Play Ball

Making it to the Big Leagues takes dedication and hard work. For a fortunate few that are invited to play summer baseball for the Anglers, the hard work has just begun

By Eric Adler | Photography by Jay Elliot

With a long row of zeros on the scoreboard, three men on base and a throng of fans ready to erupt, Dean Green steps to the plate and settles in on this sultry summer night at Veterans Field. In a moment, the Chatham first baseman will send a seeing-eye single past second base, snapping the scoreless stalemate and giving the Anglers a 1-0 walk-off win over the Wareham Gatemen. Music will blare over the PA system, autograph-hound kids will rush the field, and volunteers will start setting up folding tables for the team’s complimentary post-game meal.

IMG_4384But as Green and the rest of his collegeaged colleagues can attest to, there’s so much more to being a Cape Leaguer than heroic hits, spotlight celebrations and sumptuous spreads.

“Playing in the Cape League takes perseverance,” said Green, a native of Berryhill, Okla. “You have to be ready to play every day, and you have to come prepared, which means studying scouting reports and taking care of your body by eating right and getting enough sleep and exercise. You know the guys you’re facing are going to bring their best, so you have to bring your best too.”

The 10-team, non-profit league features the preeminent college players in the country, and over the course of the six-week schedule, these pro prospects put on a career-advancing showcase for Major League scouts.

Long before hums of the radar guns and thunderous roar of the crowd, however, comes the cacophony of an early morning alarm clock. For Green, the day begins at the park, only his bat and glove are replaced by a rake and trash bag as he begins field maintenance at 9 a.m. It’s his job to groom the pitching mound and home plate, chalk the lines down the base paths, sweep out the dugouts, free the field of debris, and, once a week, mow the outfield grass. In short, he says, “We make the field as presentable as possible for the people.”

After three hours of manual labor, Green will take a run down to the beach, then regroup with his teammates for a relaxing lunch at Nick’s Deli, a popular hangout among Chatham players given its close proximity to the field and its pictures of former A’s players on the walls. There’s a brief downtime to digest, which Green uses to either rest or bang out sets of push ups and sit ups. By 3 p.m., he’s back at the field, gobbling up ground balls and taking batting practice under the tutelage of assistant coach and former A’s player David Miller.

“I hit as much as I can, between 200-500 balls before the game,” said Green. “It all depends on what I was working on that day: hitting to the opposite field, hitting curve balls, or hitting for power. I wore out the cage.”

IMG_4077It’s long been said that baseball’s law of averages favors pitches, and that axiom certainly holds up in the Cape League, where position players face ace after ace every night while hitting with unfamiliar wood bats. Even sluggers with light tower power are forced to settle for singles.

That’s part of the reason why Green, who went hitless against Wareham starter Cole Green, doesn’t swing for the fences when facing reliever Jordan Swagerty in the bottom of the ninth. Plus, the home crowd reminds him with their customary rallying cry, “A hit’s a win.”

After rehearsing his hacks in the on-deck circle, Green – acting on a routine to ready himself – kicks three clumps of dirt off his cleats, unzips his batting gloves, fastens them back up and clears his mind.

But if Green is conscience of anything, it’s that Swagerty – fresh and eager to attack – will only fire fastballs; and with the bases juiced, there’s a good chance he’ll keep them in the strike zone. Within a split second, Green sees something he likes, shifts his weight, starts to swing and lets bat meet ball.

“Game-winning hits are something you prepare for every day, but it was such a memorable moment because it doesn’t happen very often, especially in the Cape League,” said Green, the Anglers’ 2009 MVP. “Trying to keep up can be tough at times, because the game moves at a much faster pace. It’s not called the best summer league in the country for nothing.”

Green’s hit is cause celebration, but not inebriation, as the talented (and underage) 20-year old dispels the common misconception that players spend as much time at the bar as the ball field.

“After the game, we’ll usually go to someone’s [host family’s] house and watch a baseball game,” said Green. “If that’s considered partying, then we do a lot of that, but we don’t do anything crazy. The game is wearing enough on your body that you just don’t have the energy to go out at night.”

What’s more, Green has little time to savor his success. In a league where stars one-up each other on a nightly basis, fame isn’t only fleeting, it’s all but forgotten by the start of the next show.

“It’s like my dad told me years ago, you can go from the penthouse to the out house very quickly,” said Green. “One night, you get the game-winning hit but the next you better be ready, because you’re going to be tested all over again.”