In the world of sports, the second and third weeks of August on Cape Cod compare favorably with other place-based sporting events like Spain’s running of the bulls or an Olympics venue in some picturesque setting. For those two weeks on the Cape fans are treated to a colorful pageant where local townspeople and tourists alike are caught up in an intimate but competitive tournament full of rivalries and passion-filled story lines. As temperatures soar and humidity drenches, the Cape Cod Baseball League playoffs and championship series entertains, intensifies and ultimately draws Cape communities together.
The Cape League All-Star Game is for the scouts. The Championship Series is for the fans.
Regardless, the Cape League’s 10 teams remain the place where a fan can see MLB greats long before their names are known.
This season’s championship series will be remembered by many insiders as one of the best. That the Wareham Gatemen defeated the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox 8-6 in 10 innings is a fact. It is how we got there that will remain with me as a highlight of my summer.
The bright orange sun that sank slowly toward home plate on the lastFriday night of the season was a fitting metaphor for a summer collegiate baseball league that was coming to an end. “They’re the last team standing,” Wareham manager Cooper Farris told the Cape Cod Times. “All of the other collegiate leagues are finished, and they’re the last team standing.”
Good thing 11 innings weren’t necessary because Red Wilson Field has yet to install lights.
The Wareham squad, with it fearsome bunch of mashers in the heart of the order and true hitters spread everywhere else in the line-up, just never gave up. They found ways to win. And they relied on the long ball.
Wareham’s Tyler Horan (Virginia Tech) will be remembered for setting the Cape League homerun record with 16 regular season dingers and several more in the postseason. His 10th inning blast to right put his Gatemen up 8-5 in the decisive 3rd game.
But it was the Gatemen’s play in the western division title game that showed me their mettle. Wareham, playing in Bourne, came out ahead in a see-saw battle that rocked back and forth inning-by-inning. In that game, Horan hit a two-run homer to leftfield in the 5th to put his team ahead. It would be the shape of things to come.
In the next few years look for Horan, Tyler Ross, Kyle Schwarber (Championship Series MVP, pictured below), Dan Palka, Mott Hyde, Dustin DeMuth. This class of Wareham hitters will be tearing up minor and major league parks for years to come.
And how proud must my old friend John Wylde be of his Gatemen? Sitting up there in the finest press box there is. I couldn’t help thinking about John throughout this postseason. His plaque was the first I went to find this past week when I visited the Cape Cod Baseball Hall of Fame in Hyannis.
On my score sheet in Bourne I noted that the Wareham fans travelled well. And they continued to travel well at Y-D. I also noted in the first game of the championship series that “Wareham’s bruisers in the middle are persistent.”
It is ironic that 2012 is the year of the homerun in the Cape League. But in the Big Leagues it is the year of the pitcher. As I sat in the Y-D stands for Game 1 of the championship series news trickled in over Twitter and Facebook that Felix Hernandez had just pitched a perfect game for the Seattle Mariners. In fact, Seattle has seen three no-hitters in their ballpark this season alone.
In the league where so many Major Leaguers play their summers, the opposite was true.
In an email exchange with the Cape League's statistician, Chris Thoms, I learned that the League is looking carefully at homerun totals. 'I'm just trying to get everything in one place so I can get a sense of game by game records as well as season records," Chris told CodBall.
One thing he is studying is the hunch that Y-D's ballpark produces "far more" homeruns than other Cape League fields.
"From our research from the past three seasons so far, that has proved to be entirely true," according to Thoms.
I did a little sleuthing to compare this season with last and found that team ERAs increased from 3.31 in 2011 to 4.25 in 2012. Team SLG is up from .337 in 2011 to .391 this season.
Get this: total homeruns in the league last season was 159. In 2012 total long-balls jumped to 384.
Is it the new ball purchased by the league as reported here before or is this a class of players that pre-sages a change a few years down the road from pitching to bashing?