Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Cape Cod League Doubleheader - July 30, 2018


Collegiate wood bat leagues are a brand of baseball that gets little press but offers great value for true fans. These are leagues that start play around the time the college regular season ends, and they invite college players to form teams for a two-month season. One of the motivations of these leagues is to get players accustomed to wood bats, as they use aluminum bats in the college game. According to Wikipedia, there are 66 such leagues scattered around the U.S. and Canada, but the general consensus is that the Cape Cod League is the best. With over 300 current MLB players having spent a season here, it is hard to dispute this claim.

The league was formed in 1885 and consisted mostly of regional players until it was officially sanctioned by the NCAA in 1963. In 1985, they began to use wooden bats and this change led to an increase in popularity among players, coaches, and scouts. There are 10 teams in the league, evenly spread out along the Cape. Each plays at a local ball diamond with no bells and whistles, making it a throwback to a simpler time, when the game was the draw. Games are usually played in the evenings on weekdays and Sunday afternoons, but as the season progresses and games are rained out, make-ups are scheduled for weekday afternoons. With JetBlue offering cheap flights midweek, I was able to make an overnight trip to catch two games this past week.



After picking up a rental car and navigating the ridiculous traffic around the airport, I drove about 20 minutes east to Whitehouse Field, home of the Harwich Mariners. Normally, I like to review the stadiums I visit, but in this case, there isn't one. Instead, you have a couple of tents at which you can make a donation (all games are free in the CCBL) and pick up a roster sheet. As there are no tickets issued, the roster will be your only way to commemorate each venue visit. After the tents, you have the main structure, which houses media and a concession stand. There was also a BBQ nearby offering freshly cooked hot dogs and hamburgers, with reasonable prices.



The restrooms are the cutest I have seen on my travels.



Other than that, there are just several sections of benches. Many fans bring their own chairs and sit right next to the screen, while others sit farther away under the shade of the trees. There is no covered seating here, so the 2 pm start was a bit tough in the 90-degree heat.



The game was only 7 innings long because Harwich had another game that evening, as did visiting Orleans. The star was Harwich's Chris Lanzilli (Wake Forest, participated in the college home run derby, and drafted by San Francisco in the 39th round but did not sign) who hit 3 carbon copy homers over the left field fence, totaling 4 RBIs. Unfortunately, the Mariners gave up 5 runs in the fifth, highlighted by a dropped fly ball by center fielder Joey Wiemer, Jr (Cincinnati), which was followed by two doubles, a single, and a triple. Shay Whitcomb (UCSD, I saw him play at the Division II College World Series back in June) finished a triple shy of the cycle for the Firebirds, who prevailed 8-5. The game took 2:02 by my count (2:06 officially, not sure how they got that) and with just 207 pitches thrown, a great PPM of 1.7.



The next game was a 6 pm start in Hyannis, about 10 miles away. But with Cape Cod traffic, that trip took nearly 45 minutes, excluding a brief stop at my hotel. The venue was McKeon Park, located behind a high school. My phone was dead by then, so I went back the following day to take pictures, which is why there are no other fans in these shots.



The setup is quite similar, with a single structure behind the plate holding the media room and a concession stand. I tried a "Walking Taco" without inquiring as to its ingredients; which turned out to be a small bag of Fritos with a scoop of chili and an unhealthy dollop of nacho cheese on top. It should be called a "Lying Flat on your Back due to a Heart Attack Taco" but I digress.



Again, there are several sections of benches, with many locals preferring their much more comfortable lawn chairs. Foul balls are plentiful and children spend the game chasing them into the surrounding trees.



The field underwent a renovation before this season, with a brand new scoreboard the main addition. The field is now named after longtime league president Judy Walden Scarafile.



There is an osprey nest atop one of the light poles and the birds were quite active during the game, but seemed to be sleeping when I returned the next morning.



Both ballparks are quite bucolic and I can see why the league is so popular among fans. Not only is it relaxing and affordable, the quality of baseball is quite high, rivalling that of Class A in the minors.



In fact, the second game between the Hyannis Harbor Hawks and the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox was one of the best I have seen in some time. Hawks starter Tommy McCollum (Wingate) yielded just a first inning single and a second inning walk in his six frames, and his replacement Landon Kelly's only blemish during his three innings of relief was a hit batsman. Meanwhile, Hyannis scored an unearned run in the fourth when Arizona State's Trevor Hauver doubled and scored on a Buckneresque error by Jack-Thomas Wold (UNLV). This run held up as Hyannis won their final home game of the season 1-0. As the league was allowing ties after 9 innings, I am quite glad that I did not witness a scoreless sister-kisser.

The game took just 2:01 and had 224 pitches, for a remarkable PPM of 1.85, the fastest I have seen in years. Baseball is a pleasure when it moves with a pace like this (i.e. pitchers pitch and hitters hit) and I hope to return next year to see the other eight ballparks in this circuit.

Notes

The top four teams in each division make the playoffs, which begin August 1st. Hyannis and Brewster were the unlucky teams to miss the postseason. Cotuit won the championship, beating Harwich 2 games to 0 in the final series.

I went to visit the Cape Cod League Hall of Fame, which was reportedly located at the JFK Museum in Hyannis. But it moved out four years ago, and has yet to find a new home. Amazingly, Google Maps did not have this update, so I informed them, and future visitors should not make the same mistake I did.

Next Up

I've decided to visit Amarillo for two weekend games at Hodgetown, one of the new minor league parks that opened this season.

Two weeks after that, I will be heading to Las Vegas to complete the minor league ballparks once again, and then on to Los Angeles to see the Jays take on the Dodgers. As always, check back for recaps.

Best,

Sean

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