I think The Blizzard Theory is ready for its closeup.
The Blizzard Theory states that any ballpark with an ad for Dairy Queen
somewhere on the premises is a great place to spend an evening. The theory
gained steam on Saturday, when I caught a Cape Cod League game at Guv Fuller
Field in Falmouth, Mass.
The league, perhaps best known as the source material for the cinematic epic
Summer Catch, is
a showcase circuit for college players, one which provides an opportunity for
scouts to watch potential draftees play games using wood bats. The league has
a long and distinguished list of alumni, and even as more summer leagues
geared towards collegians proliferate, it retains its place as the #1 summer
Atmospherically, this isn’t even minor-league baseball. Guy Fuller Field
consists of the diamond, two sets of metal bleachers extending just past the
corner bags, and a concession/souvenir stand behind home plate. The field is
in pretty good condition, although the outfield grass might have been a bit
long, judging from the way balls rolled dead in it. Picture a high school
field in a middle-class suburb, add a lot of advertising on the outfield
fence–including a DQ logo–and souvenirs, and you’re there.
The players are invitees, generally sophomores from four-year colleges who
will be draft-eligible in 2005. There is a sprinkling of freshmen and juniors,
but by and large, this is a showcase for players who will be playing with wood
bats in other small towns a year from now. Last week, the league wasn’t at
full strength yet, as a contingent of its best players were still playing in
Omaha, at the College World Series, and in Mississippi, where the Team USA
tryouts were being held.
I’m not a scout, and as Jonah Keri pointed out last week, our untrained eyes can deceive us, so take my player evaluations with a grain of salt. Oregon
State freshman Dallas Buck started for Falmouth, and extended
his season-opening scoreless string to 15 innings before giving up two runs in
the sixth. Buck looked very good in six of his seven innings, using an easy
motion to reach the low 90s with his fastball and mixing in a sharp breaking
pitch. When he had to pitch from the stretch, though, he looked as if someone
had just taught him baseball as he was coming over the Sagamore Bridge. He’s
just 19 and not draft-eligible until ’06, so there’s plenty of time for him to
work on that, and he was very impressive from the windup.
Falmouth shortstop Cliff Pennington, from Texas A&M, looked
good defensively and had a couple of singles up the middle. Falmouth’s
Mark Hamilton, from Tulane, and Chris
Looze, from George Mason, each homered, although neither looked very
impressive aside from that. Looze’s homer was strongly wind-aided, a pop-up to
right field that just kept going.
I sat next to an older couple from Virginia during the game, and the lady, a
George Mason alum, cheered enthusiastically for Looze’s every at-bat. She and
her husband also cheered for every other player from colleges in the
mid-Atlantic region, which was infectious. I got so excited I ended up
cheering for Brewster center fielder Danny Perales, a
freshman from USC. Perales, unmoved by the gesture, went hitless in the three
at-bats I saw.
The Cape Cod League shares an unfortunate trait with the Arizona Fall League
in that the players are largely playing not to win a championship, but to be
evaluated by scouts. If you decided to not keep track of the game score in
either league, it wouldn’t matter to all but the most competitive of the
participants. On the Cape, though, unlike in Phoenix, the teams are
wholeheartedly supported by their respective communities, communities which
open their doors to league players, housing and feeding them throughout the
two-month season, and showing up at the games in force.
It’s a strange situation to go to a baseball game where the crowd is so much more invested in the outcome than the players are. For all the griping in the
free-agent era about greedy players who care more about their stats than
winning, watching AFL or CCL games is a real education in what baseball played
for those reasons would look like.
I’m coming off a lot more negative about the league than I actually feel. I
had a great time at the game, and more than once remarked to Sophia that I
could easily spend a summer down there, watching baseball games each day in
I’ll leave you with one anecdote that I think reflects the place of the league
in the Cape Cod community. Somewhere in the middle innings, a Falmouth player
walked into the bleachers with a roll of tickets, accompanied by a local
high-school student with a big bucket. The two were selling chances for the
50/50 raffle, one for a dollar, 15 for $10.
While he was doing this, the public-address announcer informed the crowd that
the Falmouth players would be available immediately after the game for
Players who sign autographs and collect for the 50/50. That’s the Cape Cod