank meant focusing on the details. And that’s a good thing.
Over on the right-field side, a small, diverse group had the look of people who were creating their own ways of enjoying the game. The first indication that something was up came when the oldest adult in the group, a sturdily built man sporting a Red Sox cap and a big smile, leaped from the stands and engaged in a blistering footrace with the mascot, a six-foot shark, in the general direction of the right-field foul pole, where a ball had just disappeared into the woods. More than a few moments later, the two figures emerged, the man beaming and holding the ball aloft, the shark slouched and empty-handed.
This called for further investigation. “I beat him fair and square,” announced Bruce Norling of Framingham, whose family enjoys a week’s vacation in Oak Bluffs each summer. “We love the Sharks, and always try to get some foul balls. Our record is six, and we already have two tonight.” Accompanying Bruce were his two grown children, Jon and Jackie.
Back in the stands, Bruce resumed a tutorial he was giving to Jackie’s longtime friend Annie on the intricacies of scoring a baseball game. Each player’s at-bat was being recorded in the score book by means of symbols. “I’m teaching her the old-fashioned way,” Bruce said. “The way I was taught. Very basic.” The scoring would allow them to recount the game’s events long after it ended. Annie appeared to be getting the knack.
Completing the group was Jackie’s boyfriend, Choul, a Sudanese refugee who came to the United States in 1999 at age 10 with his mother and two younger siblings. Their first home was Portland, Maine. “I had never seen or heard about snow,” Choul said. “We arrived in the winter. Soon after, a snowstorm hit the city. I thought the world was coming to an end. My mother was not at home, so I hid in a closet with my brother and sister.”
Choul now lives in Boston and, although a soccer fan from birth, another sport — and athlete — have stolen his heart. That’s right: the Patriots and Tom Brady. Next topic of conversation: Deflategate.
At the food stand, Eddie Pacheco of Oak Bluffs was taking orders from the gang of children he had in tow. His sons Robby and Teddy, along with pal Zak Potter, play for the AAA Dodgers Little League team; Eddie is one of the coaches. He’s also a longtime Red Sox fan and, when Ted Williams’ name came up, he smiled and said, “Guess what my son’s full name is.” The answer: Theodore William Pacheco. Now that’s a Boston baseball name.
At this point in the proceedings, the Bravehearts had built a 6-0 lead, but with three innings to go, the game was still undecided. The visitors’ bullpen, located along the right-field line, was suddenly busy. A couple of guys had grabbed their gloves and were loosening up. This drew some attention. A number of younger kids, as well as several grownups, gathered along the fence to watch.
Playing catch is a baseball ritual that goes back a century and a half. The rhythmic action of throwing and catching a baseball is mesmerizing and soothing for both the participants and observers. When the baseball being thrown is traveling over 80 miles an hour, and every catch of the ball provides a firecracker pop, it’s an impressive thing. For the next 10 minutes, heads of all ages swung back and forth, back and forth to the cadence of the thrown ball.
Meanwhile, over in the left-field stands, Cherish Harris of Oak Bluffs was taking in the action while her husband Damien, one of the EMTs honored before the game, was stretching his legs and son Jacoby and daughter Amity played with friends. Sensing a looming question, Cherish confirmed that both her children’s names bore local significance. Jacoby is named for the dynamic Red Sox centerfielder who helped bring two World Series titles to Boston before signing with the Yankees in 2014. Sensing another looming question, Cherish said, “Yes, my son knows he’s a Yankee now.” Amity’s name is taken from the fictional town in “Jaws.”
This is a baseball family. They follow the Sharks, and try to get to a Red Sox game or two each year. In May they attended Scout Day at Fenway Park, which included a Scouts parade around the field. “We’ll go one more time, in August, to see David Ortiz. He’s my favorite. I can’t believe he’s retiring. But he’s having a great year, and it’s good to go out on top.”
This remark was punctuated by the crack of a bat. Looking up, we saw a towering drive, struck by a Braveheart, sail over the right-field fence and disappear into the night. The grand slam pushed the Worcester lead to 13-0 and, combined with the late hour and dropping temperatures, propelled most of the fans toward the exits.
The pleasures of the game kept coming nevertheless. The slow walk out was illuminated by a near-full moon. A couple from Worcester, parents of one of the Bravehearts, still sat in their Adirondack chairs beyond the right-field fence, happily awaiting the final out and a word or two with their son. And Robby Pacheco had himself a souvenir: the ball that was belted about 380 feet for a grand slam.
It was a great night at the ballpark.