Once the collegiate season comes to a close in Omaha, many players scamper up to Massachusetts to play in front of hoards of major league scouts in the premier summer league in the country. Ten towns scattered across the peninsula make baseball truly a part of the summer fabric, as the Cape Cod Baseball League attracts the top college talent in the nation. Those college players with eligibility all have one goal: they want to impress pro scouts. It's the MLB version of the Nike All-American summer camps in basketball. If you're not on the national map and you want to get noticed, you head to the Northeast and play in this league. It can make or break your career. The biggest positive - or drawback, depending on how you look at it - is the use of wooden bats. Aluminum is the standard in college but not on the Cape, so pro scouts converge like ants on a picnic basket to see who can cut it with a tree in their hands instead of metal.
It's probably the biggest stage for a college kid looking to make an impression. Think I'm kidding? A total of 212 former Cape Leaguers are currently performing in the major leagues, including former Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito (Wareham, 1997-98), former MVP Frank Thomas (Orleans, 1988), former American League batting champion Nomar Garciaparra (Orleans, 1993), current Red Sox captain Jason Varitek (Hyannis, 1991, 1993), 2007 World Series MVP Mike Lowell (Chatham, 1994) and Boston rookie phenoms Jacoby Ellsbury (Falmouth, 2004) and Justin Masterson (Wareham 2005-06). Here's a look at what's going on as they approach the midway point of the season:
Boston College Junior Tony Sanchez has earned CCBL Player of the Week honors. Sanchez hit his first two home runs of the season - both grand slams - to earn the accolade for the week ending July 6. The 6-foot, 220-pound catcher connected for his first grand slam with one out in the fifth inning to break open what had been a close game as Yarmouth-Dennis went on to blank Orleans 5-0 on June 29. Four nights later, Sanchez's first-inning blast with three aboard got the Red Sox off and running as they cruised past Bourne 10-6. Sanchez is hitting .308 with 12 RBI in 13 games for Y-D. He hit .313 during BC's 2008 season and led the Eagles in most major offensive categories, including hits (66), RBI (45), total bases (109) and home runs (9).
University of North Carolina All-Americas Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager are off to sizzling starts in the Cape Cod League after the Tar Heels' second straight appearance in the College World Series delayed their arrivals. Since making their debuts July 1, both are batting better than .400 through six games. Ackley, who is hitting in the middle of the order and playing in the outfield for the Harwich Mariners, is batting .450 with nine hits and nine walks in just six games for a .621 on-base percentage. He had three hits against Orleans July 6. The junior-to-be has a hit in all six games for Harwich after hitting safely in his final 13 games of the season for the Tar Heels. Meanwhile, Seager is batting third and playing second base for the Chatham A's. He's hitting .400 with 10 hits, including two doubles, and has already posted two three-hit games. Ackley is making his wooden bat debut, while Seager is playing his second season in Chatham.
In other summer league news, right-hander Bryant Gaines has been dominant on the mound for the Wilmington Sharks of the Coastal Plain League, which features teams in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. In six starts, he is 3-2 with a 1.41 ERA in 44 2/3 innings. He has struck out 26 and walked 11 while holding opponents to a .194 average. Elsewhere in the CPL, lefty Brian Moran has made one start for the Wilson Tobs and struck out six and allowed just one unearned run in seven innings.
Former UCLA star Jackie Robinson was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame on Thursday, July 3, as one of three Vintage-Era inductees in the 2008 Hall of Fame Class. Robinson, UCLA's first four-sport letterwinner, played baseball for the Bruins in 1940 after having played two seasons for Pasadena Junior College. Owen Carroll, a pitcher at Holy Cross and coach at Seton Hall, and William J. "Billy" Disch of Sacred Heart College joined Robinson as the other two Vintage-Era inductees.
Robinson became the first African-American to play in the major leagues when he made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. In two seasons at Pasadena Junior College, he posted a .417 batting average, totaling 43 runs and 25 stolen bases in 24 games. At UCLA, he became the school's first four-sport letterwinner, competing for the football, basketball, baseball and track and field teams.
The College Baseball Hall of Fame also inducted nine former college baseball standouts - Steve Arlin (pitcher, Ohio State), Eddie Bane (pitcher, Arizona State), Floyd Bannister (pitcher, Arizona State), Neal Heaton (pitcher, Miami), Burt Hooton (pitcher, Texas), Richard Howser (shortstop and coach, Florida State), Ben McDonald (pitcher, Louisiana State), Greg Swindell (pitcher, Texas) and Gary Ward (coach, Oklahoma State and New Mexico State).
To be eligible for the College Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, players must have completed one year of competition at a four-year institution and made an All-America team (post-1947) or an All-League team (pre-1947) and or/earned verifiable national acclaim. Ballot-eligible coaches must have achieved 300 wins or won at least 65 percent of their games.