To Steve Englert, the game of baseball is as precious as air is to breathe. As rhythmic as a heartbeat. For more than two decades running, Englert flocks home every Summer to the seashore town of Harwich on Cape Cod to coach his beloved Mariners. It is mostly normal for Englert, but every once in a while he must pinch himself to appreciate how special it all is.
On June 14, Englert found himself in another big moment after Harwich beat the Bourne Braves 3-0 in a rain-shortened, five-inning game. Before the rain stopped, win number 400 was in the books for Englert in his 20th season as manager. The veteran coach was bestowed the “cadillac chain,” a clubhouse staple for each game’s most valuable player, and his players embraced Englert in the home dugout at Whitehouse Field.
“I honestly had no idea,” said Englert, a volunteer assistant coach for Manhattan College. “The players get you the wins. I just wrote the lineup.”
Whereas the ritual of writing the lineup is timeless, a new era of college baseball influenced by name, image and likeness (NIL) and the transfer portal has made Englert’s job on Cape Cod increasingly difficult. With all the player movement, including from one Summer league to the next, or with coaches instructing players to rest instead of play, nothing is guaranteed until the games are played to the final out. For Englert and the rest of the coaches, frustration teeters on insanity when preparing around the calendar for a season that lasts 10 weeks and has too many twists and turns to count.
“I get up every morning and I look at who’s coming and who’s going,” Englert said. “If a guy is getting shut down, I have to find a replacement.”
According to Englert, 90 percent of the CCBL’s players eventually get taken in the Major League Baseball Draft. At Harwich alone, Englert has coached a list of big leaguers that include DJ Lemahieu, Josh Donaldson and Luke Voit. Even Aaron Judge slugged on Cape Cod as a member of the Brewster Whitecaps.
Some faces get lost in the shuffle, Englert says, but others are hard to forget. That is especially true for some of the biggest names in the sport. Lemahieu, for instance, was already quite a talent for the 2008 team that helped deliver a league championship to Harwich for the first time since 1987. One time Lemahieu approached Englert out of nowhere when the two-time batting champion was in town with the Colorado Rockies for a series against the Boston Red Sox.
The surprise from LeMahieu, a low-profile celebrity, evokes the impact Englert has had on the culture in Harwich.
“I looked at this kid standing outside the dugout that looks like DJ LeMahieu,” Englert recalls. “I didn’t think anything of it then all of a sudden he said, ‘hey coach, you’re not even going to say hi.’”
Coaching some of the top talent in the country for such a short window in their careers is met with its challenges as well. The expectations and competitive stakes are high — and sometimes it calls for telling a player when they are in the wrong.
Voit, a 7-year MLB vet who is now in the New York Mets minor league system and used to play catcher, once got a taste of the serious side of Englert after he slammed his catcher’s mask on the dugout and it richoted hitting Englert in the back of the head. Wasting no time, Englert laid into the young slugger for his behavior.
The zero tolerance was a reminder that no player regardless of ability would receive preferential treatment from Englert.
“I was so pissed at him,” Englert says with a laugh now. “He called his coach and the coach called me and I said ‘listen, I have two brothers. We get into fights sometimes but I still love them.’”
Years later, Englert was in St. Louis for a Cardinals game and tracked down Voit during warmups. The two chuckled about their former bout, sharing in the joy of how far they came.
“He came running and gave me a big hug,” Englert recalled. “He goes, ‘hey coach, they took my mask away from me so I wouldn’t throw it off.’”
Englert has been around the Division I baseball circuit for as long as his Harwich career. Some of his recent gigs have come as a volunteer assistant with stops at Northeastern University and Kansas State University. Englert accepted the same role at Manhattan College this past season due to his ties to the Jaspers staff.
Once Manhattan Head Coach David Miller heard Englert had moved to New York City, bringing in his friend was a no-brainer.
“I didn’t even know Steve was living in New York,” Miller said. “I literally sat there was like, ‘tell me you want to come to Manhattan.’ And all we had to figure out was how to get him from Manhattan to the Bronx everyday.”
Miller picks Englert up everyday at his home on the West Side, and then they make the commute to campus together while chatting about whatever came to mind that day. Then, once a full day’s work is complete, they make the return trip home with still more left to talk about.
“He’s there everyday ready to work and he loves working with the catchers and hitters,” Miller said. “Everyone picks his brain.”
Miller first crossed paths with Englert when the former was an assistant coach with the Chatham Anglers in the CCBL. Having experienced the grind of that league as a player and a coach, Miller is quick to tout the consistency and durability of Englert’s work with Harwich, including overseeing raw talent potentially worth millions of dollars one day. Miller calls Englert “humble” and is not sure how quickly the news of the 400th win would have made it to the rest of the Manhattan coaching staff if not for a tweet sent out by the Harwich Mariners.
“He’s trying to manage agents and coaches telling them what innings are needed and at-bats the players have to get,” Miller said of the external pressure Englert faces. “He’s just constantly making managerial decisions.”
Manhattan pitching coach Steven Rosen fully immersed himself in Englert’s coaching philosophies when he spent last Summer as the pitching coach for Harwich. According to Rosen, having that experience under his belt turned out to be a bonus when he interviewed for the job at Manhattan.
“One of the first things Dave Miller said to me after hiring me was if you could put up with Steve Englert for a full Summer, then you can put up with me,” Rosen said. “I can’t thank Coach Englert enough for placing that vote of confidence in me.”
Rosen says the circle between the Manhattan coaching staff “runs deep.” And they all benefited from being around the tough love, albeit good-hearted approach patented by Englert.
Getting to spend more time with Englert at Manhattan is the gift that keeps on giving for the 28-year-old Rosen. Working with Englert includes being the butt of playful jabs in the dugouts, or watching him pore through scouting reports of every college baseball team in the country.
“He’s constantly on the phone with coaches and players,” Rosen said. “Anyone familiar with the Cape Cod League would probably tell you no one runs their program with the level of professionalism that he does.”
Miller enjoys kicking back and smoking a cigar alongside Englert. Talking about Manhattan Baseball, reliving old memories on the Cape, and talking about life, while puffing away on the cigars. And until recently, Miller and the staff have a new nickname for Englert.
“‘Mr. 400’ is what we have been calling him the last few weeks,”said Miller, who took his Manhattan staff up to a Harwich game recently to visit Englert. “He does a good job of making a stressful situation a little bit lighter.”
As of mid-July, the Harwich Mariners are in second place in the East Division trailing only the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox. The chase is on as Englert’s Mariners have their eye on what would be town’s first league title since 2011. Playoffs are set to begin Aug. 4.
Results aside, Englert will never forget this season for the hundreds of messages he received for win number 400. It means more to him than he ever realized.
“That was the coolest part of the whole thing,” Englert said. “More than the wins.”