I showed up on Cape Cod and didn’t have many expectations. I was excited to see why all the top D1 college baseball talent ends up spending their summers here. I love the Northwoods League which is based in the Midwest. I would argue that it is the premier summer league with the way it is run and the amount of games that they play. So, I needed to find out for myself and this is where my excitement lays.
When I arrived at McKeon Park, situated behind Pope John Paul II High School, I found it “charming”. I know I just used the word charming, but that is exactly what I thought. It was EXACTLY what I envisioned when I pondered the Cape Cod League. A high school field that had different types of seating. The bleachers were at different angles so people could sit and talk; or, stay out of the sun. However, it wasn’t in a symmetrical pattern. There were more bleachers along the third base side versus along the first base line which was the visitors side. Also, the seating was at different ages in it’s useful life-cycle. Full capacity is probably about 3,000. There was a “cute” (Yes, that is my reference) Cape Cod building behind home plate that housed the concession stand, public address announcer and ‘team store’ kiosk type concession stand. In front of the building were some bleachers for ‘scouts only’. As you have gotten to know me during this journey, of course I was sitting in the scout section. And, I was soon ‘notified’ of this fact. I told the woman I was ‘Media’, but that didn’t work out. She said, “Then, you aren’t a scout.” How bold and presumptuous I have become. I was annoyed because the scouts stood behind the bleacher, set up all their stuff on the last row, leaving plenty of room for me to sit. Plus, for the most part, the ‘scouts’ used the bleacher as an elbow rest. Even though, rules are rules. Lots of people were just milling about talking and kids were in a large field area behind the concession stand playing catch.
There wasn’t a place for the media; or, the play-by-play announcers. They had a set-up to the right of the scouts’ bleacher utilizing a folding table and a couple of metal chairs. The field sat in a valley that you could overlook from the bleachers and from parking lot next to the school. Being a high school park, no ‘indoor’ restrooms. The ‘convenient’ portable toilets were provided, which an intern pointed out to me. My luck, I was as far away as you could possibly be. I drank a lot of water before the game and I had to hustle as they were located way out on left field line. Behind the entire outfield fence was a wooded area. My thought, “The perfect place were high school kids could hang out when they were cutting class.”
It was my first game in Hyannis with very little knowledge of what the game atmosphere would be like other than what I saw in the movie “Summer Catch” (which I only watched part of) and what I read on the internet. I liked the fact that the league was a non-profit. For some reason this gives me comfort knowing that it isn’t being totally commercialized and taken over by special interests. My brother in law, Jerry, and I have discussed the differences in talent and marketability regarding the two leagues. We agreed that the majority of the talent ends up in Cape Cod, with the Northwoods a close second. As far as marketing, Northwoods far out shines the Cape Cod League. “It is a minor league operation”, Parker Bugg’s dad said regarding the Northwoods League. Parker is a pitcher for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox and just finished up his freshman year at LSU. Parker’s dad told me that Northwoods wasn’t the type of experience his son was looking for at this time and that is why he chose to play in Cape Cod. I spoke with John La Prise, of the Hyannis Harbor Hawks and the College World Series runner-up Virginia Cavaliers. This was John’s first game and was laughing at how different the atmosphere is compare to the Madison Mallards of the Northwoods League where he played last year. Last year John was used to playing in front of 4,000 spectators in Madison. However, John stated, “He heard great things about Cape Cod and was excited to spend the summer playing ball here.”
As the game started, I noticed a group of college kids behind the fence in right center. They were yelling, carrying on and looked like they carved out their own area in the woods. I wanted to talk to these kids. I walked down the first base line and onto a trail that went in two directions when you came to the woods. In one direction was a table and two high school kids manning it seeking donations for entrance into the game (they take donations and don’t charge admission in Cape Cod League baseball). I asked about the people in right center. They explained that they are friends of Bobby Melley, who grew up in Hyannis and plays for UCONN. I walked into the woods along the outfield fence line and approached the group of what turned out to be college kids that were home for the summer. I told them what I was doing and they said I could write whatever I wanted. They also let me know that a documentary film crew would be out later in the game.
Bobby’s freshman roommate at UCONN was “Willy”, who seemed to be the organizer or ringleader. He informed me that they brought the bench they were using when the season started. I asked where they got it, he gave a “no comment”. I asked why they chose this location? He said, “Because Bobby normally plays first base.” (He was the designated hitter on this night) The group had brought plenty of beer and a small grill. I asked how old everyone was, they looked at me with a bit of contempt. Willie firmly stated that they were all 21 or older and I chose to believe him. I will verify this when I go to another game; and, I don’t think they were selling alcohol. I felt like I was back in high school. I kept my eye out for the cops, just in case. This group was a lot of fun as they shouted at all the players on both teams. The players seemed to enjoy it and would acknowledge them in their own way. The pitchers in the bullpen for Yarmouth-Dennis were throwing baseballs at the group. I almost got hit once and I was laughing because it was a very relaxed atmosphere. I couldn’t image this happening at a Northwoods League game.
Some of the girls in the group were trying to distract the Y-D outfielders by telling them how nice their “asses” looked in the baseball pants. The left-fielder seemed to enjoy this. However, the guys in the group got on him with their ‘verbal assaults’ a few times. Willie said, “We’re just having fun.” The world of college kids and I was enjoying it. One of the players from Hyannis texted Willie from the dugout to yell a few things, they obliged him. I can’t repeat everything they were yelling to the players, besides your basic baseball stuff; but, it was all in good-nature fun. Willie told me that they grew up on Cape Cod and this is what they do in the summer – “Baseball, the Beach and Beer!”, he said. The documentary film crew showed up and I was able to talk with them a little bit. They are following three players around the Cape Cod League this year. Bobby Melley is one of them and they wanted to get some footage of his ‘fan club’.
I went back to the home plate and third base side around the sixth inning to observe them from that perspective. I asked a few fans what they thought of the crew in right center. The general consensus, they enjoyed them because it made the game more interesting. Besides, the kids were supporting their friend and not hurting anybody. The guys in the Y-D bullpen said they loved the interaction with them. The group broke up the monotony of the summer. I stood by myself during the last half inning and felt that I was witnessing what baseball was all about. I can see why players want to play here instead of the Northwoods League. I wasn’t able to catch up with Jason La Prise after the game, but hope to when the summer ends to get his perspective of the two leagues.
If you enjoy this story and you would like to help me complete the “Baseball in America Tour 2014″, which is roughly 265 days, please click on the following link to see how you can help at www.baseballbuddha.com. Follow me on Twitter and like my Facebook page! Please share this on your Facebook page and Twitter. I appreciate all the help I can get!