The Cape Cod League Has Changed the Face of Baseball

Baseball legends like former Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas spent time in the Cape Cod League to hone their craft, and make the major leagues. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Baseball, unlike most North American sports, is one where in order to succeed and make it in the pros, you must pay your dues.

In college basketball, athletes only need to play one season before the option to declare for the draft. On the other hand, superstars like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Lebron James are just a few examples of high school prodigies who opted to forgo college altogether.

In college football, more and more athletes are declaring for the draft as underclassmen. With the National Football League’s wage scale, the big bucks are made on a player’s second contract, not the first. The sooner an athlete enters the league, the sooner he gets his payday. Furthermore, the NFL is drawn to youth, so the younger the athlete, the better chance they have of being picked.

Unlike the NBA and NFL, Major League Baseball is less focused on the age of their athletes and take their time when crafting young talent. 

The Cape Cod Baseball League was established in 1885 in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It is a collegiate summer league where some of the best ballplayers in the country come to play and prepare themselves for the upcoming college season and possibility of an MLB career. The league itself is invite-only, meaning only a select few players from around the country are chosen to fill the rosters of the 10 teams throughout the Cape. During the summer, players live in the homes of volunteers who open their doors for the ballplayers.

There are a couple of things that make this league so unique and highly regarded by scouts. First, the league is one of the only summer leagues that uses wooden bats as opposed to aluminum. This helps prepare star collegiate hitters for the big leagues.

Secondly, the fact that the league is invite-only narrows the competition to the best of the best;  if players are successful in this league there is a good chance of success moving forward as well.

In 2010 Kolten Wong won the CCBL MVP award with the Orleans Firebirds. He hit .346 racking in 46 hits and 22 stolen bases. The second baseman also made just four errors in 145 chances for a .972 fielding percentage. In his first full MLB season in 2014, Wong finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Jacob deGrom and Billy Hamilton.

There are many other notable alumni currently active in the MLB such as Matt Duffy, Marcus Stroman, Jacoby Ellsbury, J.A. Happ, Dallas Keuchel, Evan Longoria, Matt Harvey, Aaron Nola, Kyle Schwarber, Jake Lamb, Jason Kipnis, DJ LeMahieu, Tim Lincecum and Aaron Judge, just to name a few.

Thousands of CCBL alumni from the past have had major impacts on Major League Baseball as well like Mark Teixeira, Carlton Fisk, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas. As of 2017, 306 CCBL alumni were active in the MLB.

Unlike football and basketball, baseball prepares their athletes for success early in their careers through these summer leagues and minor league ball.

Not only do baseball players need to play college and summer ball to get recognized by scouts, but once they are noticed, their work is far from over. Unlike other sports where players can jump right to the pros, baseball players need to pay their dues in college and through the minor league system. Depending on how highly regarded a player is, they will be placed in A, AA, or AAA minor league ball (A being the lowest and AAA being the highest level).

However, the Cape Cod Baseball League prepares young ballplayers for the MLB unlike any minor league or college experience. These players are sent off to the Cape, usually alone and without their college teammates. They must respect the home of the volunteers they live with and can’t be out all night partying as a result. These athletes do not have the comfort of their college campus and need to be responsible in order to stay in the league.

Back in the summer of 2011 after an Orleans Firebirds game, I went onto the field where the players were signing autographs and interacting with the kids. One standout that summer was Marcus Stroman because of his tiny stature and 95 MPH fastball. After searching for a bit, I asked one of the players where Marcus was. He told me “he made some dumb decisions and isn’t here anymore.” The Cape Cod league has some very strict regulations and if you break any of the rules, you’re gone.

Obviously, the Cape Cod league knows what they are doing and what prospective MLB players need to experience to be successful. Stroman is now the ace of the Toronto Blue Jays and the aforementioned Wong is the St. Louis Cardinals starting second baseman.

The Cape Cod League is one of a kind, and truly a treat for any baseball fan. It’s so much fun to watch these kids knowing that there is a very good chance they could be the next Aaron Judge or Dallas Keuchel. If you’re a baseball fan and are ever in the Cape Cod area between May and July, you must stop by and see “where the stars of tomorrow shine tonight.”