One last ride for the core of Concord baseball

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 07-08-2023 11:51 PM

CONCORD – It should come as no surprise that Concord Post 21 entered play on Friday at 15-1 overall and 9-0 in District A in New Hampshire American Legion baseball.

Post 21’s core players – Brooks Craigue, Matt Drewes, Mitch Coffey, Dan Revellese, among others – all played a major role in Concord High School reaching the Division I semifinals in the NHIAA playoffs just last month, the most recent example of the success this group has experienced since some of them started playing together in Concord Little League.

Post 21 features 13 players who currently play or previously played at Concord High School, including seven of the 11 seniors from this past year’s team. It’ll be the last summer Craigue, Kal Gaudreault and Cam McGonigle (Concord ‘21) play with this group, marking the end of the ride for a core that’s had an outsized impact on Concord baseball.

Nate Craigue, Brooks’ father and head coach of Post 21, lowered his hand close to the ground to estimate how tall some of the players were when he first started coaching them at the age of five.

Since then, he’s watched a whole lot of winning baseball. Between success in Little League all the way to Concord Post 21 winning the state championship last summer, it’s a group that’s followed in the long line of successful baseball teams in Concord.

“We really don’t care about ourselves. We just care about winning, and we’ll do anything to do that,” Brooks Craigue said. “We have a good group of guys that have been together for a while. I think we have the same goal. We don’t care about our own goals. It’s really about the team.”

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Since losing the season opener in eight innings against Nashua Post 3, Concord’s rattled off 15 wins in a row through Thursday. The team is outscoring opponents, 129-34.

Depth stands out as a big reason for the success. As the elder Craigue explained, summer ball differs from the high school season because you have a little less consistency with who’s available to play on a given day. But because his team has so many talented players – four or five good outfielders, two or three good backup infielders, he estimated – they’ve been able to put together a dominant lineup every single game.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Craigue said of the team’s success. “They’re competitors. You know you’re going to be in it with them.”

‘Since day one’

Drewes, Revellese and Peyton Enis Yearout still remember those early years on the Little League fields.

On some level, they could foreshadow what was to come for this group.

“I always competed against them in Little League,” Drewes said. “Then we went from competitors to all teammates, which is kind of cool because they’re all great players. That’s what makes us a good team.”

Added Revellese: “Now we all have opportunities to play at the next level, which is lucky and kind of shows the level of skill that a lot of us have in Concord. It’s pretty cool to see: We’re little kids seeing if anyone can even hit a home run, and now we’re competing at pretty high levels and winning state championships.”

Drewes and Revellese have made up part of the backbone of Post 21’s dominant pitching staff that’s allowing just over two runs per game. Entering play on Friday, Drewes is 4-0 with a 1.58 ERA; Revellese has yet to allow a run in 10⅔ innings of relief work.

“(It’s) really just keeping my composure,” Revellese highlighted as key to his success. “Whether it’s a bad call, an error, a bad pitch you made, it’s just keeping your composure knowing that your teammates have your back.”

Along with Craigue as well as Simon Keary and Luke Dougherty, who play for Merrimack Valley in school ball, Post 21’s found no shortage of success on the mound.

Combine that with an offense averaging over eight runs per game, and that’s a recipe for a 15-1 start to the season.

“We’ve been hitting really well,” said Enis Yearout, The Post 21 catcher who’s hitting over .300. “We have good pitching, and we have great defense behind them. Everything’s been put together pretty good.”

Working hard

There’s no magic formula to explain the success of Post 21 or Concord baseball generally. It’s about hard work, focus and putting the team before yourself.

It’s part of the lessons Nate Craigue hopes he’s been able to impart on his players.

“Being professional,” he said, is a focus of how he teaches the game. “Showing up to the park, getting your work done, treat it like it’s your craft. Major leaguers, they act like it. Part of being a good ballplayer is acting like it.”

Craigue has some relevant experience to pull from of course, drafted in the 24th round of the 1994 MLB draft by the Minnesota Twins, where he spent a year playing rookie ball in their system.

More than passing down experience, though, the chemistry of this group is seemingly the biggest piece to this puzzle. These guys have played with or against each other for 10 years in some cases. They know each other’s tendencies; they know what makes each other tick.

“We just mix really well,” said Revellese. “We know each other. We know how to pick each other up when things aren’t going well. And when things are going well, we know how to keep our composure.”

Off the field, the group loves to play basketball. Oftentimes, the competition grows quite heated. But the standout players on the court should come as no surprise.

“Brooks is just an athlete,” Revellese said. “He’s good at pretty much everything. Matt Drewes, he used to play basketball for the high school, and he just sits in the corner, hits threes.”

These are the moments, intertwined with the championships and the bus rides and the postgame meals, that they’ll remember forever.

Post 21 currently has nine games remaining on the schedule, beginning Sunday, before the New Hampshire American Senior Legion state tournament begins on July 21. Surely the players remain focused on doing whatever it takes to win, just as they’ve done in all the years they’ve played baseball together. But also knowing that this is the end of an era, in some sense, means truly savoring every last moment.

“I’m just enjoying every second with them, because time flies by,” Drewes said. “You grew up playing against these guys, and then you became teammates once high school started. The last two years of varsity have flown by, and now it’s over. You have to enjoy every second, because it’s going to be gone next year.”

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