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With more than 1,100 major league players, 256 currently on MLB rosters. Several Hall of Famers have competed in the idyllic Cape Cod Baseball League.
In no other place in the country can big league teams evaluate a concentration of amateur talent then the Cape Cod Baseball League.
Chris Sale (Y-D '09) became first MLB pitcher since 2002 to record 170 K's before All-Star break. Sale, shown at 2009 CCBL All-Star Game at Fenway Park. Cape League's Outstanding Pitcher and East ASG MVP. He's odds-on choice to start mid-summer classic for American League.
Do not be fooled by the idyllic seaside setting of the 10 small New England towns that comprise the Cape Cod Baseball League. For the 250 boys who play in the league it is the most crucial summer of their baseball lives. One that can make or break their big league dreams.
At first it seems like an unlikely juxtaposition. Vacationing families watching from beach chairs while all-business big league scouts ready their stop watches. On this summer night both gathered at this high school ball field in a tiny corner of New England. They watch the next generation of major league talent. On the Cape, the beach and baseball have co-existed in perfect unison for more than a century.
Imagine having seen Dave Chappelle at open mic in New York City in the early 1990s. Nirvana in a Seattle basement in the late 1980s. Then having a casual conversation with them at the bar. That is the mystique in which the Cape League traffics. For many baseball fans the game’s ability to transport you to a simpler time.
The Cape Cod Baseball League is one of 11 summer leagues sanctioned by the NCAA. Other leagues, notably the Alaska Baseball League, Jayhawk League and New England College Baseball League have been summer homes to future big leaguers. None have more former players in the majors than the Cape League.
This year 15 Cape Cod Baseball League alumni were selected to the MLB All-Star Game in Cincinnati including four starters. Home Run Derby Champion Todd Frazier played two summers in Chatham (2005-06). National League starting catcher Buster Posey also spent two summers on the Cape (2006-07) playing catcher and shortstop for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox. This year’s American League starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel toed the rubber at Spillane Field in Wareham in 2007 and 2008.
During the 2014 season 256 Cape Cod Baseball League alumni played in the majors. Cooperstown inductees have played on the Cape (Craig Biggio, Carlton Fisk, Frank Thomas) along with retired All-Stars (Jeff Bagwell, Albert Belle, Lance Berkman, Will Clark, Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek). Former All-Stars who are still active (Jacoby Ellsbury, Evan Longoria, Tim Lincecum, Nick Swisher, Barry Zito) and even a future governor. Former New Mexico Governor and U.S. Representative Bill Richardson (Tufts) pitched for Harwich in 1966 for Cotuit in 1967. More than 1,100 Cape League alums have went on to play in the major leagues.
Despite the roll of long ball-hitting alum, pitching tends to dominate both the Cape League All-Star Game and regular season. Hitters are using wooden bats for the first time. Struggling and adjusting to the change against the best pitchers in the nation. The league switched to aluminum bats in the late 1960s citing the cheap costs. Prior to the 1985 season the Cape Cod Baseball League returned to wooden bats seeking to cement its status as the premier summer league.
Hall of Fame writer Peter Gammons noted in Christopher Price’s Baseball by the Beach. “It took it to a place where guys could really prove they could really play. It also made things much easier for scouts, to gauge a hitter’s ability.” Wooden bats are what ensures major league scouts will be in heavy attendance for each Cape League game of the summer.
The wooden bats and a presence of scouts at every game have also helped build the Cape League’s mystique and importance over the past 30 years. On any given night, you could see future greatness. Unspoiled and far removed from the big cities, billion dollar stadiums and nine-figure player salaries.
All the nostalgia overload goes double for the Cape Cod Baseball League. The wood bats, free admission, old New England locale, families lining the sidelines with blankets and beach chairs. It lends itself to the romantic notion of a “simpler time.” During Cape Cod Baseball League games you will find a dozen or more kids beyond the outfield fences ignoring the play on the field in favor of their own games of catch and pickle. Author Jim Collins detailed the league’s 2002 All-Star game in his outstanding book The Last Best League, wrote “The league stitched generations together across the timeless white lines of a green field.”
Indiana University’s Logan Sowers minutes after winning the Home Run Derby could be found signing autographs for a gathering of excited kids behind left field at Wareham High School. At few All-Star games will you find a home run derby winner chatting with young fans in a high school parking lot.
Fans straggled out after the game with the kids pleading for one more autograph or picture. A few could be heard reminiscing about past Cape Cod Baseball League All-Star Games (“there were more people here in 2007”). Players (“Varitek was a man among boys, even then”). The fans would be back for next summer’s game at a different Cape League ballpark. Watching different players with the same dream.
As Collins wrote in The Last Best League,” The summer refused to end. That was at the heart of it. The game had the awesome ability to stop time. There was no clock in baseball. The players out there on the field were 20 years old. As they were last year, five years ago, 10. Nothing had changed. That was the illusion. It is real grass out there. Those were wooden bats. The generations blurred. Mike MacDougal, Mike Lowell, Jeff Bagwell, Thurman Munson. These were the same kids out there, chasing the same dream, giving the same gift. There was still a fishing fleet in Chatham. There was still sand. The family was still there.”
The players will move on. Such as Chicago Cubs rookie slugger Kyle Schwarber and Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Aaron Blair. They all squared off in the 2012 Cape League championship series. Both arrived in the majors in impressive fashion this summer. The Cape League All-Star Game will still be here. Same time next summer. Just make sure to get here early. The high school parking lots fill up quickly.
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