Jamie Keefe isn’t a household name. He’s not a celebrity name manager, which many independent teams employ.
No, he’s not the Rockland Boulder’s attraction, unless you consider the ultimate baseball draw: Winning.
In his fifth season in Rockland County, Keefe won the 2014 Can Am League Championship and 2015 Regular Season Championship. And now in 2017, his team is 5-0 after sweeping a unique five game series against the Sussex County Miners. The latter being very impressive, because the season just started.
“We are new at this,” Keefe said. “We have all new guys, so we don’t know how they are going to play.”
According to Keefe, it takes about 10 games into a season to get a feel for a team. Although he has some “gamers” he’s still getting used to his roster. Of course, even though he’s getting a feel for his Boulders, former NY Met Bobby J. Jones is figuring things out with his Miners in the other dugout, so it evens out.
“You don’t have to play well,” Keefe said. “You just need 10 games, so you know what position to put these guys in.”
That’s the life in the Can-Am League. Because of the fluidity of the league with players leaving for affiliated ball or other independent leagues that have higher salary caps, Keefe is adjusting all season long. Players come and go and he needs to immediately see where a newly signed player fits into his system.
But it’s a double edge sword, because of all the turnover, you will see less shifting and less specialization, which has infected the majors and affiliated minors. This leads to a purer game, with guys played straight up rather than shifted on with every pitch.
However, it doesn’t mean they can’t shift and part of Keefe’s strategy is to protect the lines and give the opposition the middle to prevent extra base hits. Yet, when they want to shift it takes time to get used to the league.
“We know some of these players,” he said. “We played these guys enough that we know when they are going to pull the ball. We are doing our little things with the charts as we get to know the guys. We are going to shift guys when we think we should and other times we are going to play straight up.”
But he’s done very well with it so far. In Rockland during his first four seasons, he’s gone 226-167 and saw the quality of play increase over the years. When he came into the Can-Am League, he classified the level as High-A, but now it’s more like a Double-A league.
“Our players that are getting signed now are going right to Double-A or Triple-A,” Keefe said. “So, we know we are playing Double-A baseball. That’s been a huge transition for us. The pitching has gotten better. The hitting has gotten better and the fielding has gotten better. Five years ago, in this league, you couldn’t play like they play today.”
That makes for better baseball in Rockland and in the Can-Am League in general. With the New Jersey Jackals being sold to Miners owner Al Dorso, Sr., all the teams have stable ownerships, which means money will be invested into talent, and in turn will provide a better brand of baseball.
With Keefe’s Boulders leading the way, of course.
He may not be a household baseball name, but he does win. And in this results business, that’s the worth more than anything.