In A League All Its Own
(originally published in Cape Cod LIFE, April/May 1994)
For decades, one of the Cape’s most memorable summer attractions has been its own amateur baseball league. An organization made up of ten teams and boasting some of the best college players in the country, the Cape Cod Baseball League (CCBL) has long been, as Boston Red Sox talent scout Bill Enos has said, the best-organized non-professional league around.
In its present form, the CCBL claims over a century’s worth of tradition: nearly one thousand former players who have made it into the Major Leagues (150 presently playing), high attendance, and even a short list of alumni in Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York.
As much as any natural or manmade attraction that Cape Cod has to offer, the CCBL draws and delights thousands of natives and vacationers alike who visit any one of ten natural grass diamonds each summer. But a well-liked as baseball on the Cape may now be, it has not always been this popular or even this secure. With a loose history dating back to the American Civil War, the CCBL has gone through some lows a well as highs, a merger, a takeover, and even its share of controversy.
Whether or not Abner Doubleday is accepted as the father of modern baseball is less controversial when one considers that the Civil War was the true progenitor of America’s favorite game. When not engaged in actual combat, readiness drills, or marches, Civil War soldier often found themselves with little to do other than to pass time playing baseball.
After the war, it was some of those same soldiers who took home this entertaining pastime to places all over the unified nation, including Cape Cod. The earliest-known, yet unverified, date of an organized game played on the Cape is in the summer of 1865. The first recorded date of a game, however, is August 13, 1867, when the Barnstable Patriot reported that a team of nine from Sandwich, calling themselves the “Nichols Club” played host to a visiting Cummaquid squad.
The Nichols Club of Sandwich was named after a retired sea captain-Edward Nichols. The generous Captain Nichols loaned, at no charge, a parcel of land on which the fledgling team of Sandwich ball players practiced. To show their appreciation, the players named their team after him.
Soon after this Sandwich game, the Patriot reported another game played at the October 1867 Agricultural Fair between the same Cummaquid club of West Barnstable and the Mattakeesetts of Yarmouth. According to the report, Cummaquid won the contest 30 to 13 and brought home the prize of a silver-mounted carved black walnut bat.
Although consistent records are not available after the 1867 game, each year the Cape’s greatly anticipated baseball championship seems to have been decided at the County Agricultural Fair.
Not wanting to be left out, the other Cape Cod towns began organizing their own teams, and the era of “Town Teams” began. Records indicate that baseball was being played on the Cape from the 1870s onwards. In fact, the game became so popular with some, that players from Sandwich were said to have competed in mid-winter on the ice of Old Mill Pond with every player on skates.
As town teams became more popular, semi-professional players from around the country began to enter the local line-up. This development improved overall team play, but the growing semi-professional status of team became a mixed blessing. Greater competition between teams for better quality players created more financial demands. Teams like the Hyannis Club found themselves charging admission for the first time. This same team became the first to sell nonrefundable season’s tickets. The price was $2 per person-woman free.