Friday, December 17, 2010

SMALLS TALK: Summer Leagues- Cape Still Cream of the Crop?

When it comes to collegiate baseball summer leagues, there's the Cape, and then there's the rest. The Cape Cod Baseball League annually attracts the nations top talent, and as a result draws Major League Baseball's most intrigued scouts. Every game is an All-Star game, and summers on the Cape can literally make or break you as a professional prospect. But why? There are countless summer wood-bat leagues spread throughout our nation- what's the Cape got that these other leagues don't? Well, a lot.

First off, the league is played at a location where most people vacation. These are beach towns that are hoppin' in the summer. They're jam-packed with bikini-clad girls, great restaurants, and adoring baseball fans- and what does the town do every night? Show up in mobs to support their boys on the diamond.

Once the players arrive on the Cape, games start in mid-june and the regular season ends first week in August. You make the championship? You're done August 13th. Last year the Northwoods League regular season didn't end until August 14th, and that's after a June 1st start date. The Northwoods is a league that's on the rise in attracting talent, considered by many to be "second to the Cape," maybe even "1A" in the eyes of some- but it will never be the Cape.

The Northwoods, like many other leagues, does its best to emulate the minor league experience. I played in both the Northwoods and the Cape and I can tell you there's no comparison. Sure they're very similar with regard to talent level, and the Northwoods even draws higher attendance numbers than the Cape, but the CCBL will always be tops. Ask most players in the Northwoods if they want to finish their summer on the Cape and they'd be on their way to the airport before you finish the question. 

Northwoods can compete on the diamond, but it's the experience that separates the two: the 70-game seasons, the 12-hour bus rides, the middle-of-nowhere towns- it's basically a summer internship in the minor leagues and what these leagues don't realize as they advertise this taste of life in the pros is that minor league life sucks. Small, shitty towns? Staying cooped up inside all day to keep away from weirdo meth-heads roaming the streets? Long ass bus rides? Games every single day? Unless there's the hope of getting called up, unless there's that MLB dream dangling in the balance, why would a star college player sign up for 70 games in addition to the 60+ he just played at school? This is college.

Same can be said about the Alaska League, the Prospect League, the NECBL, and countless others. The talent is there, but it's the experience. On the Cape you play at high school fields and fans bring lawn chairs to set up down the baselines. You're longest drive is 45-minutes down the road and you carpool to get there. It's high school ball all over again- it reminds you of a simpler time and no one questions it or complains because of all the greats who played on those fields and drove those roads before them.

The tradition of talent on the Cape is amazing, and it's resoundingly upheld by today's generation as 250 league alums were chosen in the 2010 MLB draft- is that even possible? One in every four college players selected in the draft had played in the Cape Leage at some point- I mean that's just plain silly.

Other leagues attract great talent, but the nation's top talent will always flock to the Cape because of the overall experience. Shorter schedule, beautiful beach towns, easy travel. These are all the factors that ultimately result in the country's highest level of competition, bleachers flooded with scouts, and big crowds of fans on a nightly basis. And oh yeah, the league's All-Star game is played at Fenway Park; tell me that's not a thrill for a 20-year old kid.

It's not the minor league experience players are after; they'll have to deal with that when the time comes. They're in college, they just played a grueling schedule- they want to play good baseball but it's the summer: they want to have fun.

Book Shoutout: The Last Best League by Jim Collins
(Great inside look at what a summer playing on the Cape is really like- far more accurate and enjoyable than watching "Summer Catch")

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