Virus Halted Plympton’s Debut, Ended KP Nine’s Season of Optimism

KEN HAMWEY, Staff Sports Writer
Jeff Plympton, Jr.
Issue Date: 
June, 2020
Article Body: 

Jeff Plympton Jr. was hopeful that high school sports could have survived cancellation of the spring season.
After all, the Warriors’ new baseball coach had some quality talent on his roster and his players were eager to end a two-year tournament drought. Unfortunately, Plympton’s 2020 squad won’t be playing any games, nor will it return KP to playoff competition.
When the Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Association announced the cancellation of the entire spring sports schedule on April 24 because of the coronavirus pandemic, lots of disappointment set in — not only for players and fans, but also for coaches.
“I feel badly for the seniors who’ll miss the opportunity to enjoy their final season,’’ Plympton said. “For some players, baseball is their only sport. I talked with the players throughout the year and their goal was to get back to the tourney and make a strong run. It’s tough for seniors but don’t forget the juniors who hoped to display their talent and ability for college scouts. That’s all been erased.’’
On a personal level, Plympton was eager to get his first year as KP’s skipper off to a competitive start against the teams in the Kelly-Rex Division of the Hockomock League. Teams like Franklin, Attleboro, Mansfield, Taunton and Oliver Ames.
“I was hoping to get our practice plans solidified and build team chemistry,’’ said Plympton, who played baseball at KP and previously was North Attleboro’s jayvee coach. “It would have been nice to start establishing tradition. To not coach this season is unfortunate but I’ll be back next year. It’s more unfortunate for the seniors.’’
For all the disappointment, however, Plympton is acutely aware that the MIAA, which early on was hopeful of implementing an abbreviated schedule, made the correct call. “My prime concern is the health and safety of the players, the community and the country. That’s far more important than sports.’’
But, it’s easy to understand the excitement that exists when a capable new coach takes the reins of a motivated group.
KP’s strengths were many. The players were enthusiastic, their attitudes were positive and they have a high baseball IQ. Their athleticism included speed and quickness. Plympton knew many of his players’ assets, having coached them in youth and summer leagues and at the club level.
“We had players who could perform well on defense,’’ he said. “A lot of our returnees were infielders. On offense, our kids could hit and move runners up. And, we had openings for juniors and sophomores. I saw the promise of the KP players when I was jayvee coach at North Attleboro.’’
The Warriors’ captains — senior third baseman Chris Sawyer and junior catcher Conor Cooke — would have been exceptional leaders.
“Chris is a solid infielder who would have been our closer,’’ Plympton noted. “A right-handed pitcher, he’s got a strong arm, probably developed by making those long throws at third base. He hit .320 last year. He’s a fine leader, well-respected by the players and coaches.’’
Cooke’s take-charge ability would easily have been noticed, especially by opponents. “Conor has presence behind the plate,’’ Plympton emphasized. “He understands his pitchers’ strengths and he’s a calming influence on them. They take his advice to heart. A good overall player, he’s very capable on defense and he’s got a high baseball IQ.’’
Senior second baseman Thomas Weir, who played a variety of infield positions last year, is labeled “a great fielder’’ by Plympton. “Thomas gets his body in front of a ball and he knows what opposing baserunners are thinking,’’ Plympton said. “On offense, he gets his bat on the ball and makes pitchers work. He’s a consistent contact hitter.’’
Senior Robert Jarest, a three-sport athlete who guided the Warriors to a Super Bowl title from his quarterback slot, would have played shortstop. “Robert is very smooth in the field,’’ Plympton said. “A line-drive hitter, he’s very athletic and quick on the basepaths. When I was a volunteer coach at KP, he was a freshman who was called up to the jayvees and varsity. He was impressive handling all kinds of situations.’’
Senior Aidan Walsh would have been an ideal utility player for KP. Last year, he played both the infield and the outfield. “Aidan is coachable and versatile,’’ Plympton said. “A tough kid who’s got a good swing, he’s very team-oriented.’’
Another senior, Ian Rhines, was ticketed for a starter’s role in the pitching rotation. “Ian has good velocity on his fastball,’’ Plympton said. “It’s in the low 80 mph range. His assortment also includes a curve and a change-up. He spots the ball well and his control is very good.’’
The 26-year-old Plympton was bullish on junior left-hander Jake Silveria, a pitcher who could also play first base. “Jake would have been our No. 1 pitcher,’’ he said. “A competitive athlete, his control was good, his curve ball moved and his fastball was in the 80 mph range. A decent contact hitter, he gained experience as a sophomore.’’
Cancellation of the baseball season not only ended games but it also prohibited Plympton from implementing his A-C-E philosophy. “The letters stand for achieving in the classroom, competing 100 percent on the field and exceeding expectations on and off the field,’’ he said.
A criminal justice major at Plymouth State, Plympton has a master’s degree in education from Fitchburg State. Acutely aware that athletics can teach life lessons, Plympton is sure his players learned a valuable lesson after hearing about the cancellation of the spring season.
“Our kids realize they shouldn’t take things for granted,’’ Plympton said. “It’s all about making the most of what you have.’’