ORLEANS — If you saw a college kid driving around town in a yellow Jeep during the summers of 2014 or 2015, it might have been Bobby Dalbec, now a Boston Red Sox infielder.
Dalbec, who played for the Orleans Firebirds in the Cape Cod Baseball League (CCBL) in both seasons, reflected on his time on the Cape during a phone interview with the Independent last Thursday. He was preparing for batting practice before a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park.
“I had a great host family,” Dalbec, now 26, said of Paige and Rodie Thompson, the Orleans couple he stayed with. “It was a sick house, great roommates, all the good stuff. They had a yellow Jeep Wrangler and I would drive around town.”
Dalbec said he didn’t venture far into the Outer Cape towns, staying mostly around Orleans. But he said he did travel to the Cape Cod Mall on a few occasions.
The Thompsons had a permit that allowed Dalbec and his roommates to go off-roading with the Jeep onto the outer beach in Orleans and park at the ocean. Dalbec and his teammates didn’t have a lot of time for leisure activities, though, with games almost every day in the summer and practices and weight training mixed in.
During Dalbec’s first summer with the Firebirds, he played mainly third base in 35 games, hitting .228 with five home runs and 21 hits overall. He participated in the league’s home run derby and all-star game that year.
The following summer of 2015 was an even better season for Dalbec and the Firebirds. He had a batting average of .315 with 12 home runs, 30 RBIs, and 29 hits overall in only 27 games. He didn’t participate in the home run derby or all-star game that year because he left to play for Team USA. He did earn a spot on the CCBL All-League Team that year.
Playing for the University of Arizona Wildcats that year, Dalbec batted .319 with 15 home runs. With the Red Sox so far this year, he has 11 home runs and 40 RBIs but is hitting just .214.
The Firebirds had some talented players on the roster in both 2014 and 2015, but the latter team included some heavy hitters.
“We had a big squad,” Dalbec said. That team, finishing with a 31-12-1 record, included Bryan Reynolds, now an all-star outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates; Kyle Lewis, an outfielder for the Seattle Mariners; Oakland Athletics catcher Sean Murphy; and Willie Abreu, an outfielder currently with the Colorado Rockies organization.
“We had lots of guys that made the big leagues,” Dalbec said. “The coaching staff made it fun and really motivated us.”
Dalbec stands six-foot-four and weighs around 220 pounds. He grew up wanting to hit home runs and has always been a power hitter.
“I was watching Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera, David Ortiz, all those guys,” he said. “I always loved hitting the long ball.”
Former Firebirds hitting coach Benny Craig was a big influence on Dalbec while he was in Orleans, helping him with his swing on a daily basis.
“I continued to hit with him in the off seasons,” Dalbec said. “I still talk with him frequently. Working with him has helped me in my career.”
The work has made a difference. Dalbec hit a home run in his second career major league at bat with the Red Sox last summer. He hit his 11th home run of the 2021 season on July 31 — a 413-foot blast to center field at Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay.
Dalbec said he still talks with Kelly Nicholson as well, who has been the Orleans Firebirds manager for the last 20 years.
Nicholson recruited some more power hitters to the Firebirds this season; the team has been leading the CCBL in home runs. Dalbec continues to follow the Birds on social media. “I know they got a kid DeLauter who’s pretty good,” he said.
He’s talking about Chase DeLauter (James Madison U.), who’s currently tied for the league lead in home runs with nine. The player he’s tied with is his Firebirds teammate Tyler Locklear (Virginia Commonwealth U.).
“Whatever recruiting pipeline Kelly uses, it tends to bring some boppers,” Dalbec said.
Eldredge Park, the Firebirds home ballpark, includes left and right field corners that measure just over 300 feet, while dead center field is an intimidating 435 feet.
Dalbec remembers the field fondly — most of the Cape League fields, in fact.
“The environments are really cool,” he said. “You’re playing at these middle school back fields the whole time, but people want to win.”
The major leaguer attended Legend High School in Parker, Colo. before college in Arizona. His two summers on the Cape were an introduction to the Northeast. In 2016, he was selected by the Red Sox in the MLB draft. His salary this year is $575,000.
“It was cool,” Dalbec said. “I remember going to Sox games on off days, and now I leave tickets for some guys that I was with.” He recently left some tickets for Firebirds pitching coach Matt Troupe.
“It’s cool to be able to do that,” he said. “I’ve dreamed of being in that position.”