In the first round of this year’s Major League Baseball (MLB) draft, 35 percent of the players selected were alumni of the Cape Cod Baseball League (CCBL). June 13 would have marked the start of the CCBL season.
For a while it looked like there would be no MLB season, either. Commissioner Rob Manfred said early on he was confident the sport would return this summer. Then last week he switched his stance to “not confident.”
The players initially voted against the MLB’s 60-game season proposal. Players wanted their full salaries, while the league and team owners wanted to pay prorated salaries based on the number of games played. The normal length of the season is 162 games.
On June 24 the two sides suddenly came to an agreement. Players were scheduled to report for training on July 1, with the season starting on July 23 or 24.
I was introduced to the game mainly through the Cape League. I went to Brewster Whitecaps games with my family and friends and attended the morning youth clinics when the team used to play at Cape Cod Tech in Harwich. I learned the game, chased foul balls, ate hot dogs, and had my yearbook, or a baseball if I was lucky, signed at the end of the game. I still have most of the autographs.
One summer, after a game, one of the players grabbed a fresh bat and signed it. I still have it. Those experiences are what pull kids into the game. (I later interned for the Cape League in college).
But baseball doesn’t seem to connect with young people as it once did. Football and basketball have taken the cake.
“Football has taken hold — it took hold 20 years ago,” said Judy Scarafile, the first female president of the CCBL.
Baseball is slow. Young people want action. They want on-demand viewing experiences. They want everything right now. Baseball doesn’t provide that.
Baseball also doesn’t promote the sport or its stars well. College basketball and college football games get mainstream coverage throughout the year, while college baseball is barely shown on TV. NBA and NFL stars are in the forefront of pop culture, while baseball stars like Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, or Aaron Judge are unrecognizable to many.
Everybody should experience a trip to the ballpark. Kids visiting the Cape this summer won’t have that experience, and it doesn’t look like people will be able to attend MLB games this year, either.
Scarafile agreed with the decision to cancel the CCBL season, saying it would have been “impossible” to do. But she admitted that the cancellation, with no college baseball and a shortened MLB season, does not help.
“It’s bad for baseball and we will definitely lose fans,” Scarafile said.
Pro sports like hockey, basketball, football, and soccer have been working internally without many hiccups to come up with a plan to resume, while baseball took much longer.
“When you see someone like Bob Kraft out there helping with the pandemic day in and day out, and you turn around and you see the arguing with Major League Baseball, it doesn’t make any sense to me,” Scarafile said last week. “It’s very sad what is happening.”
Cape League fans won’t be the only ones missing out this season — players will also miss out on an experience of a lifetime.
“Playing in the Cape had a huge impact on me,” said Bobby Dalbec, a third baseman in the Boston Red Sox organization. Dalbec played for the Orleans Firebirds in 2015.
“Our hitting coach, Benny Craig, is still my main hitting mentor and someone who is family to me,” he said. “I think players will miss out on the whole experience — playing against top-tier competition and proving you can hit with a wood bat, to start.”
“You’re playing against the best college players from all over the country, not just in your conference,” said Brian Johnson, a pitcher in the Red Sox organization, who played for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in 2011.
“This year, players will be missing out on the great weather and the atmosphere with the fans; every game is packed with local people and scouts,” he added.
MLB attendance has been down in recent years. The sport has faced obstacles before, like the player strike in 1994-95 and the steroid era of the ’90s and early 2000s. But the game bounced back from that.
Maybe this season will be another bump in the road. Maybe it will have a lasting impact. I hope America’s Pastime doesn’t become a thing of the past.