11 August, 2005

Ivies climbing tall wall

Think Ivy League and the image is usually that of the buttoned-up intellect who looks more at home with a Brooks Brothers suit than a Brooks Robinson glove.

Lance Salsgiver, a soon-to-be Harvard senior, hopes to change that perception.

Playing centerfield for the Wareham Gatemen the last two seasons, Salsgiver was chosen for the 2005 Cape League All-Star team thanks to the big bat and swiftness that he brought to the Cape this summer. With the all-star recognition now on his baseball resume, Salsgiver is catching the eye of scouts more accustomed to California than in Cambridge.

"We definitely have something to prove here," said Salsgiver, who, along with Harvard and Wareham teammate Shawn Haviland and Cotuit's Devin Thomas from Brown, are hoping to leave a trail of Ivy on the Cape.

Salsgiver is humbled by his opportunity to play in the CCBL alongside the top names in the country, and the all-star nod really floored him. Yet he knows he can play and he's intent on showcasing his abilities. If he can blaze a trail for other Ivy League players, that's a big bonus.

"I was very excited about being chosen as an all-star, but I don't know if I was as excited as my Dad. It's such a rarity to see Ivy League guys here, so to be chosen, that was incredible," he said. "People think Ivy League players are pretty smart and can play a little baseball. If we have some success, that's an eye-opener to them, and to the scouts."

Last year, eight Ivy League players were drafted by Major League teams. Zak Farkes, another Harvard and Wareham product, was one of them, attracting the attention of the Red Sox.

While players hailing from the Ivies don't get the looks that the players down south and out west might get, once here, they tend to stick around.

Thomas, Cotuit's backup catcher, came to the Cape full-time after impressing Kettleers management at the open tryouts in June. A switch-hitter, Thomas filled in regularly and had two homers to his Cape credit.

A Florida native and a history/anthropology major, Thomas said that choosing Brown over a better-known baseball entity was never an option, yet he was committed to keeping his options open for pro ball.

"The goal all along was to take care of academics," said Thomas, "but I also wanted some opportunities to play with good players. I had some opportunities to play in other summer leagues, but I wanted to try myself out against the best in the country so I came to the Cape."

While Thomas said the perception of Ivy League players is changing as more get drafted, he envisions it evolving even more as the caliber of Ivy players increases. "The players here are definitely impressive but I've played against guys in the Ivy League who could definitely play here."

Haviland knew last fall that he would be spending the summer on the Cape. When Wareham GM John Wylde made an appearance at a Crimson practice, Haviland put on his best show and walked away with a summer contract. "I was throwing pretty well. Mr. [general manager John] Wylde came down and decided I could pitch up here. You don't say no to the Cape," Haviland said.

A sophomore who hopes to ride out the baseball bandwagon for as long as he can, Haviland said, "The league is what I expected it would be. A ton of talent on every team. I had to focus more than I did in the Ivy League and in high school."

Haviland said he's going back to Harvard with more experience as well as a new pitch because of the CCBL. "I've been able to smooth out my mechanics and I've developed my change-up," he said.

The players acknowledge that their reason for going to Ivy League schools was to get a superior education while competing at a high standard athletically. The Ivy Leaguers-turned-Cape Leaguers proved you can have it all.

A government major, Haviland said, "Plan A is to ride out the baseball career as long as it goes. If I have to decision on a Plan B, the doors will still be open." 

Said Salsgiver, who grew up on a deer and elk farm in Michigan, "School is very important, but so is taking advantage of the opportunity to possibly play pro ball. If someone picked me up, I'd like to put a clause in the contract to allow me to finish school, even if it was a little later than originally planned."

By Silene Gordon/ sgordon@cnc.com