Rob Duca CCBL Senior Writer
BOSTON ----- They were big leaguers for a night, playing in a ballpark where history has been made for nearly 100 years. They signed autographs for awe-struck young fans and took their whacks at clearing an imposing 37-foot high green wall that might be called a national monument. They conducted interviews with reporters and in front of TV cameras. They walked on the same emerald green lawn as many of the game’s legends.
“It’s a dream come true. I grew up a Boston fan,” Y-D’s Tyler Hanover (LSU) said before the Cape Cod Baseball League’s All-Star Game at Fenway Park, although his words made him sound like a Yankees fan. “Just being out here, the whole experience, taking ground balls and BP . . . Everyone from Derek Jeter to Mickey Mantle to Joe DiMaggio to Babe Ruth played here. It’s fun to be a part of history.”
Players scooped up dirt and blades of grass and stuffed them into plastic bags ---- just like Larry Walker when he came here for the 1999 MLB All-Star Game. And they tried to take it all in, not become apprehensive or intimidated, and play a baseball game that meant something.
“They’re anxious and there are some nerves. It’s all soaking in now,” Brewster field manager and East coach Tom Myers said before the game. “I would imagine they’re very excited and feel fortunate to be here. This is something they’ll never forget. There’s probably four to eight guys on each side who will make a career out of baseball. But for many of these guys, this might be their only opportunity to play here.”
The All-Star game was, at it core, an exhibition, just like every all-star game. But nothing in the Cape League is ever meaningless for college stars hoping to make powerful impressions before discerning scouts. For these kids, it always matters.
“Every scout has his eyes on you when you’re up at the plate,” Yarmouth-Dennis infielder Jordan Ribera (Fresno State) said. “The competition here is unreal. The hype about the league is all true, and the exposure we’re getting from being out here is really special.”
The left-handed hitting Ribera was in the home run derby, and he noticed two things upon entering the ballpark. “Just how big the (Green) Monster is, and just how deep it is to right field,” he said before being shut out in the derby. “When you’re actually out there shagging balls right against the Monster, you see that thing is 10 times bigger than you think it is when you watch it on TV.
“I’ve seen a lot of ballparks on the West Coast, but to come out here and experience this ballpark is an amazing feeling.”
The first pitch of the night was thrown by Brewster’s Andrew Gagnon (Long Beach State), who began thinking about stepping onto the Fenway mound, oh, about 10 seconds after being told he made the team last week.
“Lots of nerves have been going through me,” he admitted before taking the field wearing 1970s fashion high stirrups, looking more Rick Wise than Josh Beckett. “I’ve been to other parks, but nothing compares to this.”
This was a night to perhaps open more eyes, but it was impossible not to gawk a bit and reflect on what it meant to be at Fenway. Harwich’s Clint Moore (ARMY) circled July 28 on his calendar the moment he knew he was coming to the Cape League for the summer.
“I said, ‘Man, I want to be there,’” he said.
Sitting in the Red Sox dugout as he spoke those words, he paused, smiled and added, “Am I really here right now? I have to sit back and take a deep breath.”
Like every right-handed hitter, he was thinking of clearing the left-field wall.
“I tried not to look at it during batting practice, just focus pitch-by-pitch, but it’s hard not to,” he said. “Everybody was talking about hitting one over the Monster. We all want to be able to go home to our friends and tell them we did that.”
Moore doesn’t figure this was his last chance. “I plan on being back here someday,” he said.
Although many of these Cape Leaguers hail from major college programs and have performed on a national stage, none were taking this opportunity for granted. Simply put, Fenway is special.
“To be there and get to showcase your stuff, where else can you do that in the country?” Myers said. “All the other summer leagues are out there trying to promote and show off their players, but this is the best of the best.”