BOURNE, Ma.--It is mid June and the gathering at Doran Park is intimate, mostly relatives, friends, and, significantly, gathered in a group in a set of bleachers directly behind home plate, a group of the old boys of summer, armed with pads and pens and jugs gun--which measure the speed of the pitches thrown by the assortment of talent that shows up each year to participate in the Cape Cod Summer League.
On this cool, beeezy night, it is the Harwich Mariners vs. the Bourne Braves, and while there are no guarantees on the field, there is a sense of history which has produced a litany of major league super stars ranging from Frank Thomas to Robin Ventura to Nomar Garciaparra.
For the Mariners, who have taken a relatively short bus ride down from Harwich, the legacy includes established major league stars such as Toronto's Josh Donaldson and former Cy Young Award winner Tim Linecum to a potential star in Kyler Murray, who is the projected starting quarterback at the University of Oklahoma, but who earlier this summer signed a $ 4.7 million dollar contract as a first round draft pick (No. 9) of the Oakland A's.
""It's absolutely great,'' said Harwich manager Steve Englert. ""You have the top talent in the country playing every night. It's a lot of fun especially when you have a great group of guys, it makes a joy to show up at the park every night.''
Englert has been having fun for the past 20 years in the Cape League, running the show as manager at Harwich since 2003. But the kid from Roslindale, which sits just outside of downtown Boston, has been the quintessential boy of summer every since he came out of Boston College almost 30 years ago. He has made pit stops as a coach or assistant coach at BC, Northeastern, Holy Cross, Richmond and VCU. This nomadic existence has been aided by his wife Lisa--who also came out of BC-- as she pursued a medical career and made various stops at prestige places such as Massachusetts General Hospital and Tufts Medical Center, before bringing her talents to Vanderbilt, where she is Chair of the Radiation Oncology Dept. of the prestigious Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.
While living in Nashville during the rest of the year, Englert spends his summers on the Cape, following his true passion.
What makes it both fun and challenging is the constantly changing nature of Cape Summer league baseball. Each summer creates new rosters with new faces, with aspirations of eventually winding up in The Show, AKA Major League Baseball, but at a much slower pace. Doran Park is also the home field for Upper Cape Technic al High School and has few creature comforts other than some steel bleachers and a few rest rooms.
""You have to be involved and you develop relationships with schools over the years,'' said Englert. ""And rely on scouts. I have a bunch of buddies that coach all over the country and help me out. But you rarely get to see a kid first so you have to rely on those you can trust. There are certain schools where you make a phone call and they call you right back and they know what type of player you want. You want a guy that is going to give you an honest effort every night and play hard for you and do the right thing and be a character kid.''
There was a time in the Cape League when players would come for the summer, find a family to sponser them, work a job and then play ball at night. That is still possible, but most of the 30 players from each of the league's 10 teams, focus on baseball, which means 6 games a week throughout the summer.
""We just try and make it fun,'' said Englert. ""And we tell them three things when they get here. Show up on time, pay attention to what we are telling you because we are trying to make you better and go out and compete every night. In return, we try and showcase their talent and get them better and make sure they have a fun experience. It's more laid back than the college season. Down here it's more of a pro ball atmosphere, all it is is baseball, so if they don't t try hard, they will hear it. They understand and I tell them, ""every thing that you do, somebody is watching you. Your pre game batting practice, how you respond after you strike out. Do not go crazy coming back to the dugout. Don't show any of that. Keep your poise.''
Englert's words are being absorbed by his players. ""It's a dream come true,'' says Harwich pitcher Andrew Misiaszek. who grew up in Long Island, came to Northeastern in Boston to play college baseball and is honing his skills in the Cape League. ""It's a dream come true. The history of the league is awesome.This is the best league to be in and hearing my teammates’ experience made me want to come here even more.''
In many ways each season is like the first day at a new school. Two weeks into the season and teammates were still introducing themselves to each other. "The first day I introduced myself and you sort of mesh right away,'' said Misiaszek, ""I thought it might take a week or so but the first couple of days I had a good relationship with the other pitchers.''
Harwich right fielder Chris Galland is a Boston area kid who just finished his freshman season at Boston College. "This is a blast,'' said Gallland, who became even closer to Misiaszek, after hitting a walk off home run, which provided Misiaszek with his first Cape League win. ""We have a great coach in Coach Steve and we are having a lot of fun. Playing in the Cape League is good. The ACC is good, but this is one tick above it. It's a little more relaxing playing every day.''
Rosters of Cape League teams are filled with players from all over the country. In the game between Harwich and Bourne, players from UCLA, Louisville, North Carolina State, Iowa and Arizona State displayed their talents.
Although the atmosphere is casual, fans in lawn chairs, sausage and burgers and hot dogs on the grill and the lack of the glitter of high class leagues, the quality of the play is high. And, with the influx of higher bonuses, the stakes are also elevated. Players know they are being watched, although no one really knows who will be tomorrow's super star.
""That's the coolest thing about being here,'' said Englert. ""Watching these kids climb the ladder and get up there to The Show. It's really cool, when you see those kids, when you see them in that uniform.''