ORLEANS ---- There is something about the Fourth of July in the towns of Orleans and Chatham. It may be the parades, the beautiful beaches and the great restaurants. Or perhaps it’s the traditional home-and-home series between Orleans and Chatham.
The towns are separated by just nine miles on Route 28 and have been competing since most locals can remember. Whether it is in basketball, soccer or baseball between Chatham High and Nauset Regional, they are meant to be rivals.
“It’s a great environment,” Chatham field manager John Schiffner said. “It’s a nice friendly rivalry.”
As if anything else needed to be added, the Firebirds and Anglers have made it a tradition to play every year in a home-and-home series on July 4-5. This year, it was Orleans’ turn to have the home game on the Fourth.
“It’s summer time, July 4th, Chatham-Orleans, it’s the way it has been,” Schiffner said. “It’s what it is all about. It’s Cape League baseball at its finest.”
With the short drive, these two nights are great attendance draws for the teams. By 8 a.m. on the morning of July 4, the right-field hill at Eldredge Park was already half full, and 3,330 fans witnessed the Anglers 5-1 victory over the Firebirds.
“The crowds are just spectacular,” Orleans general manager Sue Horton said. “It has always been that way and hopefully it always will be.”
The feeling and the sights are something special. The crowds fill in and the players trot out to their positions, but every play is more pressure-packed and every movement is scrutinized a bit closer. Dave Mitchell, who has been around the Firebirds for the past 35 years, has seen the rivalry and the tradition evolve.
“Two towns, 10 miles from ballpark to ballpark and the rivalry has just been a beauty,” he said. “If we lose two other games, but we beat Chatham, it’s just what we are looking for here.”
“It’s really the first day when the Cape is full.”
The players also enjoy the experience of participating in such important games. Kevin Muno (San Diego) has been fortunate to play for Orleans for three summers and has seen his share of rivalry moments.
“Playing Chatham is always fun because the town enjoys the rivalry,” he said. “The crowd is electric.”
Muno also thinks the Fourth of July brings more to the table.
“There is a lot of patriotism. ‘God Bless America’ is a little more special that day,” he said. “It’s a pretty special day for everyone around here.”
Just like high school football rivalries and the Red Sox-Yankees, it becomes a part of everyday life. It also has a way of bringing people together. Schiffner and Orleans field manager Kelly Nicholson have become good friends in their coaching careers on Cape Cod and these games are just another great part of being on Cape Cod in the summer.
Nicholson was asked if Orleans-Chatham just sounds right on the Fourth of July. “It does,” he said. “I was thinking about that. The last 10 years of my life, it has been July 4th, Orleans-Chatham. It has been pretty cool.”
And if you are keeping track, Chatham leads the season series, 2-1. After the Anglers quieted the fans with their win on the Fourth, the Firebirds returned the favor the next night with a come-from-behind 2-1 victory at Veterans Field.
Oh, and looking to the future, should the teams be neck-and-neck down to the wire, they will be able to settle it head-to-head with a home-and-home series on the final two days of the regular season.