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Aug 16, 2006
SPARTANBURG, S.C. - USC Upstate head baseball coach Matt Fincher is renowned for his work ethic at trying to field the best possible baseball teams at USC Upstate. His work has paid off as the program has turned the corner and has become a contender in the Peach Belt Conference, arguably the toughest baseball conference in NCAA Division II.
While he has worked tirelessly to build the program at USC Upstate, he has also spent the last 10 summers around the game as an assistant coach with the Chatham A's, a member of the Cape Cod Baseball League, a summer collegiate wooden bat league in Cape Cod, MA. With USC Upstate's move to NCAA Division I status in 2007-08, Fincher will stop making the trip up the East Coast and will remain in Spartanburg during the summers.
Widely respected as the best summer wooden bat league in the country, the Cape League has helped produce several legendary professional baseball players and many - such as Kevin Mench, Evan Longoria, Brian Roberts, Chris Young, Andrew Miller, and Jason Bay - have played for Fincher and head coach John Schiffner. On Aug. 6, Fincher coached his final game with Chatham, a 7-1 win over Orleans. That night, Fincher was greeted by 50 loyal supporters at a local restaurant. They came to wish him well in his future endeavors, but to also send him off with a show of respect worthy of the respect he has shown to the Cape, the league, and the people of Chatham. Prior to the game against Brewster on Aug. 5, Fincher received what could be the epitome of respect, his No. 23 jersey was retired during a pregame ceremony at Veterans Field. Only one other Chatham player or coach, legendary manager Eddie Lyons, has had their jersey retired. Fincher has now become the second.
Below is the story that ran in the Aug. 10 issue of the Cape Cod Chronicle about Fincher and his loyal service to the Chatham A's and the Cape League.
Farewell Fincher Chatham Says Goodbye To Its Beloved Assistant Coach After 10 Years Of Service With The A's by Eric Adler
CHATHAM -- Matt Fincher's laugh is legendary.
It's an unabashed, child-like hoot and howl, the kind of laugh that's so infectious it's impossible not to laugh along with it, no matter if what was said directly before was funny or not. It's that feel-good chuckle, coupled with his often indiscernible orders to batters, voiced in a deep southern drawl from either the dugout or third base, that have become his trademarks. Swansong. Fincher, joined by a few of the A's family, had his number 23 jersey retired prior to the A's 3-0 victory over the Whitecaps in the home finale Saturday night.
But here was Fincher, standing in the back room of the 400 East Restaurant before a rapt audience of his 50 closest Chatham A's friends Friday night, not laughing, or smiling, or barking out a command you couldn't quite understand. He was just trying to find the words to say goodbye during a ceremony held in his honor on the eve of his final home game.
For 10 glorious seasons, "Finch" (as he's so often called) has given his all as the A's assistant coach, doing everything from spearheading the youth baseball camp, to maintaining the grounds at Veterans Field, to offering sage acumen in the heat of a close game.
During his tenure ('97-'06), the A's made six playoffs appearances, won three East Division titles, one league championship, and amassed over 220 victories.
But Chatham's 7-1 win over the Orleans Cardinals on Sunday was his final one, because the University of South Carolina Upstate, where Fincher serves as head coach, is transitioning to Division One, forcing Finch to spend all 12 months at the school, thus leaving behind a decade of precious memories on the Cape.
So you can forgive Finch, whose voice began to tremble as his head dropped, for acting out of character and emotional during a moment of outward reflection. But in true! Fincher form - joyful and gentlemanly - he found a way to crack a s mile and thank the crowd, telling them, "I've lived a charmed life for the past 10 years."
Others had a seemingly easier time saying their goodbyes, particularly Chatham Field Manager John Schiffner. When Fincher arrived at the East Harwich eatery, he did so to a room that stood and cheered. "What an ovation for a guy who's leaving," Schiffner quipped.
But in truth, Schiffner was torn up at the thought of no longer having his dear friend and "the brother I never had" by his side when the A's start anew next June.
"There will be someone taking his spot next year, but you will never, ever be able to replace Matt Fincher," said Schiffner with heavy gravitas. "From his public relations, to the way he deals with the fans, the players, and us as coaches, he's a one of kind person. They say everyone's replaceable but I disagree. He's meant that much to this franchise."
That's exactly the way the A's organization saw it as well.
Prior to Saturday's game against the Brewster Whitecaps, the A's honored Fincher with a pregame presentation that culminated with the retirement of his number 23 jersey, joining legendary skipper Eddie Lyons as the only Chatham player or coach to have his number retired.
A's fans also showed their love with an outpouring of cheers and by donning the newly created Fincher t-shirts that read, "Run Hard, Run Hard!" (Fincher's renown clarion call after a hitter makes contact) on the front, with "Fincher" and "23" scrawled across the back. They've become a hot item among A's merchandise, according to Chatham Athletic Association member and merchandise supervisor Diane Troy.
"I think I just wanted to do something for Finch, and I figured I'd just keep them within the A's family, but lots of people I don't even know have come up and asked for the shirts," said Troy, who sold 120 before Saturday's game. "I think it shows that he's touched a lot of people during his 10 years here."
Fincher agreed, but only in jest.
"Diane told me she saw a little boy in Brewster wearing one of the shirts the other day, so I made the joke they're sweeping the nation," said Fincher with his customary hearty laughter. "But really it's just a nice and very meaningful gesture on their part."
Funny to think now that Fincher's decade-long stay in Chatham almost never came to pass.
After managing stints in the Northeast, Jayhawk and Alaska summer leagues - notorious for their demanding travel schedule - Fincher, a native of Athens, GA, said he was nearly burnt out on summer ball. But playing in the Cape League, where away games are at the least five, and at the most 45 minutes away, was too attractive an offer to pass up. And from there, Fincher got sucked in.
"I came up here for the baseball, but the thing I'll miss most is the people I've met and the relationships I've formed," said Fincher. Leaving Chatham, he said following the A's 3-0 win over the Whitecaps, "hasn't sunk in yet. I think it's one of those things that's going to get worse before it gets better. But right now, I'm happy as can be."
Which is to say it's just Finch being Finch.
"With Finch, there's always a smile on his face and laughter coming from him," said Schiffner, who just completed his 14th year as the A's skipper. "He's been the face of this organization more so than me, because there's been times when I've wanted to get the heck out [the ballpark] and he's still here. He's not doing it for personal recognition, he's doing it because it's what needed to be done."
Over his final days, Fincher was lavished with many gifts, including a signed bat, a painting of Veterans Field, and a big box of Swedish Fish, the candy he devours daily.
But it's the engraved, gold wristwatch he received that's perhaps the most fitting token of the A's appreciation. It's a symbolic gesture that says thank you o! n a number of different levels. Thank you for your dedication and ti reless effort, thank you for your professionalism, thank you for your warm and charming personality, but ultimately, thank you for your time - of which Fincher was happy to give.
"I really love this place and everyone has always been so great to me," said Fincher. "Being up here was a life-changing experience. It's something I'm going to carry with me my whole life."