07/08/2023 9:04 AM
Article By: Kaileigh Grieb
The Cape Cod Baseball League’s centennial season has rung in numerous outstanding achievements across the board with all ten Cape teams. Records being broken and milestones being easily achieved, by both players and coaches, have allowed for this 2023 season to be memorable so far.
That being said, one major achievement that has been spoken throughout the league brought all eyes to the Orleans Firebirds coaching staff.
This past Monday in their home game against the Hyannis Harbor Hawks, Manager Kelly Nicholson rang in his 400th career win with the Orleans Firebirds.
Nicholson has been a CCBL veteran for 22 summers now, 18 of those summers being a manager for the Firebirds.
Firebirds General Manager, Sue Horton, recalls picking up him in 2001 as a pitching coach for the team and the rest has been program history.
“We have tremendous respect, admiration, and faith in him that he’s going to bring us a super bunch of guys every year, competitive but really good people as well as talented players. We have absolute faith and reliance in him to do what's best for us and take our program to the next level.”
Miss. Sue, as Nicholson refers to her as, stated when asked what he meant to the Firebirds program.
But, Nicholson’s coaching doesn't end with his Firebirds come August. He’s known for staying by his players' sides, offering support no matter where they end up post summer season.
Miss Sue emphasized that.
“These guys are family. He keeps in touch with all these guys, he never forgets anybody. He wants success and the best for every one of them. He just invests in every single guy that comes here.”
The California native has been seen as a local favorite amongst the CCBL community and many have looked at him with immense respect and admiration. His players, both past and present, were not shy in expressing their adoration for Nicholson.
Volunteer assistant coach Cole Cook is a prime example of how far Nicholsons impact has reached.
The former player now turned coach, Cook grew up summering in Truro watching the Firebirds play. He was then given the opportunity in his own college career to pitch for the Firebirds in the summer of 2009 under the guidance of Nicholson.
“Playing for him was awesome. He’s intense and he expects a lot from us. He was the first person who held me to a professional expectation, which is a heck of a thing for young people,” reflected Cook on his time as a player under Nicholson.
When asked how it felt to witness such a monumental achievement as now a part of the coaching staff alongside Nicholson, Cook said this:
“It’s one of those things that it's now easy to speak of his legacy and that's all it meant. He’s always had the legacy, whether or not he won the baseball games because of the culture he instilled into the people he touched. Generations of baseball are affected by Kelly Nicholson.”
Alongside his players, it was nearly impossible to get Nicholson’s coaching staff to stop raving about their time working alongside such notable talent.
Coaching alongside Nicholson for his second summer, the Firebirds assistant coach Max Fecske is no stranger to the Nicholson dynasty of Firebirds baseball.
“He's not up here to coach baseball. He's here to build people and build professionals and build professionals who are going to go to the next level, and perform at a level that is not common. He’s trying to find uncommon people to play a game that's been done a certain way for 150 years… He's the right person to be around if you want to develop as a person and as a baseball player, ” said Fecske, when asked to reflect on his time so far coaching with Nicholson.
Coach Fecske, a California native himself, grew up hearing all about Coach Nicholson ever since he was a teenager.
Attending the rival high school where Nicholson taught, Fecske recalls how he and his father, a baseball coach himself, always were aware of the impact of Nicholson.
“I’ve known about Kelly Nicholson since I was 15 years old. Hearing about him and the tradition he's had up here and to be up here 15 years later and being on his staff has been one of the most invaluable experiences of my life.”
In the bottom of the 7th inning, the Harbor Hawks had a 6-4 lead. Anticipation was felt all throughout Eldridge Park as fans eagerly awaited for the Firebirds to give their all into their final plays in the last coming innings. The game soon turned around with the Firebirds soon putting four runs up on the board.
With the call of the final out, the Firebirds brought in a 8-6 win and with that, the hill erupted into cheers in celebration for the monumental 400th win.
Players and fans surrounded Coach Nicholson, who then turned to his closest friends and family who watched from the hill the monumental milestone for the Skipper. But, no matter how much Coach Nicholson is raved about, he remains humble and level headed, believing in taking each win day by day.
“To be very honest, I’m just happy we got win number ten tonight. It’s kind of hard to put into words. It just makes me think of all the really good players that we’ve had here. I’m serious when I say this, it's a huge credit to the college coaches who send us players and they send us the right guys. Without the college coaches, without Miss. Sue giving me the opportunity, without our assistant coaches, our entire organization has been super fortunate.”
Even in the height of the celebrations, Nicholson still turned to thank the program that has given him countless opportunities to grow as a coach as well as a person.
“It's transformed my life. The people I’ve met, the friendships I’ve developed, the relationships I have formed, without this place I wouldn’t have that. This will always be a huge part of my life, even when I step away.”
Coaches like Kelly Nicholson are rare to find. Rough around the edges, but a heart filled with gold, Coach Nicholson’s record has shown that he’s in it for all the right reasons. Having a staff filled with adoration for the game, as well as the coach who makes the game of baseball what it is proves that this Skipper earned every one of those 400 wins for the Firebirds.