COVID-19 Delayed Plympton’s Managerial Debut for 21 Months
Jeff Plympton, Jr. had to wait almost two years to debut as King Philip’s varsity baseball coach.
Ex-KP Star Aims to Build Winning CultureBy Ken Hamwey
Staff Sports Writer
The long wait is finally over.
Jeff Plympton’s debut as King Philip’s varsity baseball coach took 21 months but the 28-year-old Wrentham native was delighted to see his squad settle into their positions around the diamond and in the outfield for the Warriors’ season opener at North Attleboro on May 7.
The Warriors didn’t get the result they wanted, and an opening-day triumph wasn’t in the cards for Plympton. But, both he and his players were pleased that spring sports were back on KP’s athletic menu after being canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Red Rocketeers defeated the Warriors, 4-2, thanks to the pitching of ace right-hander Dennis Colleran, who’ll be on Northeastern University’s roster next spring. Colleran, who’s ranked as one of the state’s top hurlers, held KP to three hits while striking out 11 and walking only one. The fastball pitcher, whose velocity is in the 94 mph range, threw 110 pitches and hit four KP batters.
In spite of the setback, Plympton was glad to finally get the season underway and to get his debut in his rear-view mirror.
Plympton’s emotions for his debut bordered on anticipation and excitement as his forces faced a Herculean task in battling Colleran. North Attleboro, however, is where Plympton coached their jayvees and later was the varsity assistant.
“Coming off the bus and seeing some familiar faces brought back some fond memories,’’ Plympton said. “During pre-game workouts, I was thinking about our game plan and I was eager to get the game started. We faced one of the best pitchers in the state but our hitters drove up his pitch count and made him work hard. Our first game was a tough draw but overall I was pleased.’’
Once the game progressed, Plympton said: “I settled in and it seemed like just another game.’’ He mentioned that North Attleboro coach Mike Hart called his Warriors “scrappy’’ and was impressed with KP’s pitchers. The Warriors’ senior co-captain, Connor Cook, relayed some positive post-game thoughts to Plympton. “He told me our players’ morale remained high and they’re optimistic going forward.’’
Plympton’s goals for KP focus on both short-term objectives and long-range aspirations.
“We want to build a healthy culture and bring winning back to the program,’’ he emphasized. “Our focus over time will be to qualify for the Sectional tourney and advance as deep as possible in the playoffs.’’
KP had a 2-2 record at Local Town Pages deadline, beating Mansfield and Oliver Ames. “I’m pleased but we can improve,’’ Plympton said. “The players have bought in and we’ve seen a good blend of pitching, hitting and fielding.’’
The Warriors will bank on a variety of factors to end their two-year tourney drought.
“We’ll be scrappy, competitive and aggressive in the field and at the plate,’’ said Plympton, who was voted KP’s top offensive player as a senior. “And, we’ll rely on sound technical and fundamental skills, a high baseball IQ and an instinctive nature. Our infield will be solid, we’ve got speed in the outfield, and our pitching seems strong. Our question mark will be our hitting.’’
When it comes to assessing Cook, there’ll be few questions. The cleanup hitter, who’ll be playing for Brown University next spring, has power and he’s also a very capable catcher. “Connor is highly respected,’’ Plympton said. “The pitchers work well with him. He’s smooth on defense, blocks the plate well and has a strong arm to second base.’’
Junior shortstop Shawn Legere is a definite asset in the infield. “Shawn is smooth, attacks the ball effectively and has a strong arm to first,’’ Plympton said. “He’s our No. 3 hitter. He hits for power, swings hard and makes good contact.’’
Rudy Gately likely will play third base most of the season but the sophomore can fill in at shortstop or second base, if needed. He also is a starting pitcher. “Rudy is versatile,’’ Plympton noted. “He’s got a strong throw to first and he throws hard on the mound. A right-hander, he relies on a fastball, a great curve and a changeup. At the plate, he takes good swings.’’
Junior centerfielder Nick Viscusi is also a starting pitcher who’s talented in both roles. “Nick is extremely fast and he covers a lot of area in the outfield,’’ Plympton said. “He hits in the leadoff position and he’s got the speed to steal bases. A line-drive hitter who has a solid swing, he’s a right-handed pitcher who throws very hard. His curve ball snaps and his fastball is lively.’’
Eli Reed will handle the chores in right field but the junior can also be utilized in centerfield. “Eli has great range and speed,’’ Plympton said. “Effective at tracking the ball, he’s got a quick compact swing at the plate and will bat in the middle of the order.’’
Senior Mikey Malatesta rounds out the outfield in left. His consistency is his prime asset. “Mikey simply gets the job done,’’ Plympton said. “An aggressive hitter who relies on a good swing, he’s very strong both as a hitter and fielder. A fullback in football, he’s athletic.’’
A senior duet of right-hander Jack Mullen and lefty Grayden Lawrence will be utilized in relief roles. Both rely on a fastball as their top pitch. “Their velocity is similar,’’ Plympton noted. “Both throw hard and their control is good. Lawrence gives us a good fix being a lefty.’’
Plympton’s athletic philosophy is just what KP needs to get the program back on track. He wants his players to achieve their personal goals, be team-oriented and excel in the classroom. “If our kids reach their potential and enjoy their athletic journey, then winning will follow,’’ said Plympton, whose philosophy also embraces what he labels as an A-C-E approach. “The letters stand for achieving in the classroom, competing 100 percent on the field and exceeding expectations on and off the field.’’
A criminal justice major at Plymouth State, Plympton has a master’s degree in education from Fitchburg State. Now in his fifth year on the KP faculty, he’s a health and physical education instructor.
Acutely aware that athletics can teach life lessons, he knows his players learned a valuable lesson after hearing about the cancellation of last spring’s season. That was a lesson in overcoming adversity.
“Our kids learned that they shouldn’t take things for granted,’’ Plympton said. “It’s all about making the most of what you have. Other life lessons that sports teach are patience, leadership, teamwork, work ethic and a positive attitude.’’
Calling his father, Jeff Sr., who pitched for the Boston Red Sox, his role model for his support and encouragement, Plympton says his dad is the person he always talks to about baseball.
Hopefully, any conversations the pair have about the Warriors’ season will focus on positive things — like the players’ upbeat attitudes and their solid work ethic.