A cup of clam chowdah, sharks, accents, Dunkin’ Donuts, rotaries, weekend traffic, 50/50 raffles, fields without lights, walk-off inside the park homer, no-hitter, lobstah rolls, local ice cream shops off main streets, homerun records, juiced balls (?), Fenway Park, Citi Field, fireworks on the beach, cold ocean water for a Southern boy, sand in your truck. It’s a series of memories that will never leave me. It’s a lifestyle. It is a summer with the Cape Cod Baseball League.
For nine months straight, I had at least one moment a day dreaming of my summer on Cape Cod serving as a broadcaster for the Bourne Braves. The months of June, July, and half of August went by faster than a Sean Manaea fastball. I experienced more than I dreamed on those winter days and learnt more, not only about the college game and its players, but also of life itself for a 20 year old living 2,000 miles away from a Southern fried home.
The Bourne Braves experienced a trying and rewarding summer. Out of the initial October roster consisting of 28 players, only 7 were left standing come the second game of the playoffs. Injuries, pitching limits, or family emergencies seemed to be a daily story. New Bourne General Manager Chuck Sturdevant deserves more credit this season than maybe those previous championship runs he had in Falmouth. Sure, every team goes through its series of injuries and players with innings limits, but the Bourne Braves lost key pieces to the team’s makeup at least once a week. There’s a reason Chuck is wrapping up his 26th year in the Cape League. He knows how to fill in a roster. Late season roster additions like Steve Goldstein and L.J. Mazzilli provided a late season spark to secure a playoff berth for the Braves.
The players that did stay the whole season, or most of it, grew in different facets of the game. Take Jack Reinheimer, shortstop from East Carolina University, who improved his stock this summer by carrying his workman-like attitude to the field day in and day out. Reinheimer started off the season slow offensively and in the field. Through the first two weeks of the season, there wasn’t much hoopla surrounding the rising junior. Come the end of the season, Reinheimer elevated his batting average to .296 and solidified his spot second in the lineup and at shortstop. He provided quality at-bat after quality at-bat for coach Harvey Shapiro. The Reinheimers, Mike Ahmeds, Tim Giels, Jordan Pattersons, Austin Wynns, Joe Jacksons, and Jeff Thompsons of the Braves showed their improvement from Day 1 by rising to the level of competition.
A key component to the season that was hammered over and over from Braves GM Chuck Sturtevant was the mental aspect of the game. It takes a special mindset and approach to play the game everyday for two months on top of how long a player’s college season lasted. The best are those who can flush out yesterday’s failures or not let heads and egos swell to the size of Martha’s Vineyard. I had the pleasure of watching Mike Ahmed and Jordan Patterson of the Bourne Braves for two months. While each of the players is blessed with admirable athletic ability, they lasted through the summer by having the mindset that no matter what happened yesterday; I’m at the ballpark today to better my craft. Both arriving from small conference programs that are plentiful with tradition, Ahmed with Holy Cross and Patterson with South Alabama, the two ended the season as consistent performers with the bat and glove. Some guys don’t though. I heard stories of players with Major League potential that had too many issues between the ears that kept them from reaching the next stage in their careers. Players with confidence in their abilities and an intentional mindset succeeded this summer. I saw it firsthand.
Speaking of the level of competition, this season was much different than Cape summers of the past. While stars like Colin Moran and Austin Wilson received attention (deservedly so), this summer was about the stars of smaller programs making a name for themselves against the best of the best. Cape League MVP Phil Ervin got off to a hot start belting a home run in Harwich’s opening day victory against Bourne and never looked back. Ervin follows in a similar mold of former Georgia Southern outfielder Victor Roache. Both hail from the SoCon and upgraded their respective strengths by posting intimidating power numbers in the summer. While it may be tough to match Roache’s 2011 regular season home run numbers, look for Phil Ervin to leave a mark extending outside the SoCon come next spring.
Patrick Biondi of Michigan earned this year’s Thurman Munson Batting Championship Trophy that is given out to the batter with the highest average at the end of the 44 game season. Biondi finished with a .388 clip for Cotuit. I don’t care how juiced the balls may have been this year, it takes skill and a persistent approach to come close to the .400 mark.
The newest and largest star around the towns of Cape Cod this summer belonged to Indiana State’s Sean Manaea. His numbers were mind-boggling. Considering the vast increase in offensive numbers for every team this summer compared to years past, Manaea’s final numbers carry more weight. He went 5-1, with a 1.22 ERA, 85 K and 7 BB. Included in that is a stretch of 4 starts in which he gave up 1 earned run with 46 punch outs and not a single walk allowed. While his fastball provides a punch ranging in the low to mid 90s and a good breaking ball in the mid 80s, he hits his spots with the precision of an archer and stays one pitch ahead of the batter. After being around Manaea briefly for the All-Star game and speaking with the Hyannis broadcasters and teammates of his with the Harbor Hawks, he comes off as a very down to earth college student-athlete who enjoyed this summer as much as anyone. I would hate to play Indiana State on a Friday this spring.
I briefly mentioned Colin Moran before delving into prospects from smaller programs. Moran deserves his recognition for wowing spectators on a nightly basis. Scouts aren’t always the most talkative bunch during games and from time to time will carry on small talk or trade short thoughts on a prospect at-bat. That doesn’t happen when Moran digs in. Every scout behind home plate shuts up immediately. He is a superb hitter at this level and covers the plate better than almost all the competition. It’s something to admire when a guy can take a pitch up and in and shoot a liner back up the middle. The Tar Heel is by no means a finished product but to see how far he goes will be a treat for all of us to watch.
So about those juiced balls. Through the first three weeks of the season, the high home run and scoring numbers were no longer a fluke. Offense was here to stay on the Cape. Typically a pitching dominated league, the CCBL saw offensive records met or shattered thanks to a series of factors. I asked coaches, GMs, writers, television analysts, scouts, and national media pundits for the reason behind the outpouring of sluggers. First words out of everyone’s mouth, “the balls are juiced.”
By the time this is posted, I’m sure the national media will have convened on the subject and brought a light to the issue. A GM for an opposing team was so interested in the matter he sawed two baseballs in half. One from last summer and one from 2012. He found a difference in the rubber coating that engulfs the center of the ball. At games you would hear the crack of a wooden bat that sounded so soft yet there goes the leather and stitching over a much-maligned fence. Look for a brand new set of baseballs to be used throughout all of next summer with the likely support of Major League Baseball. I will agree with those that have followed this league throughout the years in saying that the overall talent level of the Cape’s pitchers was under par in looking at year’s past.
A cup of clam chowdah, sharks, accents, Dunkin’ Donuts, rotaries, weekend traffic, 50/50 raffles, fields without lights, walk-off inside the park homer, no-hitter, lobstah rolls, local ice cream shops off main streets…
There was so much more to this summer besides having the pleasure of watching the best collegiate players in the country play every day. I built lifelong relationships with those that I worked and lived with in a house down on Buzzards Bay. From a highly emerging sabermetrician to a trainer from Colorado, I interacted with people from various backgrounds. Living in a house together can have its bumps in the road when people don’t see eye to eye, but it also provides an avenue become friends with people you hope to work with again down the road. Instead of an internship where many students rise to prepare for day in a process of pledging for the real world, I woke up and went to bed sharing laughs and memories of the fun times I’ll never forget. There would be mornings where we would take batting practice at the field, organize softball games, catch some rays at the beach, explore different towns, or simply watch the same highlights on MLB Network that we saw 50 times at midnight. My favorite leisure activity had to be the beaches. While the water is cold, the beaches of Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket beg to be dug into with a beach chair or towel.
Not all of my time outside of games was filled with sand in my toes or playing around Doran Park. In striving to be the best broadcaster I could be, I committed much time to researching the players for that night’s game or sometimes a day ahead. I wasn’t looking just for stats. I was looking for stories. While baseball lends itself to a game of statistics, sometimes we forget that there are at least 10 humans on the field during a given play. The Bourne Braves had players with excellent stories. A temporary pitcher named Logan Norris can mimic a hog squeal using only his mouth. (Don’t’ believe me? Proof) Catcher and first baseman Joe Jackson is the great-great-great-great nephew of ‘Shoeless’ Joe. Ohio State Buckeye and right-hander Jaron Long used to watch Andy Pettitte throw bullpen sessions at Yankee Stadium. His father is the Yankees hitting coach. Tim Giel of Columbia was a three-sport standout in high school and now is learning to be a computer engineer at an Ivy League school. Mason Robbins became somewhat of a cult hero in Bourne with his clutch hits. An inside the park walk-off home run in the 14th inning can do that for you. A pitch hit Aaron Payne from Oregon 10 times this summer, which also included three in one game. Add that he was hit 25 times at Oregon, Payne really did feel the pain. While it was difficult to learn the characteristics and tendencies of a brand new crop of players, learning their stories and interweaving those with their teammates proved to be a quite a joy.
The Cape Cod League not only provides avenues for its players to take advantage of, but opportunities for interns to seize. A couple of the guys I lived with took on the advice of Bourne’s Assistant GM and visited Fenway Park and Citi Field to interview players on the show about their time on the Cape for the CCBL Hall of Fame exhibits. We spoke to about a dozen players from the Red Sox, Mets, and Nationals. Jeff, Justin, and I soaked up every minute of being a credentialed member of the MLB media. Walking in dugout at Fenway Park and the Citi Field clubhouse made me appreciate where I was and hungry to be back once again on a higher level. In our interviews with the players, the same message was echoed over and over again. The Cape League provided them with an opportunity to better their game, enjoyable memories, and relationships that have stood even to this day. As I’ve said, I can echo the same statements from an intern side.
The summer of 2012 was one that I will never forget. The memories of Cape Cod and its prestigious baseball league will shine on in my life much like those that have tasted it before me. For those that long to visit a place where the nation’s best collegiate stars call their summer home, I encourage you to go. Sit back and enjoy a very relaxed environment and baseball played in its purest form. It’s the summer of your life.
I would like to thank all those that made an impact on my summer. All my housemates, interns, Bob Kruse, Kevin McGonagle, Chuck Sturdevant, Dan Dunn, Tom Fink, Scorer Bob, the Bourne Board of Directors, the players, fellow CCBL broadcasters, CCBL volunteers, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, Washington Nationals, Ashley Crosby, Brian Foley, and my family.