The Cape Cod Baseball League (CCBL) released a two-word statement on April 22 that had local sports fans excited. It read, “We’re back.”
The league is returning to action this summer with all 10 teams playing the first games of the season on June 20.
“All the volunteers, all the league officers, everyone is just thrilled to be able to come back and play a full season,” said CCBL President Chuck Sturtevant.
When the league was forced to suspend its season in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was the first summer without Cape League baseball since 1945. Founded in 1885, the league has become the premier collegiate summer baseball program in the country.
Now a year of planning has yielded a set of Covid-19 protocols and a schedule that will run from June 20 through Aug. 4, with playoffs beginning on Aug. 6. There will be no All-Star game this season.
Included in the league’s health and safety protocols is that all players, coaches, interns, and other on-field personnel must be vaccinated before the beginning of the season.
Sturtevant said the league’s medical team, made up of Orleans Firebirds athletic trainer Michele Pavlu, orthopedic surgeon and Falmouth Commodores team doctor Donald O’Malley, and Falmouth team trainer Laura Murphy, is working with all the teams.
That work entails both “figuring out how to play,” Sturtevant said, and policies and procedures for players coming in. And, he noted, those will continue to evolve as federal and state mandates change.
An essential part of the Cape League’s success comes from community support in the form of host families. Residents invite players to live in their homes throughout the summer season, and the tradition is popular with families and players alike.
But this year, the league is still looking for host families to accommodate some players. At this end of the Cape, the Orleans Firebirds have five players on the roster who currently need a place to live. The Firebirds host the Harwich Mariners at 5:30 p.m. on opening night.
“We still need a few beds,” said the Firebirds’ housing coordinator, Nancy Nickerson. “We knew it might be difficult,” she said, but it’s been a little slower going than the team imagined.
Cindy Kuechle and her family, who are summer residents of Orleans, hosted Firebirds player David Stiehl in 2019.
“We took in a player for the summer, and it was just terrific,” Kuechle said of their experience. “Our daughter was eleven and she and this player had the nicest big brother-little sister relationship.”
Kuechle’s son, Ben, was abroad in Australia during that summer, so the summer ballplayer stayed in Ben’s room. When he returned, he wanted his family to host again in 2020, but they didn’t have a bedroom to spare.
The canceled season became a turning point for them. The Kuechles missed the games, but also the chance to host a player.
“We looked into renovating our basement and realized we couldn’t do it because our septic wasn’t big enough,” Cindy said. “Then my husband and I thought, ‘Maybe it’s time to look for a bigger house.’ ”
They now have a summer home with more space and two bunk beds, so they can host four Firebirds players this summer. Kuechle said baseball was not the only reason they decided to get a bigger house, but it was a factor.
“A large portion of why we chose a second home on the Cape is because of the baseball,” she said. “It’s so fun to always have a game at night when you can hang out at the field with your friends or travel to a different field and see another part of the Cape.”
In a normal year, there are hundreds of fans at each game. Just how big the crowds will be this year remains to be seen. A plan for fan attendance this season is still being developed as the state’s guidelines continue to change. The hope, Sturtevant said, is that by the beginning of the season each ballpark would be allowed to host up to 50 percent of its capacity, based on previous attendance records.
One of this summer’s Firebirds will be Marquis Grissom Jr., a freshman pitcher at Georgia Tech. His father, Marquis Sr., played professional baseball for 17 seasons and won a World Series with the Atlanta Braves. Marquis Jr. was the number-four ranked high school pitcher in the state of Georgia.
“I talked to my coach this year and he said, ‘We’re going to find you a summer team,’ ” Grissom said this week. “When he told me it was the Cape Cod League, I was very excited. I know it’s in a very nice environment and a lot of former MLB players and draft picks have played there.”
Not having a season last year meant players missed a chance to show their talents in front of pro scouts.
“I’m trying to make a statement for myself,” said Grissom. “I’ll be ready for the Cape.”
For updates on the CCBL season, visit capecodbaseball.org.