In the Cape Cod League, it’s all wood

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Cape Cod League
Cape Cod League baseball and gorgeous sunsets go hand and hand. (R. Lincoln Harris)

If there’s a better place to be in the summertime than Cape Cod, I don’t know where it is. And if there’s anything that’s more summery than baseball, you’ll have to tell me what it is. So whenever you combine the best place to be with the best thing to do — during the best time of the year — you’ve really got something to celebrate. And that, in a nutshell, is the Cape Cod Baseball League.

Cape Cod springs to life around this time of year, in those few weeks between the Fourth of July and when the kids go back to school in August. There are no MLB-type cities here, and Boston is a few hours away for someone who needs a big-league fix. But there’s baseball on the Cape, too, and it’s played with nine men on a side, with four bases and a bat and a ball just like the game always has been. And the bat is possibly the real attraction of this league.

I was born in the late 1960s, in a world were the metal or aluminum bat had not yet been invented. But since I grew up and played baseball in the late 1970s, I only played the game with aluminum bats. Wooden bats break, and aluminum ones don’t. I saw the big leaguers using wood bats, but none of the games I ever played in involved that distinctive crack of the bat. I got used to the metallic ping, instead. Everyone my age did.

The big leaguers of the future — whether it’s a week from now or a decade from now — all grew up like I did, swinging aluminum bats. The big leaguers of the present all did this, too. So where do they make the transition from aluminum bats to real wood bats? Not in college, that’s for sure. Watching the College World Series is almost impossible sometimes, with all of the pinging going on. The better somebody hits the ball, the louder and more annoying the ping.

But the college kids who come to Cape Cod for the summer get to play with wood bats, perhaps for the first time in their lives. There are hundreds of Cape Cod alums now playing in the majors. And of the few dozen Orleans Firebirds or Chatham Anglers I saw on the field last night at Eldredge Park in Orleans, maybe a couple will make their way to the majors one day. But I promise you they’re all thrilled to be able to keep playing the game, at an age where most baseball careers have already been snuffed out.

I had a great time at the ballpark last night, at least until some birds decided to use me for target practice. And the sunset, which was only visible when I went back to the car to change my shirt, was nothing less than spectacular. If you find yourself at the Cape in the summertime, do not miss a sunset.

When one of the players for Orleans hit a triple and then scored a run after my return to the game, my first thought was that nobody’s fantasy team was affected in the least. And for a baseball enthusiast who doesn’t play fantasy baseball, that was a refreshing feeling.

The game of baseball sometimes gets subsumed by whatever happens in Boston or Cincinnati or Detroit or the other large cities that have MLB teams. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that the game itself is alive and well, being played by college kids in places like the Cape Cod League, on chilly summer nights just like the one coming up this evening.

May it always be so.

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