Andrew Chin threw the first pitch of the 2014 season on Wednesday for the Chatham Anglers. He may or may not throw another on the Cape.
The soft-tossing lefthander was the only player from Boston College to be chosen in last week’s Major League Baseball draft, where the Yankees selected him in the 15th round. The Newton native still headed to the Cape Cod Baseball League, where he debuted this week tossing four innings against Orleans, allowing one run on six hits. If he forgoes his final two years at The Heights and signs with the Yankees, then, like a handful of other players currently mulling a similar decision, he is leaving the Cape, just as the influx of seasonal visitors invade, and off to A ball.
Chin’s possible, fleeting appearance isn’t unusual in a league where some kids looking forward to a summer of playing baseball on the Cape are suddenly thrust in a decision-making process that could pave the roadway for their careers. It’s also indicative of much of the blink-and-it’s-gone nature of the Cape League in general.
Forty-four games. That’s all players have in order to impress scouts visiting the Cape League, the greatest amateur baseball league in the country. Forty-four games separate them from what is potentially their final summer of goofing off and their professional careers, whether it be in baseball or not. Their potential is on display for anyone willing to watch a baseball season that, much like the season itself, will be over before we’ve even had a chance to look at our laundry list of plans we were finally going to get to this summer.
The sound of wooden bats striking rawhide returned to Cape Cod this week, a local sign of summer more telling than the bleak weather, yet one to which most of us don’t lend as much as a wink. After all, they may be future stars, but the names are still unknown. At minimum, you’re a few years from being able to tout that you saw Geoff DeGroot way back when he was playing at Eldredge Park with the Orleans Firebirds.
I saw All-Star catcher Buster Posey play with Yarmouth-Dennis back in 2006. I can’t tell you a thing I remember about it.
While the Cape League’s Hall of Fame is populated with some of baseball’s most recognized names – Jason Varitek, Mark Teixeira, Billy Wagner, Ron Darling, etc. – the league is also littered with stories of broken dreams and realities of life that lay in waiting. But during the season, hope and potential define the season for the Cape League players, the crossroads of baseball as a career and baseball as merely an unfulfilled goal.
Of course, the dawn of any baseball season on the Cape reminds me of Jim Collins’ “The Last Best League,” a 2002 account of the Chatham A’s (as they were known before Major League Baseball put the greedy kibosh on the Cape League’s moniker odes to their professional predecessors) that ranks up there with the best baseball books ever written. While the book focuses on the summers of a trio of players (Jamie D’Antona, Thomas Pauly, and Tim Stauffer), it is indeed Stauffer and teammate Chris Ianetta who have undoubtedly enjoyed the most professional success, Stauffer as reliever with the San Diego Padres (he’s 28-34 with a career 3.92 ERA), and Ianetta, a native of Providence, R.I., with the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Angels (.235 career average, 88 home runs, .774 OPS). D’Antona, from Trumbull, Conn., was a second-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2003 draft, played in only 18 games at the major league level, picking up three hits in 17 at-bats in 2008. Pauly never made it past Class-A Sarasota after the Cincinnati Reds drafted the Princeton product in the second round the same year as D’Antona.
Colt Morton, Chad Orvella, and Greg Condon were the other names from that team to get a taste of the majors, a sure sign that, as respected a summer league as there is, even those playing on the Cape aren’t assured any level of success. Among the batting leaders that same season was Wareham’s David Murphy, now playing with Terry Francona in Cleveland. The Cape’s Outstanding Prospect Award in 2002 went to Wes Whisler, who pitched in three games with a 13.50 ERA for the Chicago White Sox in 2009. Red Sox lefty Andrew Miller (Chatham) won the honor in 2005.
Miller is one of a handful of Boston players with Cape League ties. Jackie Bradley, Jr. played for Hyannis from 2009-11. David Ross played with Brewster in 1996; Brandon Workman with Wareham from 2008-09. In 2014, Cotuit’s DC Arendas, from Greensboro, N.C., is hitting a robust .714. OK, it’s two games, but hitting .714 he is indeed. He could be the next Robin Ventura. He could be the next D’Antona.
It’s a popular notion that the minor leagues are where dreams are born, when in reality it is where they die. Dan Barry, author of “Bottom of the 33rd,” a fabulous account of the longest professional baseball game ever to be played, pointed out that in the first 100 years of professional baseball, only 12,000 men had realized their dream of playing in the majors, a number that’s more likely approaching 19,000 in 2014. That’s enough to just about fill Fenway Park.
Those are the odds a baseball player faces in his major league dream. For most, getting drafted is the pinnacle, the beginning of the end, which makes these summers on the Cape all the more valuable. The summer dream remains in bloom for at least one more month.
Chin may or may not be there by the time you make it a Cape game this summer. The likelihood is that you won’t recognize anybody else on the field either, not this weekend, and maybe not in five years.
But nowhere else this summer will you find such an optimistic side to baseball, which can ferociously eat its young. Not on the Cape. There, the dream lives, if only for a few more weeks’ time.