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The Cape Cod Baseball League Should Be On Every Fan's Bucket List

In early August I spent five wonderful days watching playoff action in the Cape Cod Baseball League. Probably the oldest summer league in the country, dating back to 1885, the Cape is also the most prestigious. As many as 1 in 7 of current major leaguers played at least a summer on one of the ten teams in the CCBL.

The Giants’ Buster Posey (Florida State), Astro stalwarts Dallas Keuchel (Arkansas) and George Springer (Connecticut) and the Yankees' Mark Teixeira and the Orioles' Matt Wieters (both Georgia Tech) honed their skills in the CCBL. So did onetime catchers and current MLB managers Joe Girardi of the Yankees (Northwestern) and Mike Matheny of the Cardinals (Michigan).

One of the many charms of the CCBL is the players’ college is always announced as well as their names. There is never an admission charge during the regular season that stretches from early June to late July. Only in Hyannis for the playoffs, where the Harbor Hawks lost the final series to repeat champion Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, did I see a suggested donation sign of $5.

The secret to CCBL success has been that it is a wholly volunteer operation. Players stay with host families all summer and many are provided with day jobs. All athletes are expected to participate in youth clinics. There are no ground crews so it’s players you see watering and raking the field before and after games.

During games, one of the players – usually a pitcher not slated to hurl that day – joins an team intern and they pass around a basket collecting money for raffle tickets. It adds to the pleasant informal feeling that permeates every ballpark in the CCBL.

I didn’t get to visit every stadium, but I attended games in Orleans, Yarmouth-Dennis, and Hyannis. There are very few stands at Eldredge Park in Orleans, but families come out early and bring lawn and beach chairs to stake out places behind the foul lines.

There is more seating at Yarmouth-Dennis’s Red Wilson Field located behind the regional high school. Here, too, portable chairs line the area behind the foul lines. Y.D’s public address announcer morphs the late Sherm Feller of Fenway Park in his opening greeting: “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls.”

Another nice touch at Y-D is before the game the Johnny Carson Show theme is played. Just another a retro charm of Red Wilson Field.

Hyannis’s McKeon Field is the biggest park I visited. It is located behind a Catholic high school not far from Main Street and the JFK Memorial museum. To my delight I discovered a Cape Cod League Museum in the basement of the JFK building.

The room is not yet air-conditioned but it is a considerable collection of memorabilia and an explanatory film about CCBL history. I am sure it will reward more visits in the future.

The sense of intense quietude at the Cape Cod ballparks is remarkable, especially to a New Yorker who goes to a lot of major and minor league games where there is no escape from blaring sound systems.

There is some canned music at CCBL games but in moderation and never during an inning. So there is time to savor the interval between pitches without being bombarded with the puerile “Everybody clap yo’ hands!” and other maddening noise.

As for the games, most memorable was the semi-final series between the favored Orleans Firebirds, possessor of the best regular season record, and the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox.
All games were the kind of tight pitchers' battles I adore.

After losing the opener at Orleans, 4-0, the Y-D Red Sox stayed alive by winning a classic 13-inning 2-1 game that was decided on a two-out bases-loaded wild pitch on an 0-2 count. Orleans had tied the game in the 7th inning on a home run by outfielder Ronnie Dawson (Ohio State).

Adding drama to the Y-D elimination game was the absence of lights at Red Wilson Field.
The game could have been called by darkness and would have been resumed at noon the next day.

Unfortunately for the Firebirds, Dawson and fellow Buckeye, pitcher Taylor Tully, couldn’t stay for the rubber match because they had to fly back to Columbus for the funeral of a teammate who died of leukemia.

In the deciding third game, Y-D held off Orleans, 2-1, behind a great performance by Cory Macolm (Arkansas, Little Rock) and a first inning home run by Gio Brusa (U. of Pacific). The jury is out on whether Brusa has the bat speed to advance high in the pros, but Brusa is certainly a great name for a slugger.

Red Sox shortstop Donnie Walton (Oklahoma State), undersized in this day and age at 5’ 10”, saved the game with a remarkable diving stop up the middle in the bottom of the 8th inning with the tying run on third base. Somehow from his rear end Walton managed to throw the ball to second to force an Orleans runner preserving the 2-1 lead.

Gio Brusa also came up big at the plate in the final best-of-three games against Hyannis. The series proved almost anti-climactic because none of the games were close.

The Red Sox again lost the first game on the road, a one-sided affair that did feature two of the most remarkable diving infield catches I have ever seen: one by Hyannis shortstop Tristan Hildebrandt (Cal State-Fullerton) and the other by Y-D second baseman Jose Vidales (U. of Houston).

The Y-D Red Sox came back to win the final two games convincingly thereby copping their second straight CCBL flag. Kudos to coach Chad Gassman and his remarkable volunteer coach Ron Polk, one of the all-time winningest coaches in college baseball history at Georgia and Mississippi State and now a volunteer coach at U of Alabama-Birmingham.

It was a year of loss in the CCBL. Legendary Red Sox scouts Bill Enos and Buzz Bowers and Bill Kearns, a longtime Mariners talent hunter, all passed away.
A moment of silence was held at Red Wilson Field in memory of Florence Wilson, Red’s widow, who also recently died.

At the end of the playoffs league president Judy Scarafile announced her retirement after 24 years on the job. More than anyone Scarafile epitomizes the volunteer spirit of the CCBL. Though these losses are signficiant, I predict the CCBL will continue to thrive in one of the most picturesque settings imaginable, forty miles out to sea from the Massachusetts mainland.

Next year I am vowing to see more Cape Cod baseball, starting with that special Elizabeth Lowell Park in Cotuit with its renovated wooden grandstand and a convenient ramp that will make access easier for your creaky correspondent.

Next time – commentary on the exciting major league pennant races that should all go down to the wire.
For now - Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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Teny Ymota Says: Roar Lion Roar & Other Early May Baseball Musings

Before an enthusiastic home crowd at Robertson Field at Satow Stadium, Columbia on Saturday May 2nd won its third elimination game in seven days, beating Penn, 4-2 to earn the Gehrig Division title in the Ivy League. Seven solid innings from George Thanopoulos, two spotless relief innings from Kevin Roy, and solo home runs by Jordan Serena, Logan Bowyer, and Dave Vandercook provided the margin of victory.

Rested Rolfe Division-winner Dartmouth comes into Robertson/Satow on Saturday afternoon May 9 for a best-of-three championship series to determine the Ivy League winner and the automatic NCAA tournament bid. Columbia is trying for its third consecutive title and third straight playoff victory over Dartmouth. If the Saturday doubleheader is split, a single winner-take-all game will be played on Sunday.

The Ivy League college season in the Northeast is regrettably short so to witness bonus baseball in May is a real treat. There used to be an old saying that Ivy League players are “half-baked potatoes – not good enough to eat but too good to throw away.”

The level of play has definitely improved in recent years, and recent graduates of both division-winning programs are working their way through the minor leagues - notably Columbia outfielder Dario Pizzano with the Mariners affiliate at Double A Jackson, MS, and Dartmouth's second-third baseman Joe Sclafani with the Astros organization also in Double A.

Of course, for most Ivy League athletes the championship games will be the high point of their careers which makes for intense competition. I dislike the ping of the aluminum bat as much as anybody, but don't let that irritation keep you away from the action.

I highly recommend a visit this weekend to picturesque Satow Stadium on the banks of the Hudson River, a little bit up the hill northwest of the corner of 218th Street and Broadway in northern Manhattan.

Meanwhile, Major League Baseball has entered its crucial second month. The biggest surprise so far has to be the Houston Astros, riding a 10-game winning streak with an 18-7 record. The long-dormant Astros are the only team above .500 in what was once considered a strong AL West division.

Houston’s early emergence is not totally shocking. They have a budding mound ace in Dallas Keuchel and the defending AL batting champion in pepperpot second baseman Jose Altuve who is playing like a future MVP. They also have a star-in-the-making in right fielder George Springer from the University of Connecticut.

How I love it when players from the Northeast make their mark in their majors!
Cold weather prevents talent in this area from playing as many games as their counterparts in Florida and Texas and California. But since baseball is a game of character and adversity, tough conditions harden the players. It could well be that agile and powerful George Springer is on his way to join another great product of this region, southern Jersey’s Mike Trout of the Angels.

What the Astros have to watch out for is a bad streak once their long winning streak eventually ends. The Mets won 11 in a row and have since lost 7 out of 10 but still hold on to first place in the NL East.

With so many games to play, position in the standings is less important than consistent play and winning as many series as you can. Which is why two game and four game series are annoying to many in baseball. It is very hard to win a four game series against one team but inter-league play every day has necessitated this crazy-quilt unsatisfying scheduling.

A record must have been set on Saturday May 2 when TWO games ended with base runners being hit by batted balls. The victimized teams were the Angels who lost a 5-4 game to the Giants when pinch runner Taylor Featherston was hit by the ball, and the Diamondbacks who lost 6-4 to the Dodgers when Jordan Pacheco was similarly struck heading to second base.

It was a tough weekend for Pacheco. In the top of the 13th inning in a scoreless Sunday game against the Dodgers, Pacheco was tagged out at home plate trying to score on a wild pitch. After a throw from catcher Yasmani Grandal, reliever J.P. Howell made a remarkable behind-the-back tag to nip Pacheco by an eyelash. Moments later, Grandal homered to give the Dodgers a dramatic walkoff win.

Nothing matches, though, what the Orioles went through this past week. Rioting in Baltimore after the death in police custody of 25-year-old African-American Freddie Gray forced the Orioles to postpone two of three home games with White Sox and to transfer its entire weekend series to Tampa Bay.

On Wednesday afternoon one game was played with the White Sox before an entirely empty stadium at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It was a first in the long history of MLB – a game without fans. Kudos to Oriole catcher Caleb Joseph who mimicked signing autographs for invisible fans before the game.

Back in the Orioles glory years of the 1970s and early 1980s, another Oriole catcher Rick Dempsey entertained fans during rain delays by pantomiming Babe Ruth running the bases. It looks like the Birds have another appealing receiver on their roster.

And perhaps the Orioles as a team are beginning to catch fire. They won three out of the four games played in these unusual circumstances. They are heading to New York for a week – two inter-league games with the Mets followed by a four-game series with the red-hot Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Center fielder Adam Jones continues to sizzle with a batting average over .400 and sparkling play in center field.

T. S. Eliot famously said April is the cruelest month – I guess he didn’t like the coming of flowers and new blooms – but in baseball May is usually the most revealing month. We’ll see how the pennant races look by the end of the month. More than 60 per cent of the time, division leaders as June begins are in the playoffs come October.

That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it.

YIBF (Yours In Baseball Forever), Teny Ymota (The Earl of New York, Your Man On The Aisle)  Read More 
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