Post 15 roars back from oblivion
Restored squad is hard to beat
Lawrence’s American Legion Post 15 team flew under the radar all summer.
Even the players hardly seemed to notice their position atop the District 8 standings. Instead of minding box scores, or records, they have been too busy teaming up with their best friends.
Post 15 (11-2) wrapped up the regular season with a 14-1 romp over North Andover on Wednesday, its eighth straight win, while clinching sole possession of first place in District 8. Along the way, Lawrence toppled Gloucester (15-3) and Newburyport (7-1), both traditionally strong programs, and enters the playoffs averaging nearly 11 runs per game.
District 8 coaches had reason not to expect such explosive play out of the boys from Lawrence. Post 15 had not made a playoff appearance in seven years, and in 2009, the program folded after five games for lack of interest and leadership.
Paul Theberge, a longtime Legion supporter, called Kevin Bartlett in October 2009 with a simple request: “Are you ready to coach?’’
Bartlett, 55, played at Central Catholic and University of Massachusetts Lowell, as well as for the Lowell Legion program. He always had an interest in coaching baseball and he wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity.
He invited Steve Botto to be his assistant. Botto, 20 years Bartlett’s junior, also played baseball at UMass Lowell. “When it comes to coaching, he is one of the best,’’ Bartlett said.
Right out of the gate, the two coaches faced a few obstacles before Post 15 could even take the field last June.
“We were in the hole moneywise,’’ said Bartlett. Dues from the 2009 season had to be paid before Lawrence could be reinstated to District 8.
The coaches also had to generate interest among area players. With the help of the coaches at Central Catholic and Lawrence High, Bartlett and Botto were able to piece together a 12-man team for the 2010 season.
At the first practice, Bartlett realized the dedication of his players.
Practice was at the new high school in South Lawrence, Bartlett recalled, “and I was waiting for the North Lawrence guys to show up when I saw four cabs pull up to the field.’’ Since then he has been driving players to and from practices and games, but the carpools didn’t only benefit the players, they “gave me a chance to get to know these guys,’’ he said.
Despite the team’s short roster - and having to wear their old uniforms - Lawrence went 11-5 in its first season back, narrowly missing out on a playoff spot. Post 15 lost the fourth seed on a tiebreaker to Andover.
On Tuesday, Lawrence got its revenge, besting Andover 8-4 and ending their playoff hopes.
“This year the interest came back and we had to cut guys,’’ said Bartlett.
With a full 18-player roster and new uniforms, Lawrence proved that it had the chops to compete with any team.
Lawrence Legion draws primarily from Lawrence High and Central Catholic, two powers with potent offenses. Lawrence High has won the Merrimack Valley Small title seven straight years and Central Catholic was the MVC Large champion three out of the last four years.
First baseman Hector Perez explained the Legion roster in terms of volume. “We combine a loud school and a quiet school and the result is good,’’ he said.
“There is a ton of talent in that dugout,’’ says Marc Pelletier, who has guided the Central Catholic program for 25 years. “They mesh because they love baseball. They respect the game and they respect each other.’’
Botto says that the players come into the season already familiar with one another. “They grew up playing baseball together, from Little League through high school,’’ he says. “So there are a lot of laughs.’’
Pelletier’s son, Matt, returned from his freshman year at Massachusetts Maritime Academy to catch for Post 15. “I love playing with these guys,’’ he said. “They play hard and with passion.’’
“We play loose,’’ added Alex Valenti, a pitcher from Central Catholic. “I’ll be mad for a minute and then get over it. Coach just tells us to ‘Relax and have fun.’ ’’
“I don’t get down on them,’’ says Bartlett. “I know what it’s like. You want someone to pick you up.’’
The trust between the Lawrence players and coaches is a core part of their success. Coach Bartlett “is in it for us,’’ said Pelletier. “Without him we don’t have any of this. He knows what we can do and we’ve proved it.’’
Lawrence has certainly proved their offensive firepower. “Everyone hits, up and down the lineup,’’ says Bartlett. “I don’t have one weak spot.’’
As District 8 champion, Lawrence is scheduled to play the fourth-place club (either Ashland or Hudson) in the first round of playoffs today at 1 p.m. at Andover High.
Cat Calsolaro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.