the 2015 season had many ups and downs for the Boston Renegades. We were coming off our best season ever in 2014 and we entered the season with a roster of more than 20 players. As the season progressed, many of these players dropped off the roster…mostly due to health issues of their own or their family. It was a constant change and it questioned the commitments of many. Mid summer we changed the culture and started holding all players accountable and the roster started to take form. With a roster as big as ours, it makes it hard to pick just ten moments…but the following are the top ten moments of the 2015 season as told by me, Rob Weissman
As the week progresses – we will add new moments..but let’s start the count down
#10 McCormick loses his groove and we have an ubersense moment
Joe McCormick made the all star team last year hitting .600 at the World Series in Minnesota. We all talked about how well he hit, but how the quality of his hits were not what they have been in the past. Joe Committed to improving and working on his swing during the season. We taught him about rolling wrists, he focused on keeping his head down and he worked hard. He was having an amazing season. Entering the game vs Colorado he was hitting .632 on the season….when the problem began. It was the biggest game of the year and We had fallen down 8-0 to the Colorado Storm after one inning. We started to claw back and were down 9-4 in the top of the 3rd inning when Mac came to the plate. All of a sudden, his swing changed. His sweet spot went from around his belly button north by almost a foot. Instead of hitting deep fly balls, he was now swinging and missing. He had made contact on 64% of the pitches we had thrown him up to this point…and for the next three at bats he would make contact just once in 1 swings which resulted in three key strike outs. Through this game, Ron and I struggled to adjust to his new swing, as we didn’t know which swing we would get on any given pitch. Late in the game, I grabbed some video of him and compared it to what he looked like the day before and saw something. the placement of his arms had changed in his stance. I conferred with our hitting coach, Mike Marciello and our pitcher, Ron Cochran….We would make a change. In the bottom of the 6th inning we had a long delay because we were disputing an illegal substitution by the Colorado Storm. This down time allowed us to work with Mac to make sure he knew what he was doing. On the first pitch of the at-bat McCormick blasted a shot which tied the game at 15-15 and the team erupted. As soon as he scored, I was so excited that I was screaming at the top of my lungs with excitement for Joe and for the fact, we made a quick adjustment to fix things. This flaw haunted Joe for the rest of the week but with this new information, we were able to make tweaks and keep him going. He finished the World Series hitting .628. This was a big moment of the Renegades 2015 World Series.
#9 Zuccarello may be tested for enhancement drugs
We started in the cages in 2015 and decided we needed to go back to basics with our hitters. The goal was to make sure players knew their mechanics and how their body motion impacts the ball off their bat. Guy finished the 2014 season hitting .214 but he only had power to left field. There was too much wrist roll in his swing. He started to experiment with a new stance. In fact, he was experimenting all season long and was not having a ton of success. He even went the entire NJ tournament without an at bat. In the Last game of our home tournament, it was time for Guy to see some action at the plate. After no at bats in 5 straight games, the calm, cool, collective Zucarello strode to the plate. The results were amazing. He was hitting line drives up the middle of the field. In fact, he was 3-3 in his first three at bats against the New Jersey lightning on three quality hits. This game gave us all confidence he had made huge strides with his swing. He would go on to have an amazing World Series hitting .543, his best World Series batting average. On the season guy hit more than .250 points over his career average. It was a tremendous moment to see things click for him. Guy never complains when he is left out of the batting line up…he is the ultimate teammate….To see him become an integral part of the offense was a lot of fun for us all.
#8 The Comeback of Tim Syphers
Tim Syphers joined the team for the 2013 season and spent the entire year hurt as he battled shin splints. Overall, that season was hard on him in many ways. A former high school baseball player who had loved the game had a chance to play ball again. He had a strong swing and early success. What started out as promise turned into pain that put him in the emergency room. The whole season he battled injuries and demons. Things escalated for him at the World Series where he was verbal about his lack of playing time. The 2014 season saw Tim quit the team mid-season as he walked away angry at the world. The demons he was fighting were mostly off the field as he struggled with his recent vision loss and some health problems. Coming into the 2015 season, he wanted to return to the squad but we laid out conditions for him to meet. He had to put these demons behind him. He had to apologize to the team. He had to tell the team about his demons. He accepted this burden with open arms. Then in the spring, he was suddenly absent again from practice. We thought that he had left the team again. The demons were back. After a long talk and a long apology and explanation, we let Tim back on to the squad but he faced a suspension for his behavior. A suspension that would have him sit for the entire home tournament. Tim changed his attitude. He was suddenly very grateful for a new chance. He saw opportunity and a group of people willing to support him. We put him to work on our on deck circle. A role he disliked in the past was one he embraced in 2015. He just wanted to be part of the team. As the World Series progressed Tim saw action. He got 11 at bats and a start against the Tyler Tigers. He hit very well, scoring six times. He was the ultimate team player and was excited for every player on the team despite playing a part time role. One of the ultimate teammates. The real treat and special moment came after the series. Tim’s excitement has him so excited about playing beep baseball. He may still be fighting the demons, but he is winning that battle more often now. His excitement has spawned a new project for the Renegades, the Renegade Report. This is a podcast Tim is working on to tell the many stories of the Boston Renegades players and coaches. It has been a thrill to see Tim turn from a disgruntled player to someone who can see how this podcast can be fun to do, great for the team and great for his radio career. The demons are losing. Combined with his accountability and acceptance of this trouble from his fellow Renegades, Tim has turned negatives into big positives. We are all proud of him for this change…a change that has had a positive impact on his life. A life which is far greater than the ball we play between the lines. We like to think the opportunity we gave him has helped him have something to look forward to and has helped him forge new friendships. Its been so rewarding to help him defeat some of those demons in our own way. We are so proud of him and the culture of our team.
#7 YEE HAW
I love it when you get to see it click for a player. This year defense started to click for 2nd year player, Joe Yee. Being aggressive was something we discussed with Joe this season. Joe’s rookie season was a good year but his contribution was mostly on the offensive side of the ball. He was a bit slower to pick up the defensive side of the game. In practice in 2015, we moved Joe around a lot in the defense. Things started to click for him and at the home tournament, he made two nice plays against the Long Island Bombers and you could see his confidence grow. Sadly, Joe was battling shin splints this spring and summer. While the team struggled to play defense on the fields in Rochester, during the World Series, Joe was strutting his stuff. A ball would ricochet off the player in front of him and Joe would change directions and make the play. He did this twice! He started to earn more and more playing time as the week progressed and earned his way Into the starting lineup as our starting third baseman, one of the most active spots on the field. Joe was making text book stops while his teammates were struggling with the fields. When the World Series was over, he would make the third most stops of anyone on the Renegades…and the most stops of anyone playing in the 2nd layer of the defense (15 stops at the Series). All of this came from someone who made just two stops on defense in 2014. It was great to see him emerge as a two-way player.
#6 Next man up…do your job
Pitching is a huge part of beep baseball. Most successful teams in the league have had the same guys pitching for them for more than 10 years. Guys Like Kevin Sibson for Austin, Fonzi for Bayou City, James from Long Island, Booker for the Indy Thunder, Jarred Woodard for RHI, Johnny Walker for Colorado. Only Chicago has two pitchers, Nick Lopez and Chad Perry. When it comes time to travel and you don’t have your number one pitcher…it normally spells doom. Not for the Renegades. Ron Cochran has become one of the better pitchers in the League, but he was unavailable for the first trip to the year to NJ. On top of this, our number two Pitcher, Danny Cotter had missed a lot of practices in 2015. Jamie Dickerson was asked at the start of the year to work as a third pitcher to build depth. He sunk his heart into it every practice. Each practice he would get a little better. Heading to NJ, we had to rely on the arms of Danny and Jamie…two guys whom had a lot of swings and misses leading up to this tournament. Teaming with the Renegades long time catcher (me), I helped them locate the sweet spot and their confidence grew as the day went on. We rotated the both of them depending on who was at the plate. Players told us whom they felt more confident with and we adjusted the lineups so they could each face multiple guys in a row in the lineup. The result was three victories. They pitched their hearts out. On top of this, Jamie also called the right side of our defense. He became the first volunteer in team history to call an entire tournament and pitch in every game. These two guys were the MVPs of the first tournament of the year for the Renegades and helped us get off to a 3-0 start.
#5 Woburn Host Lions Donate to all teams of the Beast of the East!
We had not hosted a tournament in the Boston area since 2010 or a game since 2013. This year the Woburn Host lions wanted to help us and they were amazing. They did it all.
They got hotels for the teams. They secured the fields. They got sponsors to raise money. When the games came, they manned the food trucks. They donated food to all of the teams. They lined the fields. They supplied the fields with all the base umps and field umps and base switch operators. They helped bring equipment across the field on golf carts. They did it all with a smile and an “Atta-boy”. These guys were incredible and took care of most everything to the point where we could put all of our focus on playing the games. But here is the memorable part. When the tournament was over they had checks for all of the teams that competed including a larger check for the winner of the Beast of the East. These guys are amazing and are one of our biggest supporters every year!
#4 Entering the Baseball Hall of Fame
After the World Series was over, on the way back home, the National Baseball Hall of Fame invited the Renegades to come talk about beep baseball to the patrons of the Hall. Guy Zuccarello and Bryan Grillo represented the team very well as they spoke to the crowd in the bullpen theater. Not many people get the chance to talk in the Hall of Fame. It was a tremendous honor. That honor expanded by having two articles written on us by the Hall of Fame. All of this was kick started by the work I did with Kevin Barrett, John Lykowski Jr and Brandon Cheeser in getting some items donated to the Hall which are still on display today. We wrote more about this entire experience in this blog. there you can see Guy and Bryan speak in a video, see the exhibit the Hall had on display with the artifacts from our league as well as read the articles we had written on our great sport.
#3 Tyler blitz
After playing three games on day one of the World Series, we knew that if we beat Tyler, we would have rest and only play one game. Tyler is an improved team the past few years
and we were not going to take them for granted. After a less than stellar day on defense the day before, the team knew it had work to do. The field we played on was hard and we had to contend with noise from a tractor bailing hay right next to the field…but after giving up 2 runs in the top of the frame, out team caught fire (with some incredible luck) and plated 16 runs in the first inning, a Team record for most runs scored in an inning. This was the most runs the team had ever scored in a single inning in team history. This was also the first time in team history we would 12 run a team in the 1st inning of play. This would mark the 2nd game we had 12-runned an opponent on the year (we would do it 4 times in 2015) and the only year in team history we would accomplish this feat more than once – as we had only accomplished it 6 times prior to 2015 with the last time being in 2013 against the southwest Slammers. What was incredible was we had a great deal of luck scoring the first 6 runs on balls that did not travel 100 feet but had crazy spin, speaker downs and defensive collisions to help the Gades. But as the inning progressed, the bombs would start flying. Seven players would plate runs in this inning including Joe McCormick (3), Larry Haile (3), Rob Dias (1), Christian Thaxton (2 – and his first two World Series runs ever), Shayne Cantan (2), Guy Zuccarello (3) and Tim Syphers (2).
#2 Thaxton Arrives
In June of 2015, we held a try-out and an opportunity for some people to try the sport and meet the team. We had 5 players and 1 volunteer come to the event. One of those players had learned about the team at the Carroll Center and had just moved here from Oklahoma. That player was Christian Thaxton. Thaxton had played Junior College Baseball and never thought he would play baseball again till he stepped to the plate against me in a batting practice session. The first pitch he swung on he blasted into left field. I’m not sure who was more shocked, me or him…after all, I had not thrown a pitch all year and am buried as 4th on the pitching depth chart. Thaxton was sold and we found a way to bring him on to the team in early June and he made the trip to New Jersey with us to get his feet wet. Every practice you could see things begin to click for this new player. We gave him shirt #2 (and the irony is he ranks #2 on this list) Even though he had some big hits in New Jersey his confidence really clicked at the home tournament. With our #1 pitcher, Ron Cochran, Thaxton settled down and once he did this, his bat speed picked up and he started to hit bombs like never before in any BP session. You could see he stopped thinking and started swinging. During the last practice of the year, Thaxton came up lame with a hip injury that concerned the coaches. We rested him during the series but he was the break out rookie of the year hitting .719 at the World Series and making the all-star team. But the big moment beyond these was in the Indy Thunder game when his teammates would sit quietly on the bench when he came to the plate to “hear the show”. This phrase was coined by the players because as Guy Zuccarello would say “When Thaxton hits the ball it makes a noise unlike anyone else in the league”. Yes, we have fun and adding Thaxton’s bat was a lot of fun for everyone on the team.
#1 Honoring my father
When I arrived at our home tournament in Woburn this year, I noticed all of the players and a few coaches were sporting white wrist bands…something I have never seen us do
before. For those that know me, I’m pretty focused on the game and don’t get distracted easily…but I noticed this. As the day went on, I really noticed this. On the wrist bands were the initials of “BW” – the initials of my father, Bill Weissman. The team watched me struggle all year as my dad had brain surgery in the fall and we were caring for him the entire season. He had come to two practices and met with some of the players. My father told me how inspired he was by the players and this meant more to him while he was battling brain cancer than ever before. I was deeply touched at this gesture from the team and even as I wrote this, I get goose bumps for the level of support I have gotten. Sadly, my father passed on August 1st while I was at the World Series. During his tribute, I made sure one of these wrist bands was on display and I will treasure it forever. My father was a big reason why I fell in love with baseball and I learned my passion for running an organization from him. This moment was very personal for me and I will never forget it. Seeing a team rally behind my dad like that speaks volumes of the culture we have built on this team.
That’s it…the top 10 moments of the Renegades 2015 season as seen by me, Rob Weissman. Yes, we had lots of moments…but these stood out for me as a coach. Each and every player and coach on the team likely has a different top 10. There are also some very touching stories that happened off the field…but to protect the privacy of people involved, I decided not to write about those. Now, we turn the page to 2016 and we hope we have some more amazing stories to tell.