New relationships and never giving up: Ryan Smyth’s first season as a CCBL manager comes up short, but with an abundance of memories

Ryan Smyth talks to players pregame.|Art or Photo Credit: Maddy Djuric

A coach who knows when to joke around and when to fight for his players. A former catcher who calls pitches from the dugout and who is always willing to have conversations with anyone who wants to talk to him.

Someone who lets interns take batting practice at the end of the season, who always drinks seltzer water in the dugout, who says hi to his daughters through the fence during games and takes them on the field after.

That’s Ryan Smyth, in a nutshell.

The first-year manager came to Wareham, Massachusetts in the beginning of June with a lot of goals and even more unknowns. He had prior experience with the Brewster Whitecaps as an assistant coach from 2016 to 2022, so held a good understanding of the Cape Cod Baseball League as a whole. But the summer of 2023 was the first time Smyth had a team of his own to coach.

The Wareham Gatemen, despite their best efforts at the end of the season, fell short of the expectations they set for themselves by failing to make the CCBL playoffs. They finished 15-27-2, good for last in the West Division. The season was, unfortunately, defined by significant roster turnover and incohesiveness in one way or another more often than not.

it was, however, also defined by new relationships, success (team and individual), excitement and some pretty fun baseball. And at the end of the day, that’s what truly matters.

“Seeing some of the tears and some of the thank you’s, the opportunities that were given out here, that’s what it’s really about,” Smyth said. “The relationships that you’re building with these guys, that’s just going to build for the future here. So I’m ultimately really happy at the end.”

Before he even set foot on the stone dust at Spillane Field, Smyth wanted to provide his players with the opportunity to create meaningful relationships and experiences while playing in Cape Cod. He wanted his team to play hard and, and the root of it all, have fun.

“The Cape can put a lot of pressure on some of these guys coming in,” Smyth said at the beginning of the season. “Just (want) to keep them loose, relaxed and have fun playing baseball.”

Whether fun came in the form of watching home runs sail onto the roof of the snack shack, seeing stunning defensive plays or pitchers throw career outings, or even just hanging out during batting practice or in the dugout during the game, the Gatemen were a team that had fun. Even with the ups and downs and wins and losses, it was rare to see a lack of effort or lack of smiles from the Gatemen.

In reflecting on his first summer as a head coach, that’s one of the biggest things that stands out to Smyth; his guys didn’t give up.

“My favorite thing was really seeing these guys compete,” Smyth said. “Seeing that, night in and night out, regardless of what the score was, regardless of how the season went, those are things that I really, really love seeing from our guys.”

Despite the roster turnover there was some consistency in the Gatemen roster, and that was something that helped the team keep playing hard and another thing that Smyth doesn’t take for granted.

Only two Gatemen were present for both Opening Day and the final game of the season — Bobby Boser and Yadi Hernandez — but a significant number of players were around for the overwhelming majority of the season, including Will Koger, Garen Caulfield, Dorian Gonzalez, Grant Hussey and Josh Stevenson.

“Some of those things are really important,” Smyth said. “There’s a handful of other guys that were here until the end, and those things stand out tremendously for me.”

It’s clear Smyth had a positive impact on his team, and as much as his players learned from him, the teaching went both ways.

“Every day you can learn something, and obviously as a first-year manager out here I learned a ton,” Smyth said. “I’ve certainly taken things from these guys that I’ll continue to use for the rest of my career.”

Smyth got to play a role in helping players like Boser and Hernandez establish themselves as worthy of playing among the best. He was part of the reason guys like David Glancy and Stevenson were able to remember why they play baseball. He coached people like Coleman Picard and Mark Manfredi, who went on to get drafted, and created relationships and memories with his players that won’t ever go away.

Smyth encouraged his team to play their best baseball on one of the sport’s biggest stages, and they delivered. And, that was what he truly wanted to see.

“You see guys come out here and compete and that spark kind of goes off and they’re playing really, really good baseball or they’re playing really hard,” Smyth said. “Those are the things that you cherish as a coach.”