Nostalgia, Hope and The Return of Cape Cod Baseball
The Cape Cod Baseball League is planning to return this summer, after COVID-19 scuttled the 2020 season. The showcase league, which draws top collegiate players who hope to improve their chances in the MLB draft, lasts from the late-sunset nights of June until August, when the impending chill of fall is already giving some evenings a bundled-up playoff atmosphere. The players come from all over the country and stay with host families on Cape Cod. It’s a wood bat league, which is an adjustment for the players, who use metal bats from little league all the way through college (despite the serious danger). For many players it’s their first chance to prove themselves with the bats they’d be using in the pros. Last season’s cancellation undoubtedly made it harder for certain players to improve their draft standing, and robbed scouts of the opportunity to stand behind home plate in towns like Brewster, Hyannis, and Wareham, trying to determine whose skills will translate to the next level.
When Cape League baseball does indeed return this summer, it won’t just be the players and coaches who are excited. The league is an important part of the culture of the Cape, and it was one of many things sacrificed to the pandemic. Resuming games on Cape Cod is a careful balancing act, as the population skews older and therefore more vulnerable to serious complications from the virus. For me, it’s personal, as my parents and 97 year-old grandfather live on the Cape. The return of the Cape League, as our country tries to come back from the devastation of COVID-19, represents what is best about Cape Cod, and maybe also what’s best about baseball. The simplicity of the league and the stripped-down passion for the game is truer to the heart of the sport than any other league I know of, even the major leagues.
Of course, on talent alone there’s no comparison. Major league teams are miles better than the scrappy Cape Cod league outfits. Only the best from the Cape League make it to the professional level, and even fewer make it to the majors. That said, many current MLB players, including Aaron Judge, Josh Donaldson, and Buster Posey, spent a summer riding old school buses to games played at high school fields from Bourne to Orleans, and mentored young kids at the camps run by the teams. It’s here where you can watch future stars of the league, people who will win home run derbies, MVP awards, and World Series, before they become celebrities.
Back in high school I lived with my grandparents and interned for a couple of these teams. I ran a radar-gun stand where fans got to see how fast they could pitch, and worked at the camps alongside players. It was there that I sold 50-50 raffle tickets, watched middle-aged men pay dollar after dollar to see if they could still throw 60-miles-per-hour, and sat on a bucket next to Buster Posey, who had been drafted by the Angels in the 50th round, listening as he thought aloud about whether to sign or go back to school. Back then he was a shortstop, and neither of us knew that two years later he’d be drafted by the San Francisco Giants fifth overall as a catcher and receive what was at the time the biggest bonus in MLB draft history. I got to work alongside players I now watch on TV, and developed the type of nostalgia for the Cape League that is at the core of why baseball is America’s pastime.
This is not to say that there’s anything particularly wrong with Major League Baseball. I grew up near Boston, a Sox fan with parents who got married during the 1986 World Series, one rooting for the Sox and one cheering for the Mets. I remember the 2003 ALCS, when in Game Seven, Manager Grady Little left starting pitcher Pedro Martinez, our ace, out there on the mound too long, and the Yankees broke our hearts once again. I remember the joke people told in school for weeks: “Why can’t Grady Little mow his lawn? Because he can’t pull a starter.” Then, the next year, down three games to none to the Yankees in the ALCS, the Sox stormed back, and swept the Cardinals in the World Series to break an 86-year-curse, the best sports season I’ll ever experience.
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