by Jordan Lank
Another year, another summer, another three months of family fun! In their 19th summer in the Coastal Plain League, the Fayetteville SwampDogs once again combined top-notch baseball, family entertainment and affordable prices into one perfect package at "The Swamp."
The SwampDogs earned their third playoff appearance in as many seasons under the helm of new head Coach David Anderson. The Emory University pitching coach managed the 'Dogs to a 24-26 record and was named the East Division head coach for the 2019 All-Star Showdown in Savannah.
Speaking of the All-Star festivities, six SwampDogs were named to the 2019 All-Star Showdown. Right-handed pitcher Matt Bradley (Carson Newman), infielders Jackson Webb (Georgia Tech) and Austin Bost (Texas A&M), and outfielder Sean McGeehan (St. John's) were all voted to the East Division roster, while right-hander Jonathan Cole (Franklin & Marshall) was named to the championship round pitching pool and catcher Alex Kachler (Methodist) was selected to the Fan Vote team.
With 'Dogs front office and staff in attendance, the East Division, managed by Anderson, claimed victory in the championship game on a walk-off single in which Bost was the winning run.
While the all-stars were a pivotal part of Fayetteville's success in 2019, the roster looked almost completely different by season's end. A total of 50 different SwampDogs appeared in a game, the most of any Fayetteville team in its 19-year existence, with eight staying from day one until the end of the season.
Kachler had an exceptional season and spearheaded Fayetteville offensively, leading the SwampDogs with 51 hits and 33 runs batted in. Kachler also recorded a hit in 33 of the 43 games that he played.
A stalwart at the top of the order, outfielder Cameron Phelts (Texas College) led the SwampDogs in walks with 34. Phelts' on-base percentage remained top-five for most of the season while he established himself as a speed demon in Fayetteville's lineup, swiping 17 of the 22 bags he attempted to steal.
Matt Vonderschmidt (Piedmont College) came to Fayetteville as a closing pitcher, but left as a much more versatile pitcher. "Vondy," who had never started at school, pitched in multiple roles with the SwampDogs and started four games. Vonderschmidt picked up four saves in 41 ⅓ innings and struck out a team-leading 46 opponents.
The SwampDogs pitching staff hung around the top of the leaderboards all season, finishing out the 2019 campaign second in team strikeouts with 473.
Off the field, it was another terrific summer of engaging with the Fayetteville community. Throughout the season, SwampDogs players, coaches and staff could be found up and down the Cumberland County area. Players appeared on Fort Bragg and held a baseball instruction camp with children of military families. The team hosted their annual pancake breakfast to benefit Falcon Children's Home and five kids camps over the course of the season. Finally, the 'Dogs renewed their yearly tradition of marching in the Hope Mills Fourth of July parade. At each stop, the SwampDogs brought a little bit of their trademark family fun with them.
For years the SwampDogs have been highly committed to charitable causes, especially those that work to improve the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. For the seventh consecutive year, the SwampDogs employed over 15 Special Olympians as interns to help improve their resumes for future endeavors. The 'Dogs continued to help support Special Olympics Cumberland County through their Spare Change for Special Olympics initiative, and donated over $4,000 to ServiceSource and Friendship House Fayetteville through the Balls and Strikes Bowling Classic at B & B Lanes.
The SwampDogs bolstered their charitable efforts by hosting three charity jersey auctions in 2019. First, for the 13th annual StriKing Out Cancer Night on June 22, the team wore and subsequently auctioned off special pink jerseys to raise money for Friends of the Cancer Center. Next, the 'Dogs wore and auctioned off first-responder-inspired uniforms on July 20, benefiting Cape Fear Valley Health System. Finally, in a surprise move, the team auctioned off their popular alternate american flag uniforms for charity, benefiting 22 Until None, an organization committed to ending veteran suicide.
All in all, it was another exhilarating and fun-filled season at J.P. Riddle Stadium. The SwampDogs look forward to their 20th summer of fun, set to begin in May of 2020.