Designated Hitter: Braves didn't change routine for biggest game

WORCESTER — Teams tend to take on the personas of their coaches during a season.

Taconic's run to a first-ever MIAA state Division I baseball title was truly businesslike. That's how Kevin Stannard coached his team. That's also why the Braves are baseball champions for the first time ever.

"He was normal, he was. It was business as usual," long-time assistant coach Chris Keegan said. "He and I don't really show a heck of a lot of emotion. It's been about these guys."

Stannard, Keegan and Paul Procopio, the varsity coaching staff, quietly accepted congratulations and handshakes from well wishers. The players, meanwhile, were being teenagers who had just won a state title.

How "business as usual" was it for Taconic? The Braves opted to take a school bus to Holy Cross, and went back to Hit Quarters in Shrewsbury for pregame hitting. It's where Taconic went on Tuesday, when the Braves beat Wachusett Regional to reach the championship game.

No deviation from the ritual before Taconic's 5-1 win over Wellesley.

Stannard threw all the batting practice because Wellesley starter Henry Weycker, like the Taconic coach, throws left-handed.

"He threw a lot because we knew we were facing a lefty," Keegan said after Taconic's historic championship. "His arm is probably sore. He threw this morning and he threw this afternoon because we hit in Shrewsbury.

"It's all about superstition. Nothing was different about coach at all."

Stannard just completed his 25th season as Braves coach.

"I threw batting practice the last two days, as close as I could to throwing as hard as I could and breaking off some sliders," the head coach said.

Procopio, who played for Stannard before joining the coaching staff, said the head coach was the same as usual on the bus ride heading to Worcester.

"As far as nerves go, Kev's usually pretty even keel. I'm always the one who's like, 'Are you nervous?' He's like, 'No, why?' And I'm the one who has to walk away," said Procopio. "I'm the one who's usually the most nervous out of everybody.

"He knows what he's got and he knows what to do."

It took Stannard those 25 years to claim his first Western Mass. baseball title, but only a week to earn his first-ever state championship.

And while it is never easy coaching baseball — or any sport — one thing Kevin Stannard didn't have to worry about was making out the lineup. In every big game this year, the batting order was the same. The only change might have been based on who was pitching.

That, however, is going to change next year. That happens when you graduate 12 seniors.

"It'll be different next year, trying to figure it out," Stannard said. "It's nice. I sit down at night or in the morning and it's the same thing. We'll just do a carbon copy of it for 20 games."

Stannard, his coaches and the Taconic and Pittsfield schools administrations were all thrilled by the Braves winning that first Division I title since 1966. But the win also brought a smile to the face of the Wellesley High School principal.

The principal is one Jamie Chisum, a former Wahconah athlete who once coached track at Taconic.

"There's still a little part of me that loves Taconic," Chisum told me. "It's great to see them."

Chisum coached and taught at Taconic from 1994-99. He said he didn't know the players.

"No, I knew their parents," said Chisum.

Of course, when Chisum met up with Taconic principal John Vosburgh, they were both quick to remind me that while they both either work or worked at Taconic, they both went to Wahconah.

"I know those kids because that's where I grew up," Chisum said. "I'm very happy for them. I know it means a lot for them to win."

Reach sportswriter Howard Herman at 413-496-6253 or on Twitter @howardherman.


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