Amateur baseball in Massachusetts is part of the culture. There are three summer college baseball leagues with teams operating in the Bay State, and they are three of the best leagues in the country. The granddaddy of them all is the Cape Cod Baseball League.
2019 marks the 134 season of amateur baseball on the cape, the 56th season sanctioned by the NCAA and 34th as a wood bat league. In 2018 the Cape League boasted 306 alumni playing in Major League Baseball (including stars like Ian Happ, Jacoby Ellsbury and Chris Sale). 1,100 (and counting) players have made stops on Cape Cod on their way to the majors, making the Cape a proving ground for baseball’s best prospects.
For most baseball fans, the Cape League entered the zeitgeist by way of the 2001 film Summer Catch, which is not an entirely terrible romcom starring Freddie Prinze Jr, Jessica Biel and Brian Dennehey as the Chatham A’s real life manager John Schiffner. But a better primer might be the 2004 Jim Collins’ book The Last Best League. That book followed the 2002 Chatham A’s which were also managed by John Schiffner (played by himself this time).
There’s a lot of appeal to the Cape Cod League. First, it’s Cape Cod in the summer. Then there are the numbers I mentioned before, a visit to the Cape increases your chances of getting drafted exponentially. Third there are the games. Cape Cod baseball is a community affair. The league’s 10 teams all operate on small high school fields with chain link backstops and limited aluminum bleachers. None of the teams charge an admission fee, and fans are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs. There are no game day hosts, or sponsored break in play games. It’s straight up baseball.
The Cape League has dialed in what it takes to produce their special brand of amateur baseball. They have shunned a lot of the minor league appearances that other summer college leagues have moved towards and operate as a true non-profit. Volunteers and interns drive the league and while it helps that the Cape League has a mystique that no other league can claim, the teams all seem to survive on a healthy diet of donations, corporate partnerships and souvenir & concession sales.
Ten teams are broken into 2 divisions (east and west) compete in a 42 game season over the course of a 7 and a half week regular season. The week and a half post-season crams 3 best of 3 rounds before the end of the summer season.
Rosters in the Cape League (as with all summer college leagues) can be fluid, particularly at the beginning and end of the season. Top tier teams will struggle with depth as they wait for players from teams competing in the NCAA post season, then again at the end of the season as players who have been drafted in the June Amateur Draft sign professional contracts and take their first affiliated baseball assignment.
One of the most impressive feats of the Cape League is the league’s stability. The current league line-up has been together since 1988 when Brewster and Bourne joined the league.
The Chatham Anglers (formerly the A’s) might be the most recognizable team in the league, because of Summer Catch, but the Cotuit Ketteleers are the most successful team with 16 championships since 1946. Their last coming in 2013 when they defeated the Falmouth Commodores. Falmouth’s loss in the 2013 championship continued a championship-less stretch that goes back now almost 40 years to 1980.
The Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox have been the most successful team over the last two decades, winning 6 titles since the turn of the millenia. But it’s the Wareham Gatemen, the only team to not reside on the Cape (don’t say that in Wareham though), who won the 2018 championship, their 8th.
The Wareham Gatemen come into the 2019 season defending league champions. They also will continue a tradition of participating in the CCRTA Train Game, where they’ll ride the CapeFLYER to Hyannis to play the Harbour Hawks. for a 2pm game on Saturday June 15th.
Later this summer, the Gatemen will travel (presumably by bus this time) to Hartford to play Yarmouth-Dennis at Dunkin Donuts Field in Hartford, Connecticut. This is (as far as I know) the first instance of a CCBL game being played outside of Massachusetts. That game is set for Tuesday, July 23rd.
The 2019 CCBL All-Star Game is scheduled for the last week of the regular season, and will be played on July 21st at Eldredge Park in Orleans, home of the Firebirds.
June 3rd – MLB Amateur Draft
Undrafted players, or players unhappy with their draft position will start filling in the final roster spots in CCBL teams.
June 10th – CCBL Opening Day
Home games in: Cotuit, Falmouth, Hyannis, Wareham, Orleans
June 15th – Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority Game (Wareham @ Hyannis)
Triple header opportunity:
2pm – Wareham at Hyannis
5pm – Harwich at Cotuit
7pm – Yarmouth-Dennis at Chatham
June 16th – League Wide Doubleheader Day
Home games in: Yarmouth-Dennis, Brewster, Harwich, Bourne, Wareham
June 23rd – League Wide Doubleheader Day
Home games in: Cotuit, Hyannis, Falmouth, Orleans, Chatham
July 21st – League All-Star Game
6pm at Eldredge Park in Orleans
August 2 – 10
Apparel is the name of the game when it comes to collectibles on the Cape. Hats, shirts and outerwear are plentiful. In my experience, traditional collectibles are very rare. I have not seen any cards since the two 1988 sets (which have been covered ad naseum here). Logo balls or stadium cups are also missing in action.
Your best bet for a game day momento would be the game day program and a league logo ball (both are good for autograph hawks).
I haven’t attempted to get any autographs at the games I’ve attended, but the overall environment is low key, and access to players is almost unfettered. If you do attend a game on the Cape, focus on enjoying the experience more than worrying about autograph hawking.
Some fields are pet friendly, we took our dog Ollie to his first baseball game when we visited Hyannis in 2018. If a team’s pet policy isn’t listed on the website, contact the team before showing up.
Bring a chair. All teams use high school fields, and seating is either limited or non-existent all together.
Support the team and league in some way. Either buy a soda and hot dog from the snack stand, or pick up a t-shirt from the souvenir booth.
Hyannis has been working with their host, McKeon Park to produce significant upgrades. New dugouts and a Daktronic scoreboard are scheduled to be completed before opening day. New bleachers and handicap accessible seating areas are scheduled as part of a second round of upgrades.