By RUSS CHARPENTIER
CHATHAM - There is a common theme that runs through the Cape Cod Baseball League's Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies, and yesterday's seventh class induction at elegant Chatham Bars Inn was no different.
The baseball is great and the Cape is a wonderful place for a college kid to spend the summer, but upon reflection it's the people you meet and the relationships you develop that make this league so special.
Tampa Bay backup catcher Josh Paul is a major leaguer, the only Cape Leaguer to win the batting title, MVP and Outstanding Pro Prospect Award in the same season (1995). Yet he was moved to near sobs in a halting speech at times funny, at times emotional, but always from the heart. He was the last speaker yesterday, but his words summed up the feelings of the other inductees who went before him.
''The real best part of playing in the Cape League is the friendships I made with my host family, the Dunnings,'' said the former Cotuit Kettleer. ''As a 20-year-old kid, I came here saying, 'Hey, I'm free of my parents for the summer.' The first day I broke curfew, I realized I had parents here.
''Their friendship has meant more to me the last 11 years than anything else I learned that summer. I'd like to thank you all for the greatest summer of my life.''
Joining Paul on stage yesterday to go into the Hall were former American League slugger Steve Balboni; former Chatham A's all-star hurlers Rik Currier and Steve Duda; former player, manager, umpire and general manager Jim Hubbard; and former Cotuit center fielder Greg Lotzar.
Deceased Orleans Town Team star Allen ''Buzzy'' Wilcox was also inducted, with his daughter, Brenda Wilcox Laverty, accepting his honor. She spoke eloquently about the family-oriented town team era and her happiness that her community's love of baseball still flourishes today.
San Francisco Giant Lance Niekro, who won the homer and RBI crown for the 1999 Orleans Cardinals and finished second in batting, had to cancel because of the unexpected death of his father, former major league pitcher Joe Niekro, last Saturday. Orleans general manager Sue Horton accepted his plaque, and Niekro will be invited back next year.
Ross Jones, who hit .413 for Hyannis in 1979 and who played in the big leagues for the Mets, Mariners and Royals, did not attend.
Hyannis Mets longtime volunteer Tim Ellstrom received the Fred Ebbett Lifetime Achievement Award. Chuck Sturtevant, retiring after a 20-year stint as Falmouth Commodore general manager, was presented with the Richard ''Dick'' Sullivan Award as Executive of the Year.
Balboni was introduced by former league commissioner Bob Stead, who managed Balboni with Yarmouth-Dennis in 1977 and called him a class act then, and a class act now. Balboni spoke about the great talent in the league, and how much fun it was to play on Cape Cod. ''Yarmouth-Dennis didn't (and still doesn't) have lights,'' he said. ''Many people thought that was a bad thing. The players thought it was a great thing.
''I went on to play Major League Baseball, but I think the most fun I had in baseball was in the Cape League,'' Balboni said.
Duda, introduced by University of San Diego coach Rich Hill (who managed Chatham while Duda was there) pitched two years in Chatham (1991-92). He hit the double in '92 - winning the NCAA title with Pepperdine and the Cape League championship with the A's. He no-hit Yarmouth-Dennis in 1991, and the same exact night one year later tossed a one-hitter, with the same umpire. ''That night, the umpire gave me his lineup card from the year before,'' Duda said.
Duda was full of stories, but his main point echoed the others. ''It's about baseball, but it's about people. You always here people saying, 'I went to Arizona to see that player we housed.' I hope everyone else appreciates it like I did. Those people (are the reason), anytime I get a chance to talk to a college player, I tell them to go play on the Cape.''
Like Duda, Currier had two outstanding seasons with Chatham (1998-99), being named co-Outstanding Pitcher in '99 after going 7-0, 1.34.
The former USC star talked about receiving the call last year in which Paul Galop phoned to tell him about being voted in the Hall of Fame. Currier said it spurred him to leave his office job and get back into baseball for an independent league team. ''The Cape Cod League keeps on giving to me,'' he said. ''Driving down Route 6, the memories kept coming back. Hopefully, I can keep coming back.''
Lotzar, leadoff hitter for George Greer in Cotuit in 1983, won the batting title (.414), stole 33 bases in 36 attempts, drove in 28 runs, scored 43 and was playoff MVP. Greer yesterday called him the most memorable player from that '83 title team that included a first baseman named Will Clark, also a Cape League Hall of Famer.
''I can't believe it was 23 years ago,'' said Lotzar. ''I came here and saw Arnold and it seemed like I had just seen him yesterday.''
Hubbard gave a long speech on the evolution of the league, from Town Team ball to a college league and all that entailed. He was presented by Hall of Famer Bob Butkus, his ace at Cotuit, who marveled at the amount of statistics Hubbard kept in the pre-computer age.
''This is an honor of which I'm very proud,'' said Hubbard, who cracked up the audience with the story of his one-day honeymoon and his love and appreciation for what his wife put up with in his lifelong love affair with the game.
''My honeymoon was a one-day visit to Provincetown. The next day I had to play in the (Cape League) playoffs. We got back and she went to visit her family and had to assure them that everything was all right with the marriage.''
(Published: November 5, 2006)