By Mojo Hill
Come to a Bourne Braves game, and you might notice a small bat boy running from the dugout, his helmet wobbling from shoulder to shoulder as he sprints behind home plate.
That’s eight-year-old Cooper Karas. Not only was he one of Bourne’s most committed bat boys, but he was a vital cog in the machine of this championship-winning ball club in 2023. Behind an impromptu friendship with Braves first baseman Garrett Michel, while simultaneously carrying the spark of a good luck charm, Karas ran it back with Bourne this summer — all the way from the dugout to the glories of victory.
“It’s special,” Karas’s dad Matt said. “Something like that is never probably gonna happen again.”
Karas, in addition to his bat boy duties, attended the weekly kids camp that went on at Doran Park earlier in the day before games. Numerous Braves players, including Michel, helped out by coaching and running drills.
“It’s as much fun for me as it is for them,” Michel said. “You get to hang out with the kids, and then they get to come to the games and watch you play and watch you do your thing. And you get to hang out with them before and after the game, which makes it more special.”
It was at kids camp that a bond started to form between Karas and the Virginia Tech slugger. Michel became Karas’s favorite player, and warming up together turned into one of their rituals.
“Every time I went to camp, and every time I saw him at the ball field, he always had the biggest smile on his face,” Michel said. “And it kind of made everybody else in the room smile. He’s a great kid, and it just made coming to the ball field fun after seeing him.”
Michel was one of the key cogs on this Bourne team throughout the entire summer. He was there from the first day, and stuck around all the way through the championship run. His season, like the Braves’, saw plenty of ups and downs. But he ultimately led the team in homers and was a mainstay in the middle of the lineup down the stretch.
Whether he was slumping or on a hot streak, Michel always brought a positive attitude to the field — much like the attributes he sees in young Cooper. Whether it was warming up with kids, chatting with interns or doing his daily pregame fist bumps, Michel exemplified what Cape League baseball is supposed to be about.
“Garrett’s an exceptionally nice kid,” Matt said. “He really just has a kind heart.”
Those traits fortified a comfortable environment for Karas. While he and Michel may be in different stages in life, they’re both kids who love baseball, and Karas’s rookie season as a bat boy gave him a chance to gain inspiration and knowledge from someone who’s playing the game at a high level.
“He is absolutely in love with baseball,” Matt said of his son. “All he talks about is baseball. All he watches is baseball. If he’s not playing baseball, he’s collecting baseball cards. So to get him immersed into a team like this is really neat.”
Karas made himself at home with the Braves, attending nearly every game. He became known among the players, coaches, fans and everybody who else who regularly supported Bourne Braves baseball. This organization stayed united as a tight-knit group through all the peaks and valleys, all the roster transactions, all the heartbreaking losses and all the triumphs. It’s not just the players who develop a family-type atmosphere — it’s everyone who’s involved in making baseball on Cape Cod happen, whether on the field, off the field or behind the scenes.
“It was really, really special. He was on a first name basis with pretty much the whole team and all the coaching staff. He knew them all,” Matt said. “It’s funny, when walking out of the park, you see Salty [assistant coach Jarrod Saltalamacchia] say ‘Hey, we’ll see you tomorrow, Coop!'”
Michel believes the atmosphere played a part in allowing this team to flourish. The competition is tougher than at school, and the wood bats are an adjustment for any hitter who’s used to metal, but the culture on the Cape is more relaxed and homey than it might be under the rigors of Division 1 baseball.
“It chills you out a little bit, realizing that you’re playing a game,” Michel said. “It kind of takes the stress away and puts it in perspective where you’re at and what you’re doing. It makes the game a lot more fun.”
The Karas family began going to games last year, and they got to witness the Braves’ first championship since 2009 from the sidelines. At the beginning of this summer, Matt simply asked team president Nicole Norkevicius if Cooper could be a bat boy, and it was then that the Karas’s’ “summer family” was born.
“I can’t say enough about the organization. It really is like a family,” Matt said. “We moved here three years ago. We’ve been coming to Braves games for two years. And I think they’ve taken our family into more of it than what’s even expected of anywhere else. Between the board members and the players and the coaching staff, it really is a family atmosphere. We’ve been calling it our summer family. Go to Doran, and you can catch everybody talking to everybody. It’s really cool.”
A bat boy’s main duties during the games involve being alert behind the screen near the dugout, ready to sprint out and retrieve stray bats. It’s often a race with the other team’s bat boy, especially when the bat is somewhere in the middle and could realistically be retrieved by either side.
The crowd will often get into it and cheer on the opposing bat boys. Karas is smaller than the other bat kids — with many onlookers thinking he’s even younger than eight — but it doesn’t stop him from doing his job in just as composed and efficient a manner as all the others.
Karas brought an extra spark the team perhaps didn’t even know they needed. When the Braves opened the West finals against Hyannis, the Karas’s weren’t able to make it to the game, and Cooper had to be subbed in for. After sweeping Cotuit in the opening round, Bourne lost that first game. The Braves were dangling on the brink of elimination.
Phone calls and texts bombarded Matt’s phone, demanding that Cooper be there for the remainder of the season. Sometimes baseball superstition wins out.
Cooper returned, and the Braves fought off elimination twice to win the championship.
“We made a very strong point to [manager Scott] Landers that he needs to be our bat boy during the playoffs,” Michel said. “I think if he wasn’t our bat boy, people were gonna be very upset.”
So now Karas can go back to school, and back to his own baseball teams, as the bat boy for a group of champions. He has a summer worth of memories that he’ll be able to hold onto for the rest of his long life ahead.
“The championship game, he’s still talking about it,” Matt said. “If someone had hit a home run: ‘Oh, did you see how far Bender’s home run was? It was so deep,’ and everything like that. Pretty much every time he’d get home from a game, he’d throw on YouTube to rewatch the game, just to see his performance and everybody else’s.”
Karas has fall ball coming up, followed by spring ball, along with the Bourne camps and a couple other baseball camps. The Karas family’s life revolves around baseball, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. They’re also hoping to travel and catch some college baseball, particularly to see some of Cooper’s favorite players — first on the list: Garrett Michel of Virginia Tech.
“He’s a light to everybody’s day,” Michel said of Karas. “Just keep being who he is. Keep loving and keep practicing the game.”
Bourne will be back in action in early June of next year.
Until then, everybody in the Braves community can enjoy the taste of running it back.