MARGATE — The Margate Hurricanes huddled outside their dugout before the Atlantic County Baseball League game against Hammonton on July 7 to listen to a pregame pep talk from veteran first baseman Jason Law.
Some of the players have been with the team for years, others for only a few weeks. But they all have one thing in common, as Law was quick to point out.
“Once a ’Cane,” Law said, “always a ’Cane.”
That motto has been proven true this season. Law, 37, who played for the Atlantic City Surf in 2004-05, is among seven players on the Hurricanes with professional baseball experience.
Six of them — pitcher Mike Adams, outfielder/pitcher Ed Charlton, pitcher A.J. Holland, outfielder Chris Knott, and Law and his younger brother Charlie — are in their second go-rounds with the team.
They started playing for Margate when they were in high school, took a break to pursue professional careers, then returned.
“I usually have five or six guys leave in a given year and then a few of them come back,” Hurricanes manager Yogi Hiltner said. “This time they all came back, and I was happy to have them.”
Even the seventh former pro, catcher/designated hitter Johnny Monell Jr., is considered a local. Although he never played for the Hurricanes prior to joining the team in May, he spent his summers in Margate as a child while his father, Johnny Monell Sr., was playing for the Surf.
Now 31, he’s just two years removed from playing in the majors. Monell Jr. spent 27 games with the New York Mets in 2015 after a brief stint with San Francisco in 2013. He signed a one-year, $900,000 contract to play in Korea this summer but was released by KT Whiz on May 18.
Less than a week later, he was in Margate.
“I have a lot of friends on the team because I’ve lived in this area for a while,” Monell said just before smacking a home run over the center field fence. “I decided to come here because I just wanted to have fun again. I wanted to enjoy playing baseball without having to worry about all the other stuff. And it’s been awesome.”
It’s led to a lot of success for Hiltner’s team. The Hurricanes are perennially a top the league’s standings each year and have made it to the best-of-three finals the last two seasons.
Holland also came back to the team a few weeks ago.
The 27-year-old spent four seasons in the Atlanta Braves’ organization before getting released in 2014. Holland underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum two years ago and has been steadily working his way back into form by playing overseas.
He played in the Czech Republic last summer and has spent the past two winters pitching for the Canberra Cavalry in Australia. Holland is also considering joining a team in Argentina after the ACBL season is over.
“When people get released, many of them think it’s the end of the line,” Holland said after allowing two hits in five innings on Friday. “They don’t realize there are so many more opportunities out there if you want to keep playing.
“I’ve had some amazing experiences. Traveling around Europe enabled me to see some beautiful architecture and culture. When I was in Australia, some teammates and I would grab a bus and get a good surf in before games.”
Once his season ended in Australia this year, however, Holland wasted little time in returning to Margate.
He first started playing for the Hurricanes as a 16-year-old junior at Holy Spirit High School and relished the chance to do it again.
“I grew up playing here and it’s definitely still a part of me,” Holland said. “Baseball is a passion and it’s hard to give up what you love to do.”
Knott, 23, is also back for his second stint with the Hurricanes.
He first played for them as a teenager at Egg Harbor Township High School — he was The Press Player of the Year in 2010 — then was drafted by Tampa Bay out of East Stroudsburg University in 2014. Tampa released him a year later.
Knott returned to East Stroudsburg to finish his education and was recently hired as a physical education teacher in Hightstown, Mercer County. But he still wants to keep playing for Margate.
“After I got released, Yogi was the first one to text me,” Knott said. “It’s good to be able to play for him again. It’s something to look forward to each summer.”
Adams, Charlton and Charlie Law all played for the Rockland Boulders in the Can-Am League.
Adams and Charlton are now both teammates and business partners, having established a baseball school in Margate.
“Once a ‘Cane, always a ‘Cane,” Charlton said. “It’s the greatest team on earth.”