The latest in an ongoing series.
HARWICH — The voice of summer rolls over the white chalk lines, past the dirt diamond, and through the grassy berms where giggling children chase foul balls into trees.
It is clear and gentle. It does not play favorites. It loves only the game, the season, the place. Baseball, in the golden evenings of a Cape Cod summer.
For more than a decade, Elizabeth Layton has narrated games on breezy nights at idyllic Whitehouse Field in Harwich. She sits in a wood-shingled press box that hovers over the diamond like a crow’s nest.
“This is my happy place,” Layton said. “I love this.”
There are 10 teams in the Cape Cod Baseball League, which hosts America’s premier college players each summer for a season as rich in nostalgia as it is in elite competition. Layton, whose closest friends call her Biz, is the league’s only female public address announcer. She volunteers every year, calling home games for the Harwich Mariners.
In a position known for flamboyance, with bellowing baritones and silky smooth voices, Layton’s delivery is remarkably even-keeled. She announces each player without pretense, following a simple formula for clarity and balance: number, position, college, name.
“I try to speak slowly and enunciate,” said Layton, 37, a stay-at-home mom when she’s not at the field.
Before games, she runs through lineups with radio broadcasters for both teams, saying each name syllable-by-syllable. She jots phonetic notes in the margins.
“My biggest fear is that I’m going to pronounce somebody’s name wrong,” she said.
She admits she’s fumbled her “fair share” of names over the years, and sometimes a host parent — a person who houses players for the summer — will send a note up to the booth correcting her. But for the most part, she’s accurate.
Judy Walden Scarafile, president of the Cape Cod League, said Layton’s careful approach distinguishes her.
“It’s consistent, like [announcers] for the Red Sox,” Scarafile said.
Layton works hard to maintain a steady tone. Many fans are summer visitors without allegiances, she said. They look for pure baseball, not biased announcing.
She speaks without flash, never adding a trill or rolling R to any name. Sure, some monikers seem to demand a rollicking announcement, but for every Sal Annunziata or Angelo Amendolare, there’s a Joe McCarthy.
“You don’t want them to think that there’s favorites,” Layton said.
It takes a little more effort for her to hide her Mariners fandom late in close games. Sometimes, she said, she’ll pick an especially rousing pump-up song before the home team comes to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning.
One game last week, she tapped her iPod, turned a dial on the stereo receiver to her right, and blasted John Mellencamp’s “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” Just a small boost, that’s all. The Mariners were trailing by two. They ended up losing.
Layton is a Cape Cod League lifer, one of the many who have been around so long that Scarafile says “it’s in their blood.”
Layton grew up about a mile from Whitehouse Field, where she now lives two doors down from her parents. Her mother, Mary Henderson, is the Mariners team president. Her husband, Ben, is the general manager.
She can easily track her life through the league. At age 5, she was the precocious little girl awestruck by big ballplayers with dirt-stained uniforms staying at her family’s house.
In high school, she began announcing with the backing of her mother. In college, she told the players where to go for fun.
Then she got a little older, moved to North Carolina, worked for a minor league team and a professional hockey franchise until the Cape beckoned again. Now she’s the mother, calling players “the boys,” helping them with medical problems, rides, meals, and community service trips.
Home contests are a full family effort — Layton’s father, the only one without a clear team affiliation, baby-sits her children on game nights.
She and her husband are usually too busy in the press box for tagalongs, and they cherish their time together at the ballfield.
“Elizabeth and I have 22 date nights a year — the home games,” Ben Layton said.
Layton’s love for baseball is unconditional, but there’s no doubt the Mariners are a big part of that. Sometimes her body betrays her rooting interest.
“If you’re sitting next to me, I’m probably grabbing your arm and hitting you,” she said.
But her voice never quavers. She knows it’s an important part of the cadence of the game she loves.
The crack of the bat, the thwack of the mitt, chatter in the dugout, and the announcer’s call.
“As far as I’m concerned, you can’t play this game without a PA announcer,” said Scarafile, the league president.
And you can’t have summer in Harwich without Elizabeth Layton calling a Mariners game, perched with a microphone high above it all.