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One Shot to Shine : CCBL Tryouts

14 June, 2006

One Shot To Shine
Cape League hopefuls showcase their skills at the Annual Tryouts
striving to land a stint with a summer team 

 WAREHAM, Mass. – Lou Bernardini, exhausted, sweaty, and pumped with adrenaline, walked off the field and struggled to catch his breath.

    The 19-year old, Wheaton College sophomore had just spent the past 15 minutes firing pitch after pitch to a catcher he’s never worked with and to batters he’s never faced in a competitive scrimmage at the Cape Cod Baseball League’s annual open tryouts. 


Lou Bernardini
photo by Eric Adler /2006

    Bernardini was just one of 89 college baseball players from across the country who showed up at Clem Spillane Field in Wareham last Sunday in hopes of making a good impression under the watchful eyes of Cape League field managers and general managers – the architects of the CCBL teams – in hopes of earning a roster spot with one of the league’s 10 franchises.

    “In the beginning it was a little nerve racking,” confessed Bernardini, mindful of the poker-faced men in the stands, who clutched pens in one hand, clipboards in the other. “But you’ve just got to put yourself back in a situation you’ve been in before, and I pretended I was back on my college mound.”

    At first, Bernardini buckled under the burden that comes with getting one shot to show off, walking the first three batters he faced. But he soon settled in, recording a couple of strikeouts and inducing a few pop ups and grounders, before bare handing a chopper and making a smooth, straight-line throw to first in his final play of the day.

    “I hope they [the coaches/GMs] saw the movement on my two-seam fastball and that I can get anybody out,” Bernardini said. “This is the cream of the crop of the tryouts, so if I can get these guys out here, I can get Cape League guys out and can compete at this level.”


Matt Nuzzo
photo by Eric Adler /2006

    Years ago, there was no venue for players like Bernardini to showcase their stuff; college baseball players simply signed a permanent summer contract (in the fall) with a Cape League team, or were forced to find work elsewhere.

    These days, however, Cape League hopefuls don’t necessarily have to ink a predetermined deal to earn a trip across the Bourne Bridge, as the tryouts give those overlooked and undervalued pitchers and position players a chance to break into the CCBL, which has historically been a launching pad to the majors.

    Though the tryouts are for invitation players only (based on their college coach’s recommendation that they’re Cape League worthy) there’s no denying they’ve made the league more expansive and more accessible – especially to schools in New England, which once felt their players were given the shaft. 

    “Prior to introducing the league wide tryouts about 12 years ago, many New England coaches felt that the Cape League had no interest in considering their players for roster spots,” said tryout organizer and Wareham Gatemen GM John Wylde. 


Jake Gorman
photo by Eric Adler /2006

     “I think they felt the Cape League was looking to the ‘elite’ baseball schools, and that Cape League coaches would prefer to take the ninth of tenth best player on, say, Texas, than the best or second best player on, say, Vermont or UMass. The perception they had was the Cape League thinks they’re elite and we’re just second class citizens. That wasn’t the reality, of course. But now, thanks to the tryouts, New England college coaches feel the kids they recommend are getting a fair chance to show what they can do.”

    Added Cape Cod Baseball League Commissioner Paul Galop, “There were plenty of naysayers who said the Cape League only brought in kids from high profile schools, but that’s just not the case anymore.” 

    While Sunday’s tryout had its share of stars from Division One powerhouses, there were also prospects from Massasoit Junior College in Brockton, William Jewell – a Missouri-based NAIA school, and San Diego-based Point Loma Nazarene University. 

    Unlike professional or semi-professional tryouts, which select only a player or two from an especially large pool of applicants, Cape League teams accept their share of walk-ons. According to Galop, 47 percent of the tryout players received at least a temporary assignment last year. 


Francis Santos
photo by Eric Adler /2006

     It’s not known how many of those temps were later signed to a full contract. Nor is it known how many of the temps this year will be with their respective teams at the end of the summer. The odds aren’t great, bearing in mind that Cape League rosters are anywhere from 85 to 95 percent set prior to the tryouts. But the possibility remains, given that some original Cape League recruits opt for Team USA, sign a major league contract, suffer a spring injury, or, after a long and arduous season that culminated with an NCAA World Series berth, just want time off to rest. 

    Moreover, history dictates that blue chippers with the right stuff will find their way onto a Cape League team one way or another. And, true to Galop’s words, they’re not necessarily from the Michigans and North Carolinas of the world. 

    Take, for instance, St. Joseph’s (ME) southpaw pitcher Charlie Furbush, who turned heads at the tryouts with his mid 90s fastball and subsequently found his way in the Hyannis Mets rotation last summer. Or consider UCONN's Tim Norton, a flame throwing righty who showed up at the open tryouts with only his glove, and left 10 weeks later with a shiny trophy as the league’s outstanding co-pitcher of the year.

    As a integral member of the Falmouth Commodores, Norton posted a 5-1 record with a 1.77 ERA and was second in the league with a whopping 77 strikeouts (in 62 innings). 

    Other success stories include UMass-Amherst’s Frank Curreri, who hit .293 and drew a team-high 30 walks as a member of the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in 2004, and former Fairfield University and Chatham A’s ace Dan Krines, who also went from a relative unknown to the CCBL pitcher of the year in 2000. 

    But the real beauty part of the tryouts, organizers say, is that even those who don’t make the Cape League cut stand a good chance of being signed by a team in the New England College Baseball League (NECBL), whose representatives – in attendance at the CCBL tryouts – are just as eager to find a budding prospect. 

    “We’ve been inviting other leagues to watch the tryouts for about six years now,” said Galop. “The thinking is that if we can’t use this kid, let’s let somebody else, because the idea is to get the kids playing somewhere, even if it’s not in the Cape League.” And to that end, he declared, “the tryouts have been very successful.”

 

Eric Adler
Contributing Writer
adler@capecodbaseball.org