Casey Schmitt had three outs left on the Cape. Not four. Not six. Just three. He and his Cotuit manager, Mike Roberts, had pleaded with San Diego State head coach Mark Martinez to get one more inning out of the right-handed, two-way player.
Martinez conceded the inning to Roberts and Schmitt, which the Kettleers skipper would keep in his back pocket until the timing was right.
“My prayer all week was to pitch Casey in the ninth inning of our championship game,” Roberts said.
So in the top of the ninth, with the Kettleers three outs away from winning the Cape League crown in front of their home fans for the first time since 1995, Schmitt took to the mound looking to close out a 10-3 win against Harwich. It would be a fitting end to a game that saw Schmitt blast two home runs and make a mad dash toward home from third base on a passed ball.
“Things just fell into place,” Roberts said.
This was nothing new to Schmitt, who said he spent most of his spring with the Aztecs running from the batter’s box to bullpen to the mound. As a sophomore last year, Schmitt hit .315 with five homers and 36 RBI and logged 43 innings pitched with eight saves and 44 strikeouts.
“Hit, warmup, and close out games. I’ve done that my whole college career,” Schmitt said. “And in high school, too.”
He’d done it during his entire stint on the Cape as well.
In seven playoff games, the third baseman hit .276 with three homers and five RBI. He also hurled five shutout innings in a close-out against Wareham at Spillane Field to earn a win. During the regular season the all-star two-way player not only manned the middle of the lineup for Cotuit, launching five homers and driving in 18 runs, but he worked 22 innings on the mound and left the Cape with a nifty 2.45 ERA and 26 strikeouts.
On a team filled with versatile players—Cotuit had eight players log at least six at-bats and two innings pitched this season—Schmitt was the crown jewel. More than rewarding a player for exceptional season, Schmitt closing out the final inning of Cape League season had a great meaning. Two-way players aren’t a novelty, they’re the future.
“They’re incredibly competitive players,” said Roberts on two-way players. “They’re fighters. I have to pull them off the field. And Casey is a very talented player. Extremely talented.”
His affinity for versatile players stems from his work with the Chicago Cubs and manager Joe Maddon. As a roving minor-league consultant for the Cubs, Roberts learned the importance of versatility—a trait Maddon loves having in his players. Some of the reasons Maddon, and by proxy Roberts, fawns over player versatility are obvious. Reacting to in-game changes is easier. You can carry extra pitchers if necessary. There’s more flexibility in scheduling rest days.
Other reasons just are felt.
“They’re like backyard players and I like backyard baseball. I’ve been known as a backyard coach my entire career,” Roberts said. “I love two-way players. I want as many of them as I can get.”
In the ninth inning, with the game well in the hands of the Kettleers, Schmitt could feel the weight of it all when Roberts handed him the ball. He fell behind the first Harwich batter and promptly walked him. Then he fell behind 3-0 to the next batter and the home crowd began to stir as Roberts made his way back out to the mound.
As much as Roberts loves versatile players, he hates allowing men on base to start off innings. Known for his short leash, Roberts didn’t yank Schmitt, rather just lending an ear.
“My bad,” Schmitt told Roberts and the huddled up infield before the skipper went back to the dugout.
Schmitt’s next three pitches were projectiles locked on the strike zone, each one launched with more force than the last. He made the first out by blowing away Sean Harrington with three fastballs, each one raising in speed from 92 to 93 to 94 miles per hour. Two pitches later Schmitt induced a double play to end the game and hand Cotuit the coveted Mycock trophy.
“That’s just Casey,” Roberts said, at the bat or on the mound, ready to make a play for his team.