The boys of summer will not be coming to the Cape this year. The Cape Cod Baseball League (CCBL) canceled its 2020 season on April 24. The news, though expected, was a dagger to the heart for many involved.
“There’s so many things that everybody’s going to miss,” said Kelly Nicholson, coach of the Orleans Firebirds for the last 15 years. Nicholson, who lives in Southern California, said the league’s general managers voted 6-4 the day before the announcement in favor of cancellation.
“It just seemed like there were way too many obstacles to overcome,” Nicholson said. “It was disappointing but wasn’t surprising. I agree 100 percent with what they did. The next day it started to sink in — I’m not sure what we’re going to do this summer.”
The nonprofit Cape League, founded in 1885, has become the premier collegiate summer baseball program in the country. The last time the Cape went without a CCBL summer season was 1945.
A lot of people will miss the season — coaches, players, broadcasters, volunteers, scouts, interns, fans, host families, bat kids, youth clinic attendees, and local businesses.
“Everybody loses,” Nicholson said.
Mike Vasil is a sophomore at the University of Virginia who was going to be pitching for the Firebirds this summer. He had a month-long stint with the team last summer but was planning on playing the entire season this year.
“My initial reaction was, obviously, this is terrible,” Vasil said. “But this is just a situation in the world right now that goes beyond baseball.”
Vasil, from Wellesley, was named the 2017 Mass. High School Player of the Year. Growing up, he traveled to the Cape to watch the games in the summer and was excited to transition from being a fan to becoming a player in the league.
Vasil is unsure, like many other students, whether he’ll be able to return to his college campus in the fall. He said this amount of time off from pitching to batters regularly could have an effect on his game.
“We’ve all been playing summer ball from six or seven years old,” he said.
Players come to the CCBL from across the country and traditionally stay with local families from early June to early August. Players on the Firebirds’ 2020 roster came from California, Florida, Kansas, Texas, Kentucky, and other states.
Steve and Amy Kaser live in Orleans with their twin 12-year-olds, Wesley and Laura. The Kasers have been a host family for the Firebirds for the last few years.
“You get these incredible guys,” Amy Kaser said. “They’re not here to party, they’re here to work hard on their careers.” She said hosting players has taught her son and daughter lessons in discipline and integrity — both children have participated in the Firebirds’ weekly baseball clinic.
The Kasers agree with the Cape League’s decision but are disappointed. “It’s going to sink in at the end of June,” Steve Kaser said. “When you drive by in late June or July and there’s no lights on the field — it’s going to be weird.”
One of every six Major League Baseball players played in the CCBL, according to capecodbaseballleague.org. Recent alumni include Boston Red Sox pitcher and World Series Champion Chris Sale and New York Yankees home run specialist Aaron Judge.
The nostalgic, old-timey baseball feel that the Cape League has makes it unique. The parks are like backyard fields, the players use wooden bats, the games are free, and everyone is there to enjoy the game in its purest form.
“There are very few pure things that are left right now,” Steve Kaser said. “The Cape League brings back that pure sense.”
“The impact the Cape has on the draft is significant — those scouts weigh those 60 days heavily,” Nicholson said. “I’ve had some [former players] say that the summer they had on the Cape was the best summer they ever had playing baseball.”
Some players may have the opportunity to play next year, while others will miss out. Either way, everyone will wait for 2021.
“It can’t get here soon enough,” Nicholson said.