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Returners provide leadership to young Braves squad

By: Carson Field

For nearly every player on Bourne’s roster, June 10 was a new enterprise. Dozens of Braves arrived at Eldredge Park for their first ever Cape Cod Baseball League game.

But Jake MacKenzie is no stranger to the spotlight that summer collegiate baseball provides.

A Fordham infielder, MacKenzie batted .305 this season and hit three home runs, guiding the Rams to the NCAA Tournament. He played in four games for Bourne in 2018, batting .286 through 16 plate appearances.

Though he saw limited action a year ago, MacKenzie obtained valuable experience on the Cape while facing some of the nation’s most elite pitchers.

“The pitchers are just another level than I’m used to seeing,” MacKenzie said. “They’re going to put every pitch exactly where they want, so you really got to go up there with a good plan, know what you’re looking for and try to stick to that and have faith in your ability.”

In the fall, Bourne once again reached out to MacKenzie; he didn’t think twice.

“I always said that if I get an opportunity, I’ll be able to showcase my talent,” MacKenzie said. “This is the perfect opportunity to do so with the other guys who are the best in the country.”

In the Braves’ first two games — losses to Orleans and Harwich — MacKenzie did not enter the game.

But field manager Harvey Shapiro has a spot for MacKenzie. According to the 17-year skipper, MacKenzie’s versatility and drive makes him a vital asset for this year’s squad.

“He can run, and I get loyal to guys who play for me for one season,” Shapiro said. “He’s a versatile kid, he can play different positions.”

On opening day, MacKenzie and pitcher Harrison Rutkowski were the only active Braves who played for Bourne last year. A day later, Arizona State shortstop and 2018 Braves infielder Alika Williams arrived on the Cape.

Over the course of two seasons in Tempe, Williams has batted around the .300 mark consistently and driven in 73 total runs. For Bourne in 2018, he hit .245 with one home run in 49 at-bats before he went home early.

Prior to his early departure, Williams had the time of his life. There was no hesitation when he received the invite back to Doran Park.

“Last year, I had the best time ever here in Bourne,” Williams said. “What excites me is just playing with the country’s best again.

“I got a taste of it but had to leave early. It’s going to be fun.”

Even though his first season on the Cape was modestly successful, Williams said it taught him much-needed lessons about struggling and pushing through slumps.

As one of only a few players on Bourne’s rosters with any Cape League experience, Williams hopes to be a leader and help his teammates stay positive.

“Giving them advice on how to fail because it’s going to happen,” Williams said. “It’s going to happen, so I think that’s the biggest message I have — staying positive and having a short memory.”

During the traditional college season, teams will often have three-day breaks in between series. The Cape League is a steep variation, as this year’s slate features 44 games in less than two months. In addition, players are thrown into a new atmosphere with host homes and taking the school bus to visiting ballparks.

Because of these changes, it’s important that Williams, MacKenzie and Rutkowski ease the transition to Bourne’s newcomers.

“They know the situation, as far as housing, conditions of taking the bus,” assistant coach Ace Adams said. “The big thing a lot of these kids don’t have any idea about is playing almost every day here, where in college, they don’t.

“This is a good beginning for them.”

This adjustment has been tough, so far. Bourne dropped the first two games, combining for one run on seven hits.

Despite this 0-2 hole, MacKenzie is confident that this will create a close group and compete for the league title.

“This group really seems like a good one,” MacKenzie said. “Everyone wants to get better every day.

“It seems like we got a potential for a really good season.”