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Lucky locals find their place in Cape League

07/06/2008 10:30 AM

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Lucky locals find their place in Cape League


By Steve Buckley | | General Sports Coverage 

SOUTH YARMOUTH - As always, the Cape Cod Baseball League features a glittering array of much-touted players who have trekked to New England from big cities and small towns across America.

Photo by Matthew Healey

D.J. LeMahieu, a tall drink of water who plays shortstop for the Harwich Mariners, is from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., by way of LSU. Dusty Coleman, an infielder with the Bourne Braves, made it to the Cape from Sioux Falls, S.D., after wrapping up his collegiate season at Wichita State. Left-hander Matt Fairel of the Cotuit Kettleers, who plays his college ball at Florida State, is from Winter Haven, Fla., onetime spring training home of the Red Sox [team stats].

And then there is Ryan Quigley, a pitcher with the Harwich Mariners who knows the back roads of Cape Cod the way Kit Carson knew the Santa Fe Trail.

“When I was a kid, I’d come down here every summer and watch the games,” Quigley said during batting practice before a recent game against the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox. “I think I went to my first game when I was 7 or 8. . . . A couple of weeks ago, I was on the mound at Chatham, and I couldn’t stop thinking that when I was 12-years old, I was on the other side of the fence watching a game at that very park.”

Quigley is the hardball equivalent of native corn, grown right here in Massachusetts. A former Herald All-Scholastic during his days at Taunton High, where he also was a tight end on the football team, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound left-hander just finished his sophomore season at Northeastern.

And now, here he is. Not just playing baseball, but playing with and against some of the best college players in the country.

Talent hotbed

Even casual fans can rattle off the names of past and present big leaguers who came through the Cape Cod League. Nomar Garciaparra, Mo Vaughn, and on and on. According to the league’s annual media guide, 212 former Cape Cod League players were on major league rosters in 2007. This year, just on the Red Sox, you’ll find David Aardsma (Falmouth, 2002), Sean Casey (Brewster, 1994), Kevin Cash (Falmouth, 1999), Jacoby Ellsbury [stats] (Falmouth, 2004), Javier Lopez [stats] (Falmouth, 1997), Mike Lowell (Chatham, 1994), Jason Varitek [stats] (Hyannis, 1991, 1993) and Kevin Youkilis [stats] (Bourne, 2000).

Taken a look at this week’s Sports Illustrated? Flame-throwing pitcher Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants graces the cover. Just three summers ago, he was throwing those electrifying fastballs in a Harwich Mets uniform.

Though the Cape Cod League is in the Bay State’s backyard, it’s a difficult reach for most college players from this region. The league recruits top talent from the nation’s best-known baseball programs, making it all the more difficult to make the cut for players from New England, where spring is full of rain and cold temperatures.

Local players often are used to fill roster spots while the bigger names finish up the College World Series or perhaps mull offers to turn pro, but there are cases in which they stick around longer.

As of this past week, eight Massachusetts players, including Quigley, were listed on Cape Cod League rosters.

Brian McDonough of Hanover, another Herald All-Scholastic from his days at Xaverian who plays at Marist, is with the Brewster Whitecaps. The Chatham A’s feature two Bay Staters -- right-hander John Folino of Quincy and UConn, and left-hander Kevin Scanlan of Sudbury and the University of Maine.

The Orleans Cardinals also have two Massachusetts natives, both of whom play at Duke: First baseman Nate Freiman of Wellesley and outfielder Alex Hassan of Milton. Tom Stack-Babich of Scituate, who plays at Harvard, is enjoying a summer with the Wareham Gatemen. And Matt Nuzzo, who gained local fame as a quarterback during his Everett High days before moving on to Brown, is with Hyannis.

“It’s amazing,” Hassan said. “I saw five or 10 games one summer when I was a kid. I was at a friend’s house and we saw a game at Falmouth and some Chatham A’s games. Now I’m playing in this league.”

Catching some eyes

Quigley earned an invitation to play in the Cape Cod League by coming up big in this year’s baseball Beanpot, the annual showdown for Bay State bragging rights between Northeastern, Boston College, Harvard and UMass.

In pitching the Huskies to an opening-round victory against the Eagles at Lynn’s Frasier Field, Quigley impressed Harwich coach Steve Englert, even though Englert probably wasn’t happy about the outcome of the game.

It so happens that Englert is an assistant coach at Boston College, and he would have loved a win in the battle against Northeastern. At the same time, though, he had a summer roster to consider, and here was Quigley, right on the Green Line -- not at the Cleveland Circle stop, but at Huntington Avenue.

“His stuff was tremendous,” Englert said. “His slider was very sharp. I remember thinking that here was a kid who could help us out. He competes. He goes after hitters. I decided I’d keep an eye on him, and then he had another great start, and then another one. And here we are.”

Foes to friends

As Englert was speaking these words before the game against Yarmouth-Dennis, he stopped mid-sentence to yell something to Red Sox catcher Tony Sanchez, who happened to be trotting across the infield. Sanchez yelled something back, And they both laughed.

More explaining is in order. Sanchez, who is from Miami, plays for Boston College. In the spring, Englert’s job would have been to counsel, cajole and otherwise inspire Sanchez in their quest to defeat the likes of Quigley. Now, just a few months later, Englert’s job is to counsel, cajole and otherwise inspire Quigley to defeat the likes of Sanchez.

“The way I look at it, he’s my guy now, and then he won’t be my guy,” Englert said. “Same with Tony. We’re going to try to carve him up for eight weeks, and then he’ll be my guy again.”

At first, Quigley wondered how this was going to play out. Though they now play in different conferences, Northeastern and Boston College remain rivals. They still play each other every spring, including those Beanpot tilts, and now he was a Huskies pitcher answering to an Eagles coach.

“But what it comes down to with me is that he’s a good coach and he knows his stuff,” Quigley said. “I have good coaches at Northeastern, but one of the things I’ve learned is that it’s always good to get instruction from different coaches. And down here, you’re talking about coaches who have handled guys who are in the major leagues.”

Quigley’s hometown, Taunton, puts him in commuting distance to the Cape. He figures he could make the daily trip in an hour.

“He could do that,” Englert said. “But then he’s missing out on the true Cape Cod League experience. We’ve got kids from all over the country who get thrown together on one team, and chemistry is important. When you’re down here, living with a host family, working with the other players, you learn so much.

“Plus, I don’t have to worry about him. Instead of an hour drive from Taunton every day, he has a five-minute drive from his host family.”

In true Cape Cod League tradition, Quigley is living with a host family, John and Susan Blake.

“As easy as it would have been to stay at home and be with my family, this is too great an experience,” Quigley said. “This way, I’m experiencing the Cape community, and I’m meeting new people. It would have been a mistake not to do it this way.”

Comforts of home

One advantage for local products in the Cape Cod League is that they often can look up into the stands or along the grassy knolls and spot friends, family members and old high school teammates.

For Freiman, this is huge.

“My parents come to most games,” he said. “It’s nice to have a cheering section.”

Freiman has had a truly special visitor for some of his games this summer: His grandmother, Ruth Freiman of Newton.

Disadvantages to being a local boy in the Cape Cod League?

“Well,” Freiman said, “the West Coast players do make fun of our accents.”

Hassan, Freiman’s Duke compadre with Orleans, happens to have an automobile, and naturally, his ride is referred to as a “cah.”

“We do this ‘One, two, three Cardinals!’ chant before each game,” Hassan said. “There are a couple of guys who look at me and yell, ‘Cahdinals!’ But that’s OK. I’m down here playing.”

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