Featured Stories & Articles from Cape Cod Travel Magazine: The Cape Cod Baseball League - Living a Dream
For players, it’s a dream come true. For fans, the Cape Cod Baseball League is one of the highlights of summer.
If you’ve visited the Cape before, you’ve probably heard all about the Cape Cod Baseball League. Movies, books and articles immortalize the game that’s played here. Baseball fans and pundits wax poetic about the beauty of the ballparks and the purity and simplicity of the game.
Scan the headlines each summer and you get the idea: “Fields of Dreams,” “Cape Cod’s Perfect Game,” “The Cape’s Two-Month Love Fest,” “Cape Baseball: Summer Home of Future Stars,” “Baseball in a Norman Rockwell Setting.”
The league even gets into the act, billing itself as the place “Where the Stars of Tomorrow Shine Tonight.”
Certainly, the league is all of that: from mid-June to mid-August, 10 teams comprising the best college players in the country play head-to-head in stunningly picturesque ballparks stretching from Wareham to Orleans. Admission is free, although donations are sometimes requested. Players use wooden bats just like the major leaguers and perform before thousands of fans.
But there’s more here than meets the eye.
To pull this off, the league relies on hundreds of dedicated volunteers, many working from January until the Championship Series ends August 15th. Each franchise needs hundreds of corporate, business and individual boosters, kicking in amounts ranging from $10,000 to $10. Each team needs dozens of “house parents,” who are willing to open up their homes and spare bedrooms so the league’s 200 or so players have a place to live.
And for many of the players–predominately college freshmen and sophomores–a season in the Cape Cod Baseball League can be a mental and physical grind the likes of which they’ve not experienced before: 47 games over 56 days, not including the All Star Game, league playoffs or tryout days. To add to the pressure, Major League scouts shadow their every move.
Most players also hold down part-time jobs, working at local supermarkets, restaurants or teaching in team clinics. Others use what little free time they have to keep up with their academics. New rules require players to be academically eligible in the fall to play the following spring.
“Some of these kids haven’t been home in eight or nine months,” says Steve Keenan, a first-time house parent from Chatham who took in three players last summer. “They go from their spring season in college to here on the Cape and then back to college, where some schools play a fall season. It’s tough for a lot of them.”
For years, Chatham Manager John Schiffner has given his new players this advice: “You’re here to play baseball first and then enjoy Cape Cod. You’re not here to enjoy Cape Cod first and also play baseball.”
Most players buy into that philosophy. The Cape league is by invitation only, which means teams recruit only the most promising players–you don’t just show up and ask for a tryout. Teams also stress finding “character guys.” Each player must sign–and live up to–the league’s Code of Conduct.
So smart players approach their summer on Cape Cod as a two-month audition, which ultimately could lead to a career in the big leagues.
“Playing baseball every day against great competition gives you a taste of what real life is like in pro ball,” says Gordon Beckam, shortstop for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, who won the league championship in 2007. Beckam, who attends the University of Georgia, says players get into a routine. “You play, you practice, you work out and you sleep. That’s what life is like. There’s not much time to do anything else. You don’t party. You don’t go out much.”
House parent Keenan agrees. “Our boys were too tired to stay out late. None of these guys has ever played so much baseball in so few days.” On top of everything else, Keenan says some players may experience homesickness. “I think this was the first time that these guys were truly on their own–not at home or in a college dorm. It can take some time to adjust.”
Volunteers are the lifeblood of each team. “Volunteers are incredibly important,” says John Wylde, president and general manager of the Wareham Gatemen. “The stronger your volunteer base, the better off you’re going to be. A well-organized franchise can help you attract strong players. If parents know that their sons are being well looked after, that’s going to have a positive impact.”
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