FALMOUTH — It’s a sparkling night for a ballgame, and by the time the national anthem is sung to hat-over-heart reverence, the players themselves have cleaned the dugouts, groomed the diamond dirt, and signed autographs for little kids who’ve carried tiny baseball gloves with them into the stands.
“This is just quality and enjoyable baseball,’’ Al Irish is telling me, squinting into the evening sunshine here on Monday. “This is really the leading college amateur league in the country. All the best players want to come here.’’
No one knows that better than Irish. He’s been watching Cape Cod League baseball since 1925, when his mother took him to see the Falmouth squad play at the Central Park grounds in Falmouth Heights, where if you hit the small white house beyond right field it was scored a double. He was hooked.
With Boston’s Major League Baseball entrant now languishing in the cellar of the American League East, there’s something refreshing and reassuring about the endurance of the national pastime as it’s practiced here.
And if there is a keeper of that pure flame, it is the 95-year-old Al Irish, the World War II military cryptographer who came home to raise a family and build a career in the insurance business, all the while keeping his eye on the ball.
“All he’s ever done is to care about this club and this league,’’ said Chuck Sturtevant, now the general manager of the Bourne Braves and a former GM with the Falmouth Commodores. “He’s a cherished and indispensable resource.’’
When it comes to Falmouth baseball, he’s also a jack of all trades. He works the gate at home games, counting the cash and tracking receipts. In 2007, the longtime volunteer and league historian received the league’s lifetime achievement award. He is on the advisory board to the league’s Hall of Fame committee. Simply put, he is the chief archivist of the league’s institutional history.
He still has the schedules of the league’s games from the early 1930s. The young boy who sat on the grassy bank along the third-base line at Falmouth Heights can still recite the statistics of 1923 second baseman Myron Ruckstull. He knows that “Deacon” Dan MacFayden lost his no-hitter for Falmouth in 1925 with two outs in the ninth and went on to play 17 years in the majors.
“Al’s a man with a great character and a big heart that loves the Falmouth Commodores,’’ team head coach Jeff Trundy told me outside his dugout before Monday’s game. “I’ve got a great deal of respect for Al. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t.’’
Irish is quick and sharp. He drives himself to and from the games. And he’s still keeping score. No one knows better that his beloved Commodores have not won a league championship in 35 years. “We thought we were going to win it last year,’’ he said wistfully.
He knows how to count, too. Gate receipts had been lagging lately, but Monday’s crowd, which lined up for $5 cheeseburgers and $2.75 hot dogs, ponied up nicely as the fans streamed toward their seats. The team’s budget, $18,000 in 1987, is $200,000 today.
“People like to come and see quality baseball,’’ he said. “We have a bucket at the game, but if they don’t want to, they don’t have to pay anything.”
Gary Rabesa, who has worked the front gate here with Irish for 11 years, gets a catch in the throat when he recalls how his two sons refer to his partner at the Commodore gate.
“My baseball dad,’’ he said.
Steve Kostas, president of the Falmouth club, said he continued a tradition of sorts last weekend during the team’s annual breakfast meeting at Ballymeade Country Club.
He made introductions and saved the best for last. He gestured toward Irish and then the Commodore family rose, saluting the enduring contributions from someone who, quite literally, has seen it all.
The team historian smiled as the dining room exploded into baseball’s traditional acclamation. A standing ovation for Al Irish.