Pure Baseball: Revisiting the 1995 Championship Season

Ahead of the 1995 season in the Cape Cod Baseball League, it was the beginning of a new era in Cotuit for the Kettleers. General Manager Rich Sadowski was bringing in a first-time head coach not just on the Cape but at any level in baseball in Mike Coutts, taking a chance on a former Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox player to lead the team.

Coutts wasn’t a rookie in the coaching ranks, having already spent 10 seasons as an assistant at the University of Maine, his alma mater. He knew the Cape and New England baseball—but most importantly, he knew how to win.

However, Coutts claimed he did not necessarily bring a championship mindset with him in his first season in Cotuit. Rather, he was merely trying to steer the ship in the right direction and let the players shine.

And that’s exactly what the 1995 Kettleers did.

Spearheaded by a roster with four future major leaguers and numerous others who played professionally with MLB affiliates, the team finished 29-11-3 in the regular season and took home the West Division crown.

But the talent wasn’t just what led to the success. Over the course of the season, Coutts was able to keep together a core through the summer that was tough and truly enjoyed being around each other, coming to the ballpark every day ready to work hard.

“That's one of the things that we talked about was, ‘Hey, you know what? You want to play pro ball? You got to come out every single night and play hard. Because when you go to pro ball, that's what you've got to do,’” said Coutts.

The combination of a focus solely on the game in front of them and the togetherness the team felt led to their success. It’s probably the reason the Kettleers performed better the deeper the season went on, finishing the season on a 23-6-3 stretch and never once losing consecutive games. They also enjoyed an 11-game win streak from July 6-20 with the cherry on top coming in the form of three straight shutout victories before the Falmouth Commodores ended the run of dominance.

It also helped that there were plenty of individual performances to guide them to all those wins. Josh Paul played three positions in ’95 while navigating injuries, but it never hindered his bat. The future first-round pick proved himself to be a five-tool player and was the CCBL’s batting champ with a .364 average, good enough to also be named the MVP of the league and Outstanding Pro Prospect. On the mound, Brendan Sullivan was the Relief Pitcher of the Year after recording seven saves and CCBL Hall of Famer Jack Cressend was the workhorse of the pitching staff, leading the league with seven wins and posting a 2.44 ERA.

“I really think we were just there to play the game, for the sake of the game, without any ulterior motive or anything like that,” said Paul. “It was just a different time and I wonder if we had more fun than kids do nowadays.”

The 1995 season was certainly a different time in baseball, noted by the consistency of players pushing past limits that fundamentally go against the general thinking of coaching staffs today. Nothing exemplified the squad’s gritty nature more than future MLB All-Star Jason Grilli’s 139-pitch outing over eight innings in a win vs Falmouth and Cressend’s 141-pitch complete game shutout eight days later.

Elsewhere on the diamond, Jesse Zepeda and Doug Livingston held down the middle infield, as Zepeda drew 27 walks to lead the Kettleers. Glenn Davis, Brian Bernard, and Ronnie Walker held down the corner infield positions, plus Tim DeCinces was a trusted backstop. Diego Rico swiped a team-high 21 bases while also playing the outfield among Paul, Ronnie Barassi, and Brendan Berger. The pitching rotation was made up of Cressend, Grilli, Josh Gandy, Ryan Lynch, and Kevin Sheredy, with Aaron Porter making an additional four starts.

All of the performances that came between the foul lines reflected upon Coutts in the dugout, who also took home the Manager of the Year award.

95 team

But once the postseason arrived, Cotuit was quickly given a scare by the rival Wareham Gatemen after they fell in Game One of a best-of-three series when the visitors scored two runs in the ninth to break a 1-1 tie. The pressure continued into Game Two, as the Kettleers and Gatemen headed into extras. Cotuit staved off elimination with a huge two-run homer from Berger in the top of the 10th, sending the series back to Lowell Park for a win-or-go-home Game Three in the West Division Finals.

Once again, it was a closely contested game that took a scoreless tie into the bottom of the eighth inning. One run was all it took for a ticket to the Cape League Finals, which came on a Livingston sacrifice fly in that frame. Lynch fought through cramps and went the distance to secure the win behind the insistence of his UCLA battery mate DeCinces to convince Coutts to keep him in the game.

“Winning that series, to me, was huge for us,” said Coutts. “And I don't want to say that we thought, ‘We were going to win the championship because we beat Wareham,’ but it certainly gave us a lot of confidence going into the Chatham series, having won close ball games like that.”

Whether that sentiment was true or not, the Kettleers certainly took their momentum into the championship series with Chatham. Games One and Two gave Cotuit a breather from the three consecutive battles with Wareham, as the Ketts won by 10 runs in the opener but fell 9-3 the following day when the A’s tagged Cressend for seven runs. Another winner-take-all bout was set to take place at Lowell Park.

Game Three stayed tight until the bottom of the fifth inning, where a seven-run explosion with a Glenn Davis three-run bomb serving as the exclamation point provided enough cushion to take home the league title with a 9-3 victory. The dogpile on the mound after Sheredy recorded the final out resulted in the favorite memory among plenty for many of the players on that team. Gandy and Paul would be named co-Playoff MVP as the cherry on top of a magical season.

“That was my favorite team that I ever actually played on,” said Paul, even after a nine-year MLB career. “And it was never replicated as a player.”

As nearly thirty years have passed, the championship celebration on the Lowell Park field was the last time most of the team has seen each other. However, the memories are fresh in the minds of the members of the 1995 Cotuit Kettleers, who will all be able to reminisce on their magical season at the team reunion hosted by the team on July 13.

“I personally am looking forward to it a lot. These are guys, most of which, we haven't seen each other in three decades, and we're all much different people than even back then, because that's a lot of life between those two dates,” said Paul. “So it'll be great to catch up with everybody and see how things are going.”