By: Shane Petagna (The University of Tampa)
To be an assistant coach under Cotuit Kettleers manager Mike Roberts, you truly have to love baseball.
Roberts demands a lot from his staff, citing taking a position as an assistant as a 24-hour job. A typical day can include mowing the Lowell Park grass shortly after the sun rises and before clinics start at 9 a.m., instructing those campers, then sticking around for extra hitting and bullpen sessions, all before having to coach a game later that night.
“To me it's just the love of the game. New England calls it pure baseball,” said Roberts. “They are guys who love the game and pure baseball.”
Assistant coaches Danny Crossen, Padyn Kesselring, and Jacob Nemith all share a love for the sport. All three men have also gotten their start in Cotuit as bullpen catchers before becoming assistant coaches.
All three knew the opportunity was one they could not pass up, but the journey that brought them to the position was very different from one another.
Crossen is a Cotuit lifer who spent his summers as a child around the Kettleers, first as a host brother and bat boy. Later as he entered high school, he got into catching and saw being a bullpen catcher as a way to both develop his skills and stay around the team. As a ninth and 10th grader, Crossen was catching pitches at speeds he had never seen before and later used his exposure to top-level college arms to craft a decorated five-year career at Northeastern.
For Kesselring and Nemith, it was more of an opportunity left to chance.
Nemith was sidelined for the 2019 summer after an arm surgery and had a connection to Roberts through his stepmother, both of whom worked at a company called Athletes’ Performance. After a meeting with Roberts, Nemith agreed to come to Cotuit to be the team’s bullpen catcher. While Nemith mostly stayed in his role, he was activated a few times that championship season and even appeared in one game.
Kesselring, however, took his position as the bullpen catcher to a complete surprise.
“I actually had just gotten an EMT certification,” said Kesselring. “I had no plans to play summer baseball in between my junior and senior year of college.”
But his assistant coach at Alma College, Scott Niemic, was catching up with his former host dad in Kettleers GM Bruce Murphy one day over the winter. Murphy explained that the team needed a backstop for the bullpen, and one more call changed the trajectory of Kesselring’s entire summer.
“I got a phone call. I thought I was in trouble,” said Kesselring. “I wasn't. And [Niemic] was like, ‘How’d you like to go to the Cape?’ I was up here before I knew it.”
While the stories are all different regarding how they arrived, the three men gained invaluable experience that they brought back to their own college teams and advanced their playing careers.
“Just around Coach Roberts, I was able to learn a lot about hitting, a lot about baserunning,” said Nemith. “Just even those things that I got to take back and use in my college career, man, it helped me so much and just took my game to another level that I credit Coach Roberts for.”
Now out of college, their familiarity with the Kettleers and knowledge of Coach Roberts’ system made Crossen, Kesselring, and Nemith three perfect options to join the coaching staff. All in their first seasons as coaches on the Cotuit staff, they are able to make an impact on every player on the roster.
“I’d say the main thing was just being around Coach Roberts my whole life,” said Crossen. “So understanding how much effort it takes to coach these guys and just try to be there to help them with everything they need to just instill a good work ethic.”
The 2023 season is already one of the best among Roberts’ 19-year tenure as the Kettleers easily have the youngest coaching staff ever under the long-time Cotuit skipper and throughout the CCBL this summer.
“It's nice being on a coaching staff that's so young because a lot of the players relate to us still. Three of the four assistant coaches just finished playing this last spring, so we understand going through college season, the grind,” said Kesselring. “And then coming up here we share a lot of experiences. Four of us played this game for a very long time, and we're not too far removed to understand what they're going through and what the game is like now.”
The lineage of bullpen catchers that turn into coaches is still going strong. Out there every day in his gear is Kameron Hartenstein, a catcher at SUNY Cortland entering his redshirt sophomore year with the Red Dragons. As a coaching major at the university, it should not be a surprise if one day Hartenstein ditches his spot behind the plate out by the trees in left field at Lowell Park, instead opting to take his place at the first base coach’s box.
“Being a bullpen catcher is giving me experience with high-level arms,” said Hartenstein. “There’s no better person to learn from other than Coach Roberts and he’s been doing it for a long time and the knowledge that he brings to the game is something that I’m going to take away when I go back to school and come back home.”