For the first time in the three-year history of the Cape Cod Baseball League’s annual sojourn to Martha’s Vineyard, the John Connors trophy did not end up in the hands of the Falmouth Commodores. Despite leading the game for eight innings, the Commodores fell 6-4 to the Hyannis Harbor Hawks after relief pitcher Matt Summers gave up three earned runs in the top of the ninth, creating too big a deficit for Falmouth to recover.
The Island game, which serves as a fundraiser for Vineyard Baseball, marked the midseason point for Hyannis and Falmouth, and it was one of just a handful of games in which the teams’ rosters have been at close to full strength. Because the Cape League is composed of the top college players in the country — Jason Varitek is a former Harbor Hawk, while Jacoby Ellsbury cut his teeth with the Commodores — many spend the first half of the season competing in the College World Series, or participating in trials for the U.S. team.
“We try to bring [the Cape League] to the Island at least once a summer so people can see this level of play,” said Vineyard Baseball president Gary Simmons, noting that the baseball field at the regional high school was built specifically with the intent of hosting CCBL games.
“We’re going to try to get everybody [there are 10 teams in the league] to eventually come and play here,” said Mr. Simmons. Most Cape League games have 7 p.m. start times, making it difficult for Vineyard fans to go off-Island to watch.
The 1 p.m. start time for last Thursday’s game was not without its own complications. High temperatures and a smothering humidity index of 72 per cent created less than ideal conditions for play — Hyannis players abandoned their outer jerseys in favor of their lighter UnderArmour shirts, while fans took up shelter beneath large umbrellas.
Neither the game’s score nor the heat mattered to many of the game’s younger attendees, however, as they spent the afternoon running between the two bullpens trying to collect as many signatures as could fit on the surface of a newly purchased baseball (conveniently available for $5 at a tent behind the field). The fact that the children were unsure of player’s real names was unimportant — cries of “Mister 8! Please sign this!” were heard throughout the game.
For some, a signed baseball was not enough. Campers from the Boys’ and Girls’ Club, visiting on a specially-arranged field trip, offered up the bright yellow shirts they had worn to the game for players to inscribe with a Sharpie.
The official autograph session was held in the dugouts after the game, but Commodores relief pitcher Cecil Tanner, returning for his second season in Falmouth, said that the stream of ongoing requests is par for the course in the Cape League. Unlike college games, CCBL matchups are played on fields easily accessible to fans.
“It was a little hectic last summer,” he said after the game, estimating that he had given over 400 signatures during last year’s matchup against Wareham. The smaller crowd this year made his autograph load a more manageable 100 signatures.
While Mr. Tanner played on last year’s winning Falmouth team, the Vineyard trip is the first Island trip for most.
“It was a little different experience taking the boat over,” said Hyannis shortstop A.J. Petterson, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota.
The teams’ visit lasts just a day, and there is little time for sightseeing, although the brief glimpse of Martha’s Vineyard is often enough to pique players’ interest.
“I think sometimes it ... makes the guys want to come back, so when they get an off day they’ll shoot over here and explore some more of the Island,” said Commodores head coach Jeff Trundy.
“It’s a great experience,” he added.