PEABODY — Last year the Peabody Champions fell short in the North Shore Baseball League semifinals to Swampscott, but the team has used last year’s disappointing end to fuel the fire behind a hot start this season.
“It very much motivates us,” co-manager of the Peabody Champions Steve Gridley said. “Almost everybody on that team is back and since I’ve been here we’ve only not made the finals four times. It’s a huge motivating factor.”
Gridley, who co-manages the team with Mike Giardi, has seen the Champions put it all together early in the year, jumping out to a 10-4-1 start. Peabody’s currently first place in the NSBL standings.
“It’s a combination of everything that wins games,” Gridley said. “We have pitched and hit well but most importantly we’re getting hits at the right time and capitalizing on chances.”
The Champions have scored 99 runs, the second most in the league, while allowing just 42, which is the second least out of all 11 teams.
The team’s pitching staff, which has allowed 30 earned runs thus far, is led by Mike Gallo (2-0 with a 0.93 ERA in 15 innings pitched) and Tyler Leavitt (3-2 with a 2.49 ERA in 25.1 innings pitched) Gridley said.
“Gallo and Tyler have carried us a bit,” Gridley said. “They are the veterans and have picked up the slack for us. We play good defense behind them too.”
At the plate, the Peabody Champions have been led by No. 3 hitter Mark Shorey (batting .279 with two home runs) and cleanup hitter Chad Martin (batting .388 with five home runs).
“[Martin] leads the league with five home runs,” Gridley said. “A tremendous player and he’s hitting the ball really well. He recently had a streak were he hit a home run in five straight games.
“Not bad for a guy who goes to work, takes off the suit and then comes to the park and hits the ball 400 feet,” Gridley added. “That’s not easy to do.”
Shorey is a former Triple-A player in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
“He’s been tremendous,” Gridley said of Shorey. “He’s second in league in walks, and guys can’t pitch around him with Chad up next. Early on they’ve started feeding off of each other.”
Having an abundance of veteran players is another key to the team’s early success, Gridley said.
“We are by far the oldest team in the league,” Gridley said. “We don’t have to go over every detail, these guys know how to play the game right.”
The early success is important for the Peabody Champions, who have their eyes on possible home-field advantage early in the playoffs.
“In our league it’s important,” Gridley said. “The first round of playoffs is two out of three and you want to play those games at your park.
“We’ve only had two games rained out,” Gridley added. “It’s fortunate the games don’t pile up and so they won’t take a toll on our pitching staff in the future making them up.”
The co-managerial team of Gridley and Giardi, who have been coaching together since 2001, helps create a winning formula Gridley said.
“It’s been great, Mike does a lot of things so there are times when he’s not available. It’s good to always have someone there when one of us can’t make it,” Gridley said. “He’s the best baseball mind I’ve ever known. We’ve won seven championships together, it’s been a tremendous relationship and we feed off each other.”
“We don’t always agree,” Gridley added. “If you have someone who always agrees with you, you have a hard time coming up with new ideas. We bounce ideas back and forth and have been successful.”
Peabody visits the Kingston Owls Sunday night (8).