Vineyard pitcher James Sashin works to excel

In this file photo from April, James Sashin pitches against Bourne. – Ralph Stewart

Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) star pitcher James Sashin folded his 6-foot, 6-inch frame into an airplane seat Thursday morning, August 4, for a flight he could not have imagined a year ago.

James was heading to Ephrata, Washington, with his teammates on Team Cape Cod, one of 10 senior Babe Ruth teams nationwide to compete in the under-19 Babe Ruth World Series in the select company of 200 of America’s best teenaged baseball players.

James has also been selected as a regional area top athlete in the Student Athlete Community Service Network (SACSN), an organization that showcases high school athletes who have demonstrated on and off-field success that qualifies them to play at the collegiate level.

James will participate in a doubleheader with his student-athlete peers on Sunday, August 28, at Franklin Pierce College in Rindge, N.H.

“I had high expectations, but not in a million years would I have thought I’d be crossing the country to compete for a national championship,” the incoming MVRHS senior told The Times.

His team finished fifth nationally in a double-elimination tournament won by an undefeated Mobile, Ala., nine. Mr. Sashin made several appearances in relief in the tournament without being scored on.

James is the son of Cheryll Sashin, Oak Bluffs tax collector, and Howard Sashin, owner of Sashin Drywall and Plaster Company.

James was lights under high school coach Gary Simmons this season, giving up less than one run a game on a team that qualified for the state championship tourney. James appears startled by the rapid improvement of his baseball skill.

“Breakout year is a good way to describe James’ first year pitching at the varsity level,” Mr. Simmons said. “He became a regular starter for us, and we didn’t expect him to pitch so much for us. At one point, James was 5-0 and he finished with an ERA (Earned Run Average) under one run a game.”

ERA is considered the most significant measure of pitching success. An ERA of under one run is rare at any level.

Mr. Simmons may be excused for an attack of happy feet at the prospect of James’s performance as a senior in 2017, and he believes this Babe Ruth League experience will be huge for James. “Dan Proto, the Team Cape Cod manager, is a buddy of mine and he does a great job with the kids and the team. The level of baseball is as good as it gets,” Mr. Simmons said.

James seems startled as well at his rapid development. “I heard about (Team Cape Cod’s) recent success. The team has gone to the World Series the last four or five years, so it’s the best level at which to compete at my age. I found Coach Proto online and asked for a tryout.

“He agreed, so I went over to throw a bullpen (45-50) pitches for him and he said ‘I have a roster spot for you.’ I was pretty psyched,” James said, noting that he’s having a good year. “The best I’ve ever done. I would not have believed I could improve so much,” he said.

“I’d say the coaching I’ve received has been a difference-maker. They do nothing but coach baseball, that’s their job. They have developed a perfect system for players. High school definitely isn’t laid back, but the summer league is a more businesslike approach,” he said.

Asked about recent improvements in his game, James said: “I’ve added a few miles an hour on my fastball (now 86-88 mph in games) but mostly I’ve learned to be able to hit my spots with all my pitches (fastball, curve, slider and changeup). They go where I want to put them,” he said with a hint of astonishment.

That kind of performance will be noted by college and pro scouts in attendance at Johnson-O’Brien Stadium in Ephrata, measuring the country’s top high-schoolers.

James has already attracted attention for football by colleges attracted to his size as a tight end and superior punting and kicking skills at the high school level. Now college baseball coaches are calling.

“I thought I might get some attention for football (Brown, UConn, Northeastern Holy Cross, Franklin Pierce, and George Washington universities). But schools that include Boston College, Holy Cross, and Brown have talked to me about baseball.

“Right now I’m leaning toward Brown University. Great academics and it feels like a good fit,” he said.

Being an honors student helps also. “That’s the first question coaches ask: ‘How are your grades?’ Coaches like good grades because it makes the admissions process easier,” he said.
James’s story tracks success by Vineyard athletes in recent years. MVRHS star Tad Gold became the Division III Player of the Year at Endicott College before turning pro, and former MVRHS quarterback Randall Jette was a four-year defensive starter at Division I UMass, and is at the NFL Green Bay Packer camp now as an undrafted free agent.

Mr. Simmons credits the hard work by youth sports volunteers for increased skill levels of Island kids. “Youth sports are key. Youth coaches work hard with a dedicated focus to prepare kids, and they can go off and compete. Kids can play more than one season in many sports so that by the time they get to high school they can specialize,” the 11-year MVRHS baseball coach said.

James says work ethic is key also. “I think it’s the overall mentality of being willing to work year round if you want to play at the college level, and a sense you can compete at a higher level. Randall Jette was probably the hardest-working athlete ever at our high school,” James said.

Indeed, Mr. Jette’s success has earned him one of the highest honors an athlete can receive: a sandwich is named after him. Shiretown Meats in Edgartown is serving “The Jette,” a steak-and-cheese delight leavened with mushrooms and horseradish. “It’s a good seller, but you have to ask for it by name,” chuckled Dan Vaughn, Shiretown Meats owner.

Closer to the Sashin Oak Bluffs’ homestead, Mac Sashin, a 2016 MVRHS grad and James’s older brother, worked on his footwork and shooting skills over his high school career to emerge as a seven-foot force on the MVRHS basketball team. He will likely start at center for Emerson College this fall.

“It’s hard for coaches to see us on the Island. We have to work harder,  Being the hardest-working kid may separate you from 5,000 kids who want the same (college) spot,” James Sashin said.

You never know, James may have a sandwich in his future.