Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Cape Cod League: One Notch below the Pros

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Cape Cod League: One Notch below the Pros

Article excerpt

IN the fourth inning, Orleans shortstop Nomar Garciaparra sends a long drive deep into center field. It looks like a towering home-run shot. But Chatham center fielder Larry Williams sprints to the chest-high chain-link fence, leaps toward the 400-foot mark with his arm extended, and catches the ball above the fence. The Orleans crowd of 1,000 erupts with a roar.

Remember the names: Nomar Garciaparra and Larry Williams.

Chances are, if they make it to the major leagues in the next few years, some of the credit should go to the Cape Cod Baseball League, the premier summer league for the best college baseball players in the United States.

"These are talented guys from all over the country," says Garciaparra, who was the starting shortstop for the US Olympic team in 1992 and plays for Georgia Tech at the collegiate level. "I wanted to play here because the level of maturity is high, too."

There are currently 118 players on major league rosters who have played in the Cape Cod League. And of the first 20 players chosen in the recent amateur baseball draft, half played here.

"The experience here is a lot like pro ball," says Rolando Casanova, coach of the Orleans Cardinals. "The players work here, play ball, and live with strangers. For a lot of them, it's their first time away from home."

The origins of the league stretch back to 1885, when the small towns dotted around the Cape had teams of their own. In 1963 the league changed to include college players. Now it's all college players playing in the 44-game schedule, and the league is sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), along with 10 other summer leagues around the country.

To cover equipment, umpiring, and scoring expenses, the two major leagues give the Cape Cod League $85,000 a year.

But the enduring success of the league depends on enthusiastic community support and the ability to recruit the best players.

"We'll get an average of about 1,000 people to each game," says Orleans general manager David Mulholland, standing near third base at Eldredge Park three hours before the night game with the Chatham Athletics. The all-star game each year draws about 5,000 fans.

By game time it's a family atmosphere. Adults and kids bring folding chairs and picnic baskets and sit along the terraced first-base side of the field. Many fans know the players by first names, and the players are accessible for photos, autographs, and baseball talk.

'I've been coming here on vacation with my family since 1975," says Keith Noack, a mail carrier from East Hampton, Conn. "The caliber of play is tops, and it's a great atmosphere."

"We can't charge admission," says Mulholland, who is responsible for raising money for the team, "because the ballpark is town property. But we pass the hat at each game, sell T-shirts, hats, bats, a roster book, and do fairly well at the refreshment stand. …

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