16 June, 2005

Play Ball !

"I've been here seven years and it's getting better every year," says Yarmouth-Dennis field manager Scott Pickler, who led the Y-D Red Sox to the Cape Cod Baseball League Championship last season. 

"Coaching Heaven" is how Orleans Cardinals field manager Kelly Nicholson describes his last four years with the league. 

Yarmouth-Dennis' Frank Curreri gets tagged out at home in last year's championship game against Falmouth. The Red Sox won in extra innings.

File photo by Merrily Lunsford 

"You never practice, and you don't have to deal with parents," says Nicholson, who coached high school baseball and taught math for 11 years at Loyola High School before becoming pitching coach at Loyola Marymount College. 

"It is the best amateur baseball league, both playing and coaching, in the world," says Cotuit Kettleers field manager Dave Roberts. 

College players from all over the country come to play baseball for one or two glorious summers on Cape Cod. 

It is a chance to live out their dreams of being recruited by major league scouts or simply to get a chance to play high quality baseball with some of the best college coaches in the nation. 

It is a showcase for some of the best amateur baseball anywhere, and today's opening day match-up between the defending champion Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox and the Hyannis Mets, who finished second in the Western Division last season to earn a playoff spot, is a fitting way to start the season. 

"This is a good rivalry," says Y-D president Bob Mayo. "It's the next town over so we get good crowds when they come here and when we play over there. It's a good natured rivalry." 

Most teams are facing the same problem with uncertain rosters due to players still playing in the College World Series and others trying out for Team USA. 

"The good news is that we have five players returning from last year's team," says Pickler. "The bad news is that none of them are here yet [Sunday]." 

That doesn't give managers much time to figure out who is going to play what position or who will bat where in the lineup. 

"I have no idea how we will be this year," says Hyannis Mets field manager Greg King. "On paper we look good, but we might lose three guys to Team USA." 

Although Pickler has led the Red Sox to the league playoffs for three of the last four seasons, and won the league championship last year, he is facing the same problem. 

Adam Davis, a shortstop/outfielder from the University of Florida, has not yet arrived to the Cape as he waits to see if he will be selected for Team USA. 

The five returning players from last year's championship team are outfielder Jimmy Rappaport and pitcher Blake Holler of Stanford, outfielder Nick Moresi from Fresno State and pitchers Brad Morrow and Cory Van Allen from the University of California-Berkley and Baylor, respectively. 

At this point a number of temporary players - Mike Loree, a pitcher from Villanova, Paul Mogan, an infielder from Williams College, infielder Sean Riley from Eckerd College, outfielder Max Vigliotti from Stonehill College, and Eric Larson , an outfielder from Brown - will fill in. 

The Mets will look to Shane Robinson, an outfielder from Florida State, Mike Baxter an outfielder from Vanderbilt, Chris Johnson an infielder from Stetson College, and Kyle McCullough a pitcher from Texas. 

Robinson, says King, "was one of the top players in the country this year. He led the nation in almost every offensive category." 

And Johnson was also one of the top hitters in the country last year. 

But Robinson and McCullough, like Y-D's Davis, may end up playing for Team USA. 

"For the first game, I don't know, we're still waiting. We might have some temporary guys. We might be playing some guys out of position," says King. 

Pickler says early success all depends on how quickly the team can begin to play together. He says it usually takes about two weeks before things begin to fall into place. 

"It might take one game; it might take five games," says King. 

Pitching and defense will be the key to the early season games. 

King says that while the players might take time to adjust to the wooden bats, it is the high quality of pitching that is crucial to games all season long. 

"You face good pitching on a daily basis here," says King. "In the regular season you might get the No. 1 or No. 2 pitcher and that's all. Here, you face the No. 1 and No. 2 every day." 

King expects Y-D to be disciplined and well-coached. "They'll play a lot of small ball, bunting squeeze, hit and run." 

Pickler hopes to be able to get "a mix of power and speed. I hope that's what I get. 

"Hyannis is always tough. They'll throw their best guy at us," says Pickler. "The arm is usually ahead of the hitter at the first game of the season. There will be a lot of close games, low scoring games, one-run games."

By George Kostinas