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Cape star Waldrip takes his place at Fenway

Waldrip competes as star of Cape League

By Nicole Auerbach
Globe Correspondent / July 30, 2011

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Most of Ben Waldrip’s previous experiences at Fenway Park involved a couple of bucks and a few friends - and not actually sitting down.

“Growing up, we never really had good seats,’’ said Waldrip, a Medford native. “We had standing-room tickets. I’d come with a couple friends, and we’d pay five dollars and walk around the park to watch a game.’’

Last night was a little different.

There as a member of the East Division team competing in the Cape Cod League’s annual All-Star Game, Waldrip played first base and batted fifth.

Waldrip’s mother, grandmother, and two brothers (who all live in Medford) attended the game, as did his father, who flew in from Arkansas. In front of a crowd of 7,007, the East defeated the West, 4-1, though Waldrip went hitless.

This summer, Waldrip has batted .269 with six home runs and 20 RBIs in 35 games for the Orleans Firebirds, which earned him the All-Star nod. At 6 feet 6 inches and 245 pounds, he’s one of the more imposing hitters in the top amateur baseball league in the country.

Back in June, the Kansas City Royals picked Waldrip in the 40th round of the draft. Confusion has surrounded whether or not Waldrip will sign with the organization and also the timing of his decision.

The Cape Cod Times originally reported that Waldrip would sign with the Royals immediately following the All-Star Game. On Wednesday, the newspaper quoted Waldrip saying that wasn’t the case and that he planned to wait until the Aug. 15 deadline to decide whether to sign or return to school for his senior season.

“There’s so much going on - things written here about me signing, me not signing,’’ Waldrip said. “It’s probably better to let that take its own path, because there were misunderstandings between myself and the Royals.

“I’d like to [sign] if we can reach an agreement.’’

Waldrip was drafted the year before by the Braves in the 42d round, but the sides couldn’t complete a deal, so Waldrip went back to school.

An issue during the negotiations was Waldrip’s thumb. He’d suffered an injury called gamekeeper’s thumb, which required surgery in October 2009. Last summer, he was still rehabbing and couldn’t play much to increase his value.

Waldrip said he is completely healthy now.

Waldrip’s trip from Medford High School to Fenway Park wasn’t linear, though the locations are a mere 7 miles apart. The journey featured year-long pit stops at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, Cypress College in southern California, and, most recently, Jacksonville State University in Arkansas.

“The one consistency was baseball,’’ Waldrip said. “That’s why I did it - to put myself in the best position possible to be seen by teams and play professional baseball.’’

In the summers, Waldrip has played locally. He spent two seasons in the New England Collegiate League and is spending this summer on Cape Cod. Though some hitters struggle initially in the wooden bat leagues, Waldrip hasn’t.

“He’s got more power now,’’ said East Division manager Scott Pickler, who also coached Waldrip at Cypress College. “He’s more consistent as a hitter. He’s the same personality, same kid, great teammate.’’

Those attributes lead Pickler to think positively about Waldrip’s future in the sport - and possibly eventually reaching the major leagues.

“He’s got a chance,’’ Pickler said. “He’s got the work ethic. He’s got the makeup. Everybody that’s ever coached him really liked him. People root for people like Ben Waldrip to move up.’’

If and when Waldrip signs with the Royals, the long journey to the majors will begin. Like his college career, it likely will be full of ups and downs and different locations.

But it, too, could end with games at Fenway Park.

Nicole Auerbach can be reached at nauerbach@globe.com.

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