The menu for a perfect summer day on Cape Cod — after taming traffic at the bridges — is chock-full of opportunities, but here’s a rest-and-relaxation recipe that’s hard to beat: warm sun, soft beach breezes mixed with sand dunes and seashells; add in a fried clam roll (whole bellies, of course) with ice cream (topped with sprinkles).
And then finish it all off with a heaping helping of baseball.
The nationally recognized Cape Cod Baseball League is a staple of the summertime season on the Cape. The best collegiate players in the country preen and prance nightly before Major League scouts, and gems emerge from diamonds.
The league’s slogan — “Where the stars of tomorrow shine tonight” — is more than a catchphrase. In 2018 there were 303 alumni on MLB rosters and the current Boston Red Sox roster includes Cape League grads Chris Sale, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mitch Moreland, Steve Pearce, Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman, Steven Wright, and Brian Johnson.
Earlier this summer, the annual Major League amateur draft featured catcher Adley Rutschman as the No. 1 overall selection. He polished his skills in Falmouth in 2017. Overall, 13 former Cape Leaguers were chosen in the first round. In a few short years many of them could join Chicago Cubs MVP Kris Bryant (Chatham 2011) and New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge (Brewster 2012) as big league stars.
The Cape League traces its roots to the 19th century. A poster in the archives of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., promotes a game on July 4, 1885. The modern day league began in the mid-1960s with the influx of college players.
Through mid-August, an idyllic Norman Rockwell scene springs to life on emerald lawns. This is baseball where the grass is real and the price is right. There’s no admission to the games. Uniformed players wander among the fans with batting helmets requesting donations. There’s ample seating in the up close and cozy bleachers, behind home plate, or beyond outfield fences.
The 10 franchises are spread less than 50 miles apart, from Wareham to Orleans. Three of the teams — Cotuit, Yarmouth-Dennis, and Brewster — play twilight games beginning at 5 p.m. The other fields are under the lights, so it’s easy to catch parts of three, perhaps even four games in one day, and still have time to stop for saltwater taffy.
So let’s go to the ballpark! Pack a blanket (to ward off an evening chill) and a folding chair (for a prime backstop location) and sample a day of hardball heaven in the Cape League.
Cotuit, 5 p.m. opening pitch — Our first stop is Lowell Park, home of the Kettleers. Quaint Cotuit is one of seven villages in the town of Barnstable and according to legend, more than 300 years ago Native Americans bartered with early settlers for the current land. Terms of the sale included a brass kettle, thus the nickname Kettleers.
Cotuit is among the Cape League’s showcase franchises, a 16-time champion supported by passionate fans who arrive early, filling a small lot and streets leading to the park. The field is carved out of a forest and insulated from noise, other than the crack of wooden bats and the popular cry “Have a hit!”
The focus is on the game here, but if you want a between-innings snack the Kettleer Kitchen has all the offerings. If the kids get restless, there’s ample room to play catch behind the fences or a toss of cornhole.
Hyannis, first pitch 6 p.m. — After a few innings in Cotuit, we’re off to McKeon Park in Hyannis, about 20 minutes away, but first a stop at Cape Cod Creamery in the Christmas Tree Shop Plaza adjacent to the Cape Cod Mall. Hmmm, let’s see, so many choices for ice cream. Will it be Patti Page Peppermint, Sandbar Swirl, Monomoy Mud Pie, or Chatham Chocolate?
After settling on a double scoop of Sandy Neck Snickers, we’re on our way to watch the hometown Harbor Hawks at newly renovated Judy Walden Scarafile Field. McKeon Park, neatly accented with walkways of crushed shells, is only a block off Main Street in downtown Hyannis. The nearby harbor and the ferries to the islands are just beyond the right-field fence.
Every young (and old) fan enjoys souvenirs and the Harbor Hawks’ logo is among the best in the Cape League. It’s a colorful, cartoonish hawk emblazoned on a baseball swinging a menacing bat. The team gets is nickname from ospreys (or fish hawks) which nest in a light pole at the park. The Hawks Nest store is located behind home plate.
Before the sun sets, there’s still time for more baseball. You could hustle to South Yarmouth for the final innings of a 5 p.m. game at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School and Red Wilson Field, home of the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox. A few more miles will bring you to Harwich and Whitehouse Field, where the Mariners start at 6:30 p.m.
Chatham — Our choice to cap off the day is at the elbow of the Cape and Chatham’s Veterans Field. The Anglers’ games begin at 7 p.m., so you’ll make it in plenty of time, even if you savor that clam roll from Kream N’ Kone on Main Street.
Chatham was the team, with the Cape League as the backdrop, depicted in the 2001 romantic comedy “Summer Catch” starring Jessica Biel, Freddie Prinze Jr., and Brian Dennehy.
Veterans Field, located just a long fly ball from a downtown dotted with shops, is considered among the best in the league for evening baseball under the lights. The picturesque park, draped in red, white, and blue bunting, is set in an amphitheater surrounded by bleachers, and comfortable outfield bankings offer a variety of views.
Along the right-field line is a recreation area with swings and slides for the kids, and nearby is a youth league field where potential future Cape Leaguers play.
Brilliant sunsets are common in Chatham, but beware, there are also those nights when sudden blankets of fog roll in, interrupting or postponing games. The Anglers even sell T-shirts proclaiming “Veterans Field Home of the Fifth Inning Fog.”
It’s quintessential Cape Cod in the summer, and this is the Cape Cod Baseball League in all its beguiling charm. Play ball!
Teams are located in Wareham, Bourne, Falmouth, Cotuit, Hyannis, Harwich, Yarmouth-Dennis, Brewster, Chatham, and Orleans. The All-Star Game is Sunday, July 21, hosted by Orleans. More information on the league is online at capecodbaseball.org.