HYANNIS — Dennis Colleran remembers attending his first Cape Cod Baseball League game when he was about 5 years old. Growing up, Colleran and his family made the trip down from their North Attleborough home to watch Cape League games countless times.
Now, his family makes that hour-and-a-half drive to watch Colleran play the teams he once idolized.
“I’ve wanted to be down here for a while,” Colleran, a pitcher for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks and Northeastern, said during pregame warmups at McKeon Park. “It’s pretty cool to finally get to play, and we have a great group of guys here. No matter winning or losing, it’s always a good time down here.”
Many baseball players growing up in Massachusetts, like Colleran, dream of becoming the next Aaron Judge (Brewster 2012) or Chris Sale (Y-D 2009) and taking their spots on the fields of the CCBL — often situated in their family vacation spots, and typically less than two hours from their hometowns.
This season, a number of Massachusetts natives — who also play for Northeastern — are slugging and striking their way around the Cape with a local flare that might just give them a leg up on the out-of-towners.
Colleran’s Northeastern teammate, Jake Gigliotti, is showcasing his skills with Cotuit. Gigliotti had not been to a Cape League game before playing in one, but he spent summers taking trips to the Cape and staying with friends.
“I think it’s a big local thing,” said Gigliotti, who grew up in Paxton and played at Wachusett Regional and the Winchendon School. “And I think that kind of adds to it. Everybody in the back of their mind wants to play in the Cape, you know, it’s not like someone’s like, ‘Oh, like I don’t really want to go.’ Everybody wants to play in the Cape.”
Being a local in the Cape League is somewhat of an oddity, given most players come from across the country. Having insider knowledge has turned the Northeastern crew into tour guides, chauffeurs, and teachers.
Danny Crossen grew up in Cotuit, a coastal town with a population of a little over 3,000. He’s enjoyed showing the newcomers around his hometown.
“It’s awesome. They’re kind of amazed by, like, what Cotuit is,” Crossen said. “It’s a lot different than what they’re used to and where they’re from. To hear what they come from, and then be able to kind of tell them what it’s been like growing up here, and kind of showing them around is unique, so it’s a lot of fun.”
Crossen, who just wrapped up his Northeastern career, returned home to be an assistant coach for the Kettleers this season. And he helped his college teammate Gigliotti get his big (Cape) break.
“I knew I was coming here to coach, and when I found out he didn’t have summer placement yet, I kind of reached out to them hoping that we had a spot,” Crossen said. “ … it worked out really well.”
Seeing Crossen as a coach has been fun for Gigliotti, who says Crossen still cheers like a player from the dugout, and it added an extra level of safety in the new environment.
“It made me feel more comfortable and made me adjust to this place a lot better and easier,” Gigliotti said.
Alex Lane also took advantage of his Northeastern teammates’ expertise. When he found out he’d be playing on the Cape, he talked to Cape League veterans Mike Sirota and Jordy Allard about what to expect.
“It makes it easier. You’re already with guys that you know,” said Lane, who is playing for Hyannis this summer. “But then you get down here and you meet guys from all over the country, like there’s guys from California, Texas, Florida. You become friends with them because you’re all kind of in the same boat.”
There are a few things that make the locals stand out, though. Having the ability to visit home whenever they want has drawn envy from their out-of-town teammates.
“I went home for a night over the all-star break and they were kind of like, ‘Wow, I couldn’t go home if I wanted to because I’m a plane ride away,’ ” Lane said.
When they want to avoid the bridge traffic, the Mass. natives spend time with their Northeastern teammates — going fishing, finding new places to eat, and catching up on the ballfield.
For Lane and Tyler MacGregor, the bond goes way back to St. John’s Prep, where they played together for three years. The childhood friends reunited at Northeastern last season as transfers.
“We hit at The Prep, like, a week before we went back to Northeastern,” MacGregor said. “We were both super excited to get back playing in the same jersey once again.”
Lane plays first base for Hyannis, and McGregor plays first for the Falmouth Commodores. The duo finds time to go fishing or grab dinner on off days.
“Baseball is a sport where your teammates are your brothers, and I mean, I’d say that for Alex, like one hundred percent,” MacGregor said.