Over the last week, I’ve been vacationing in Massachusetts. And, of course, I made sure to see all of the sites: the USS Constitution, Quincy Market, the Old North Church, the JFK Library and Museum, and, of course, Fenway Park. I even went to a restaurant that is a replica of the bar on Cheers. I’ll write about all of that later, but first, I must tell you about a few innings in what might be the purest baseball this side of an old neighborhood pick-up game: The Cape Cod League.
(JUMP- note that this post is image intensive)
The Cape Cod League is the most prestigious summer collegiate league in baseball, allowing college players to stay sharp and showcase their skills after their spring season is done. There are lots of other leagues across the country, some better than others, but none of them as good as the Cape, which generally fills it’s rosters with the best of the best (primarily from the big schools in the South and West Coast), bringing the level of play to about that of a good High-A ball team.
That doesn’t tell the whole story, however. The Cape Cod League, despite it’s high level of play and the fact most of the players end up with professional contracts, is very simple, refreshingly simple.
They play on community fields at public schools and parks- some of them don’t even have lights. Fans sit in simple bleachers, but many end up bringing lawn-chairs or sit on blankets. There is very little music or on-field antics. The players aren’t only not paid, but they have to usually take a day-job and be hosted by local families. Finally, all the games are either free or require a small donation. Therefore, the leagues make up for it through sponsors, donations, sales of concessions and programs and things like 50-50 raffles. Oh, and guess who helps sell the raffle tickets? The players themselves.
Again, truly a quaint and pure baseball experience. It’s awesome, a throwback to the semi-mythic small-town days of the national game. In fact, the small-but-good Hall of Fame that the league has in the basement of Hyannis’ John F. Kennedy museum basically confirms this to be true: some of these teams have been playing since before the current players’ great-grandparents would have been born.
Anyway, the game itself wasn’t that bad either, as I watched a few innings of the game between Harwich and Orleans. I would have stayed longer, but, alas, some people in my traveling party wanted an authentic Cape Cod lobster, which wasn’t exactly being sold at the concession stand.
Whitehouse Field in Harwich was packed. It’s a very nice field, probably on the level of a good lower-division college field or a older stadium in a very low short-season professional league. Two sets of big stands, some nice lights, what looked like a small press box, and a electronic scoreboard.
Befitting the high reputation of the league, it was a entertaining game as well, including one inning that saw what felt like four straight home runs by Harwich’s Phil Ervin, Austin Wilson, Brian Ragira and Austen Smith.
Actually, it wasn’t back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs, it just felt that way, somebody (Eric Jagielo) made an out between the first and second home runs, which everyone in the stands seemed to ignore. Still, it was hardly something you see every day, in any league. Throw in a well-turned double play here and some good pitching, and I was hooked. This was great, this was pure concentrated Americana, the type that Norman Rockwell painted and which comes to mind when you hear Fogerty’s “Centerfield”.
I hope to one day go back to the Cape, and see more Cape Cod League games, but I don’t think it’ll ever be like the first game I went to there, when I first saw it and experienced it.