28 July, 2004

All-Stars Savor the Experience, Hope to Return to Fenway

     In a league made up entirely of star-caliber players, being selected as an "all-star" in the Cape Cod Baseball League is an honor that goes beyond the typical select team standards. It is, as those most familiar with the CCBL state, another important step up the ladder from amateur ballplayer to Major League prospect.

Bourne’s Austin Easley showcases his swing en route to hitting nine home runs and winning the homer hitting contest before Saturday’s Cape Cod Baseball League All-Star game in Orleans.
Staff photo by Merrily Lunsford / 2004

     "The only thing that compares with this is having an opportunity to play in Major League Baseball," said Cotuit skipper Mike Roberts, a man who has enjoyed the CCBL all-star experience as a coach and as a hopeful parent. Roberts' son, Brian, a 1998 all-star selection while with the Chatham A's, went from a summer on the Cape to being a first-round pick with the Baltimore Orioles. 

     "Brian is the first to tell you that his best summer was the one he spent in Chatham," said the manager, whose genuine affection for the CCBL has made him a natural ambassador of the league. "The all-star game in itself is so important, but going to Fenway as a team, it's just one of those days that they will never forget. There's an aura about it that you can't find anyplace else." Close to 200 former Cape League all-stars played in the Major Leagues last year. 

     "You never know who it's going to be," said Falmouth head coach Jeff Trundy, who couldn't begin to hide his excitement for the 2004 crop of all-stars and their potential for future success in the game. "When they hear the names of some of the past players who have played in this game, they know they have a chance to have their name remembered as someone who was here. They're looking at this as a great chance to go against the best. They want to get the show on the road and do what they're so comfortable doing." 

     Players were selected the Monday before the Saturday match-up - won 13-0 by the East - with the league's 10 field managers gathering for the selection process. Wednesday, the honorees joined dignitaries from each franchise by being whisked to Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox take on the Orioles. Cape League games were played around the region the nights leading to the main event, giving players a few more chances to wow the onlookers. 

Bourne’s Mike Madsen, who had been touched for only two runs all season, was roughed up for four runs in the first inning during Saturday’s Cape Cod Baseball League All-Star game in Orleans.
Staff photo by Merrily Lunsford / 2004

     "You have the college all-star level but then when you're in the best non-professional league and you have 200 scouts here, it's a really big deal," said Mr. Baseball, Peter Gammons, of ESPN. "It's like the door that you open when you head into professional baseball." 

     Gammons cited the league's excellence in making the all-star week a scouting emporium. "They do a great job," he said. "Judy [Scarafile] does an unbelievable job of helping the kids in this league so much. She's one of the great people in baseball. The scouts appreciate the relationship as does Major League Baseball." 

     Saturday, the 44 all-stars assembled at Eldredge Park to experience what players like Brian Roberts and so many of his MLB counterparts have encountered over the years. From Albert Belle to Nomar Garciaparra, Darin Erstad to Barry Zito, Lance Berkman to Jason Varitek. Under threatening skies all day, the day's events weren't once overshadowed by the weather. Nor was the experience for the hot-handed players. 

     "This experience has been everything I thought it would be and more," said Matt Antonelli, out of Peabody and Wake Forest. "I wasn't quite sure what this first year of Cape League baseball would bring," said Falmouth Commodore's fleet-footed third baseman. Just being on the Falmouth roster was an honor in itself, said the sophomore-to-be, but now his all-star accolade has quickly jumped to the top of his list of achievements. 

     "Being able to play on the Cape was the highest honor before this happened," Antonelli said after taking batting practice with his West squad teammates. The waiting game from 10 a.m. to the first pitch ceremonies at 6 p.m. seemed a bit nerve-wracking, as the third baseman was just ready to play ball. The horde of fans was a bit imposing, too. "I don't know if I've seen a line like this before," he noted, pointing to the autograph-seekers who assembled behind the West dugout. 

     Y-D slugger Matt LaPorta was similarly impressed. Between finding out about the honor, making the trip to Fenway and circling around Ted Williams' outfield spot, the players returned to the Cape to find an entourage of scouts behind the backstop. 

     "Fenway was awesome," said LaPorta. " I've never been to Boston, so to go out there, you feel like all of these great baseball players are around you. It was amazing. 

     "I'm just going to try to stay within myself and play the game hard," he explained. LaPorta's family traveled up to the Cape last week, regardless of his all-star selection. "Their timing was pretty good," he conceded. 

     "Coming in the all-star game was highlighted on my calendar," said Falmouth's Dan Carte. "Definitely, it was something I wanted to be able to achieve. This is a great opportunity with so many scouts here. It's a big, big honor to be an all-star up here," said the leftfielder, who says he will undoubtedly display his CCBL all-star cap in a place of honor. 

     Gammons noted that there are "great players" in the CCBL who didn't gain entry into the marquee event this year, but for those who did, stay tuned. "There's a history of really great players who have played in this all-star game. These guys know they're on their way." 

By Silene Gordon