A final curtain call to Cape League season
BY RUSS CHARPENTIER
The wooden bats have been put away until next summer, though, truth be told, they didn't get a lot of use during the just-completed Cape League season.
Pitching has always been the name of the game in the Cape League, at least since wood bats came back in the mid-1980s, but it was even more pronounced this summer. Two teams, Bourne (.198) and Harwich (.195), could not even muster a .200 team average.
So while the season brought the league a movie premiere, as well as growing crowds and publicity, the summer of '01 will be remembered most for either: A) unbelievably strong pitching; B) unbelievably poor hitting.
There's no denying the preponderance of good arms in the league this summer, especially left-handed pitching. Scouts and managers admitted as much. Hitters were often overmatched. Harwich southpaw Matt Lynch of Florida State had a 1.59 ERA, but it was the league's 10th best. He also struck out 63 in 51 innings and walked only eight.
Hitters didn't stand a chance. Wareham led the league in earned run average (1.84), and six other teams had ERA's well under 3.00. Only one team, Hyannis, was over 4.00.
What resulted was a nightly kaleidoscope of low-hit, low-run games.
Why? The answer we heard most from scouts and managers, and even an agent, was that pro teams are signing more and more of the better positional players right out of high school, leaving a declining number of position studs in the college game. That, coupled with players relearning their hitting craft with the switch from aluminum to wood, has resulted in what you watched this summer: A game dominated by pitching.
Another factor is the competition from other sports. Basketball, especially, and football take many of the better athletes. "Look on the Div. II basketball courts and you'll see all the shortstops and center fielders,'' a scout said.
But these hits just kept on coming
Sometimes you wonder if Cape Codders truly appreciate the gem that is the Cape League as much as fans from off-Cape. The second-most number of hits on this paper's web site is for Cape League coverage. The league's web site had more than 11/2 million hits in July, according to web site master Sean Walsh.
Over and over this season, players said this is by far the best summer league in the country. They've all heard the stories of the league from teammates and can't wait to get here. Scouts in droves assemble here from all the major league teams to check on prospects, unsigned draft picks and undrafted free agents.
There were 70 scouts, national cross-checkers and organizational people at the all-star game in Falmouth, according to a league official. It's not unusual for undrafted players to come here, have a huge summer and get a better contract than if they had been drafted.
It happened to Bobby Kielty in 1997. Undrafted out of Mississippi, he came to Brewster and set the league on fire, dancing with the magical .400 mark before finishing at a league-high .384. Kielty signed with the Minnesota Twins and is now in the big leagues. Right-handed pitcher Jack Cressend went undrafted out of Tulane, was 14-1 in less than two seasons in Cotuit and ended up signing with Boston. He's now a relief pitcher for the Twins.
Two relief pitchers from this season hope to follow that route.
Bourne's Ryan Speier of Radford College in Virginia set a league record with 16 saves, did not allow an earned run in 20 innings and before the season was over signed with the Colorado Rockies. Yarmouth-Dennis's Brandon Luna left before the end of the season after signing with the Texas Rangers.
Quick story on Speier: Waiting to interview him during batting practice one day, a reporter from a weekly told me he probably wouldn't talk. In the Cape League? The reporter said Speier told him to email questions, and he'd email back the answers.
But the 6-foot-7 sidearmer with a 92 mph fastball turned out to be a good interview, and Speier had plenty of good things to say about his manager, Spencer Graham, and how much Graham helped him with his delivery.
Graham came under fire a lot in Bourne this summer for his strict, demanding ways, and there is speculation he won't be invited back for 2002. But there's one player with a pro contract who is grateful for Graham's coaching.
Speier played for Graham in the Coastal Plains League last summer, and set the save record in that league as well. "I believe in Ryan Speier," Graham said that day.
You hope Speier remembers that the first time he takes the mound for the Rockies.
Hopes and dreams
Of course, not everyone in the league will go on to play in the majors. But everyone invited to play here has that dream.
Take Orleans right-handed pitcher Joe Bateman. From Pittsfield, he attends Mass. College of Liberal Arts. Bateman doesn't throw hard at all, but his ball moves quite a bit and he's succeeded on that movement and smarts.
"I love this guy," said one veteran scout watching Bateman pitch at Eldredge Park. "I've watched him for years. He doesn't put up great numbers on the gun, but he always wins."
Bateman, going into his senior year, may finally have reached his top level. He went 1-5, with a 3.83 ERA and allowed 46 hits in 51ª innings. But he showed great control, walking only nine, and did strike out 39.
Will he ever get a shot at pro ball? Who knows. But at least there's one scout out there who likes Joe Bateman, and that's something he can tell the grandchildren one day.
Lights, camera, action!
A review of the season wouldn't be complete without a couple of comments about the movie "Summer Catch," which opens nationwide later this month.
Mike McCoy, Chatham's second baseman from San Diego, said he enjoyed it. "It's cool to see something about somewhere you're playing," he said.
But as for its accuracy depicting a Cape Leaguer's lifestyle, McCoy wasn't so sure. He said players don't gather every night in bars after games.
"We all work early in the morning," said McCoy. "It makes it hard to go out a lot." McCoy cleaned carpets weekdays beginning at 8 a.m.
Chatham A's manager John Schiffner's style is quite the opposite from the Schiffner character by Brian Dennehy in the movie. But there were some similarities.
"I never burned a $20 bill," Schiffner said about one movie scene. "But I do tell the kids if they screw up, it is money out of their pockets. Most of these kids are going to sign (pro contracts), and if a cross-checker is here and sees them screw up, they could drop from an eighth-round pick to 15th. That's money out of their pocket."
Around the bases, one more time
It's over. Ten months of planning and hard work, two months of intense, nightly baseball. It goes by too fast. Think back to what we saw:
Most Valuable Player Matt Murton of Wareham and Georgia Tech delivering during the all-star game's home-run contest, belting out seven in the qualifying round at Fuller Field, but losing 3-2 in the finals to Stanford's Jason Cooper, the defending champ ... Bourne's amazing start and finish to make the West playoffs ... The tough-luck season of Wareham's Ben Crockett, who went 1-6 despite being one of the top pitches in the league ... Pitcher of the Year Chris Leonard of Wareham putting Miami of Ohio on the Cape League map ... The big bats of Hyannis's Ryan Barthelemy (Florida State) and Jason Perry (Georgia Tech), maybe overlooked as the pitching-poor Mets stumbled ... The resurgence of Yarmouth-Dennis, making the playoffs for first time since 1990 ... Top pro prospect Russ Adams' speed down the line and his ability to turn the double play for Orleans ... Harwich continuing to play so tough despite being out of it early, and the grit of right-hander Luke Robertson (3-3, 1.46) of Kansas State ... Falmouth's shocking double dip by shutout on the last day after having seemingly wrapped up a playoff berth ... Cotuit's gallant stretch run, winning 10 of its last 11, in a valiant but futile effort to reach the playoffs in Mike Coutts' final season ... Chatham's bullpen duo of David Bush and Zane Carlson ... Brewster's Ryan Gloger again showing everyone he's a quality pitcher despite being overlooked at Stanford ... And, finally, the expected celebration in Wareham or Chatham when the Gatemen or the A's raise the championship trophy ... Phew. Time for a vacation.
Staff writer RUSS CHARPENTIER can be reached at 508-862-1263 or at [email protected]