Unforgettable summer: Wooten helps Harwich win Cape Cod League championship
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 28, 2011 1:52 AM
Injuries spread through the Harwich Mariners baseball team like wildfire toward the end of the season.
Appendicitis, shoulder/elbow trouble, knee damage and the loss of two players to the minor leagues left the season in jeopardy. Just 10 position players and seven pitchers remained active on the roster.
"It was just all of a sudden ... unbelievable," said Goldsboro native John Wooten, who played infield with the Cape Cod League organization.
The Mariners qualified for the playoffs and dropped the opening game to Brewster in their best-of-three, quarterfinal-round series.
Wooten talked with his roommate, Northeastern University southpaw Drew Leenhouts, later that evening. Little did Wooten know that his conversation would be a prophecy he'd never forget.
"I said 'Drew, either one of two things is going to happen. We're either going to lose tomorrow and we're going to be done. Or we won't lose again,'" said Wooten.
Harwich didn't lose again.
The Mariners polished off Brewster in three games and swept Yarmouth-Dennis, which set up the championship series against Falmouth. Wooten mashed the game-winning hit -- a home run -- to help Harwich claim the opener, 5-4. His two-run blast created a 5-5 deadlock in the second game, eventually won 7-5 by the Mariners.
"It was pretty cool," said a modest Wooten. "We had a team full of grinders, guys who'd go out to the park and get after it every single day. A lot of guys, when they get up there, it gets toward the end of summer and you've played 100 games including school, so they're ready to go home.
"Every single person on our team was saying 'I want to win this thing' and I think that was the difference with our team up there. Every team is good, but the team that wants it the most is going to be the one that wins.
"It's not always the best team."
Once the final out had been recorded on Falmouth's diamond, the Mariners celebrated in a dogpile near the pitcher's mound. Leenhouts grabbed Wooten by the shoulders and said 'Man, you totally called that.'
Harwich (30-20-1 overall) claimed its second Cape Cod League championship (Arnold Myock Award) in the past four seasons, and fourth overall in organization history.
Wooten couldn't have asked for a better season.
Or the experience of playing in the CCL.
On off days, the rising junior at East Carolina visited historic Fenway Park on occasion and fished for tuna and striper offshore.
"How many people get to do that?" grinned Wooten. "The main thing was already knowing people, like the host families ... which was different from last year (2010) when I basically did my own thing.
"Winning the league made it really fun."
Wooten relished the consistent competition.
"We were seeing 92 to 95 (mph pitching) every night, no matter what," said Wooten. "It's not that the competition is that much better, it's just that much better consistently. We were seeing someone's 'Friday night guy' (No. 1 starter) every single night."
Wood bats, said Wooten.
"If you get one (a pitch) off the end or get one on the hands, you break one," said Wooten. "But if you hit one off the barrel, there's no better feeling. I actually like the wood better than the new BBCOR bats they make us use in school."
Ah, back to ECU.
Wooten contends he couldn't have asked for a better season in the Cape, and the confidence he gained against some of the country's top pitchers.
"You win that league, you're basically the best college team in the country ... can go up against anybody's college team and beat them," said Wooten.
The Pirates had four players sign minor league contracts after the season and 21 played in summer leagues.
Wooten said younger players must step up this season to help the Pirates contend on the Conference USA and national scenes. ECU made its 11th NCAA regional appearance in the past 13 years and 25th overall in program history.
Wooten's draft stock undoubtedly improved.
The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder was selected in the 20th round of the 2009 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft by the San Diego Padres. He was the 594th pick overall, and doesn't regret that he decided to play college baseball.
"The best decision I've ever made," said Wooten. "I've really enjoyed ECU. It's a fun place and being able to go to the Cape for two summers is unbelievable. I'm just going to work hard and let the chips fall where they may ... see how it goes."
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