As summer winds down, so, too, has an unusually enjoyable area baseball season.
Maybe the Red Sox are stumbling toward the finish line, but by any metric, they’ve far surpassed what was expected of the team going into the spring.
Better still, the Monadnock Region’s teams at all levels excelled.
In American Legion ball, Keene’s Gordon-Bissell Post 4 went 10-7 to grab the second seed in District A Senior Division play. Keene went 2-2 in the state tournament — both losses to eventual champion Portsmouth.
In the New England Collegiate Baseball League, the SwampBats came into the summer defending the title won in 2019, having spent an extra year as champions courtesy of the global coronavirus pandemic that wiped out the 2020 season.
The Bats stumbled out of the gate before running off 10 straight wins to take control of the Northern Division, a position they held until season’s end, becoming the top seed. That run led to Keene coach Shaun McKenna being named the North’s manager in the NECBL All Star Game. McKenna was joined by six SwampBats players as the North won, 6-2, in Newport, R.I.
The playoffs were another story, as Keene opened against the red-hot North Shore Navigators. The Bats fell in the three-games series, while North Shore went on to the finals. But in a league where every year brings an entirely rebuilt team, the Bats have managed to be competitive year in and year out and remain among the strongest franchises the league has seen.
Then there were the local Babe Ruth all stars.
The Keene area has a reputation as a baseball stronghold, and a big part of that reputation comes from the showing of the Greater Keene Youth Baseball and Softball Association all star teams each summer. In 2017, the Greater Keene 13 and Under team went to the Babe Ruth World Series in Mountain Home, Ark., and nearly took home the national title, falling in the semifinals and finishing third.
This summer, the Greater Keene 14U All Stars nearly replicated that feat. They won the state and regional tournaments, and headed to Ottumwa, Iowa, to compete in the World Series.
Unfortunately, at 2-2 in pool play, Keene missed out on making the final tournament due to a tie-breaker. That was no doubt disappointing in the moment, but the larger picture shows the season to have been a rousing success, something the players will no doubt come to realize with time and distance.
Although the region’s teams have fared well through the years, not every entry is stacked. The 2021 14U team was, to be honest, an underdog even at the state level. But they persevered, excelled and made it to Iowa. There, the players report, they found the competition superior to any they’d faced. That no doubt contributed to the poor 0-2 start in pool play. But to their credit, they then turned things around, winning two straight and showing they did, indeed, belong among the 10 best teams in the entire country.
From Cal Ripken Tee-ball to Babe Ruth seniors, local players learn and play with the same vision kids around the country have every time they pick up a bat or ball; to hit or pitch or field on the biggest stage, against the best competition.
This summer, Keene’s all stars — which include players from nearby communities as well — earned their way onto that stage.
In doing so, they cemented a place in local memory among the best of the boys of summer.