by Nick Solari, Quinnipiac College Intern
July 30, 2013
On a warm, clear-skied July morning, in the midst of the Cape Cod Baseball League season, Kettleers head coach Mike Roberts stood next to the batting cage at Lowell Park to offer some advice to his players.
Yale Rosen, a 6’2” left-handed power hitting first baseman from Washington State, was falling into the bad habit of tilting his hands forward toward the pitcher. His bat was standing straight up and down, something he had gotten comfortable with.
Roberts watched Rosen, swing after swing after swing. Finally, he offered some advice.
“He (Coach Roberts) told me to lay the bat flat,” Rosen said. “I was cranking my hands the opposite way too far, making the path to the ball farther.”
Rosen listened to the tenth-year Kettleers manager. Struggling at the plate, he wanted to try anything to get back on track and hit the way he had his whole life.
The Cape Cod Baseball League isn’t like any other competition he had played in before, though. An invitation to the Cape League is a chance for players to experience what professional baseball might be like. It serves as a great barometer for each and every individual that wishes to get looked at by scouts from all over the world, and provides a chance to live out their dreams of playing baseball professionally.
For hitters like Rosen, there are major adjustments to make. Playing a game every day instead of three days a week at college, using wood bats instead of metal, and having to learn what it’s like to face the nation’s best college arms are some of the main differences they encounter.
Rosen knew all of this. He knew scouts were fiercely lining up to evaluate talent on a daily bases. He knew that he had fallen into some bad habits, and he knew he was capable of hitting better.
With this in mind, he tried what Roberts had suggested. He relaxed the bat, tilted it backwards with his wrists, and began taking swings. By the time he was through with his first cut, he was convinced.
“I put the first ball up in the trees,” Rosen said with a grin. “Coach Roberts was like ‘okay, let’s go with that.’ I’ve been doing it since.”
This represents just one of the modifications that hitters have had to make in this league. It is why the most premier summer baseball league is traditionally known as a pitching-dominant league. Some struggle with these changes, and some thrive.
The Right Mindset
Mike Ford, for example, needed no adjustment to his fluid stance. Rather, he needed to simply modify his approach.
“I think it’s an adjustment to the pitching more than anything,” the former Kettleers corner infielder explained. “I’m pretty used to hitting with a wood bat, even though some guys aren’t.”
Ford (Princeton) agreed to terms on July 16, 2013 to sign with the New York Yankees. He left the Kettleers with a .407 batting average, tops in the Cape Cod Baseball League. He also had 5 HR during his 26 games with Cotuit, tied for most in the league when he departed.
Most importantly for his teammates, Ford serves as an example of someone who worked hard in his time here, adapted to tougher pitching, and ultimately attracted the scouts attention.
“You just have to get your foot down a little bit earlier when you’re in the box, and recognize pitches sooner,” Ford said. “I change my (batting practice) up a little bit when I’m out of school. I work on different things here, making sure I’m hitting every ball on the sweet spot.”
Because of these types of modifications he has made, Ford is now where he wants to be. He traveled to Staten Island to join the Yankees short A team in the New York Penn League, a short drive from his home town of Belle Mead, New Jersey. Now, Ford gets to play professionally for the team he grew up rooting for.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Ford said prior to the Kettleers game during the last night he spent in Cotuit. “(Being in Cotuit) has just been a great experience for me in the last two years, and I wouldn’t trade my time here for anything in the world.”
Quality of Pitching
Cotuit right fielder Steven Duggar (Clemson) offers some different advice. Duggar was with the team throughout the first three quarters of the season, and sees a bigger adjustment in the quality of pitches a hitter sees on the Cape.
“You definitely just got to be a little more focused, and hit strikes,” Duggar said. “You might see one fastball in an at-bat, and you’ve got to identify when that pitch will come. The margin of error is a lot smaller than back at school. You really have to be on top of your game.”
Duggar says his swing, not his overall approach, is what he has had to tinker with throughout his time here.
“If there is a hitch in your swing, you need to make adjustments,” Duggar said. “You don’t want to change your swing entirely just because you’re hitting with wood, but you need to identify when you fall into bad habits.”
Shaking off the Rust
These types of changes are just the beginning for hitters. Some, for instance, come to the Cape after taking some time off, and need to get used to live action again.
“Personally for me the biggest adjustment is just getting back into the swing of playing,” shortstop Drew Jackson said. “I think the biggest adjustment is definitely at the plate, you have to get your rhythm back.
All in all, the Cape League is a process more than anything for hitters.
The Overall Process
Perhaps Hunter Cole can identify with the process better than any Cotuit player this season. The centerfielder from Georgia came in with all of the tools you look for. He was used to success on the diamond his whole life.
Then he hit a rough patch.
“I wasn’t seeing the ball as well as I had been all year, and I wasn’t walking at all which is never good,” Cole explained. “I wanted to have a better approach, and pick up pitches better. That was the biggest thing.”
Cole was offered some advice from the coaching staff: relax.
“One of the big adjustments I made was getting softer on the front side, and getting both eyes on the pitcher for a longer period of time,” Cole said. “You have to get in the box and slow everything down against this type of pitching.”
The adjustment has worked. The best symbol of his hard work and willingness to change came on July 20th, in a 3-3 tie against Harwich.
Down 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth at Lowell Park, Cole came up to the plate with a runner on. After going 0-3 previously on the day, he launched a two-run homerun to the deepest part of center field to tie the game up, saving the Kettleers.
The hit came on a high fastball, a pitch Cole had struggled with this season. Due to his new mindset, the right-handed hitter was able to pick the pick the pitch up sooner and blast it out of the ball park.
It was a culmination of exactly what Cotuit assistant coach Brian Scott said before the game that very day.
“They are here because they’re successful players, so we’re not looking to change them at all,” said Scott. “We’re looking to help them make minor adjustments that will help them be successful. If we can do that, we have done our job.”
The lesson Cole learned during his hardships might be the best summation of what it’s like to be a positional player in the Cape Cod Baseball League.
“It’s the best competition up here this summer. You just have to come in and take it day by day,” he said. “If you don’t get your knocks in one day you just have to come in the next and keep working hard.”
Cole’s attitude is a shining example of prosperity at its finest state on the Cape. This is the closest most players will get to pro-baseball until the day they reach the next level.
After all, there is a reason the Cape League’s motto is “Where the Stars of Tomorrow Shine Tonight.” One out of every seven CCBL players reach the big leagues. It’s the process, however, that they look back on with a smile.