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Opening Day for the Cape Cod Baseball League is Tuesday
By RUSS CHARPENTIER
Cape Cod Baseball League commissioner Bob Stead was in good spirits last week. On the eve of opening day, and in the wake of the major-league draft, he had reason to smile.
"We did all right (Tuesday)," he said of the draft, when six Cape League grads were selected in the first round, and two more went as supplemental choices between rounds one and two.
Opening day for the Cape League is Tuesday, when the 10-team loop begins its 44-game regular season. Once again, many of the top collegiate players in the nation - and no doubt numerous future major leaguers - will arrive with hopes and dreams ... and wooden bats.
Before the first pitch, Stead sat down for a wide-ranging interview, a state of the state of the Cape League, if you will. He disclosed that the league and Heritage Plantation in Sandwich are discussing building a permanent Hall of Fame on the grounds of the museum. He noted he's pleased the umpiring chaos of recent seasons is over, and a new partnership with the Eastern College Athletic Conference has been forged that will enable the league to use umpires affiliated with the conference.
Stead talked about how lengthening the collegiate season is hindering all summer leagues, not just the Cape League. He answered criticism of the league's decision to play an all-star game in July in Keene, N.H., against the New England Collegiate Baseball League all-stars and discussed a possible renewal of the rivalry with Team USA.
He also revealed the Cape League has become a million-dollar operation. But most of all, he said, "I'm concerned with Tuesday, June 12."
Where they play
1 - Wareham Gatemen: Clem Spillane Field, Wareham High School, one mile west of Wareham Center on Route 6.
2 - Bourne Braves: Coady School Field, across Trowbridge Road from Bourne High School in Bourne village.
3 - Falmouth Commodores: Fuller Field, behind Gus Canty Community Center, 790 E. Main St., Falmouth.
4 - Cotuit Kettleers: Lowell Park, Lowell Avenue, less than two miles south of Route 28 in Cotuit.
5 - Hyannis Mets: McKeon Field, High School Road, two blocks south of Main Street behind Barnstable Grade Five Building, Hyannis.
6 - Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox: Red Wilson Field, Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School, Station Avenue, South Yarmouth.
7 - Harwich Mariners: Whitehouse Field, Harwich High School, Oak Street.
8 - Brewster Whitecaps: Cape Cod Regional Technical High School, Route 124, just north of Exit 10 off Route 6 in Harwich.
9 - Chatham A's: Veterans Field, just off Route 28 in Chatham center.
10 - Orleans Cardinals: Eldredge Park, Eldredge Parkway and Route 28, off Exit 12 from Route 6 in Orleans.
Times: When you were named commissioner three years ago, you said you wanted to put the focus of the league back on baseball after some tenuous financial years and highly publicized fund raising. Has that happened?
Stead: I think we have. The field managers would acknowledge that, first and foremost, the emphasis is on baseball. It's a big pie and I understand that. But I want people to understand that we raise funds in this league to play baseball, not play baseball to raise funds. The focus has got to be on the game of baseball and I think it is.
Times: Has the expanded college season had an effect on the Cape league?
Stead: Yes, no question. The bigger picture is it's the same for every summer league. Nobody that knows anything about baseball is going to say to you that college baseball is as good as it was 10 years ago. There's no question. Go to Omaha (site of the College World Series) or any college game. Come to the Cape League. The professionals have waved so much money and done such a great job signing that kid out of high school, who used to go to Miami or Arizona State, that the pool of talent is simply diminished. Are we still getting the best of the best that's available? Yes we are. Is it going to put in a crimp for all summer leagues? Of course. But we're going to adjust and move forward.
Times: What have you done this year?
Stead: We're going to have to look at moving some dates next year. But for this season, everybody goes in with their eyes open. I know Cotuit has four kids (at the College World Series) through the luck of the draw. They're just going to have to fill in with temps and hold it together until the troops arrive. My point is, we can't control that. So whether we have to look at moving our dates, the key thing is as long as the 10 franchises keep doing the great job they're doing, we're still getting the best players available. Did you get the draft preview issue of Baseball America and see how many times was the Cape League mentioned in the little blurbs of the players? Over 100 times. It was phenomenal.
Times: Next year the College World Series is a week later, from June 14-22. What will that do to the Cape League schedule?
Stead: We may have to start one week later. I'm not terribly worried about that. We can't control that. We can control what we do on our end. We'll get through it.
Times: Would you play doubleheaders to fit the schedule in a shorter time frame?
Stead: We've talked about it. The NCAA frowns on doubleheaders. Chris Martin, the NCAA liaison to summer baseball leagues, told us that at the national meeting. The coaches would like to see the season reduced four or five games. The general managers, of course, are thinking economics. They don't want to see that happen. We haven't done anything yet. But preliminary discussions have gone on.
Times: What about your relations and competition over players with Team USA?
Stead: Our mission is still go get the best players. If a kid is selected for Team USA, we just have to swallow and bite the bullet. I understand that. It's a dilemma for a kid. We're friendly competitors. I have total respect for what Team USA does. It's like a college football coach. You don't recruit by knocking the other guy. You recruit by selling your program and what you have to offer. I think it comes down to the young man making a choice. Mark Teixeira turned down Team USA two years ago to play in the Cape League. I think it was very good for him. But I can also understand why you would go to Team USA. Developmentally, there's no question you're better off in the Cape League. But when you talk about the chance to represent your country, that's quite an honor.
Times: Why are you playing the New England Collegiate Baseball League all-stars in Keene, N.H.?
Stead: There was much controversy about this decision. People here on the Cape thought we had everything to lose and nothing to gain. I would like to think one of my jobs as commissioner is to see the big picture. I really believe one of my jobs is to promote summer collegiate baseball. I'm the commissioner of the greatest league in the world, and we can be high and mighty and say we're not going to play anybody but Team USA, but I truly believe for us to go up to Keene, N.H., in front of 6,000 or 8,000 people, is a good thing for summer collegiate baseball.
Times: Why play in Keene instead of on the Cape?
Stead: Because they provided an economic guarantee and they feel they'll put 5,000 to 8,000 people in the park.
Times: Is the guarantee $7,000, rain or shine?
Stead: I believe it is.
Times: Was that the decisive factor in the vote to play and travel?
Stead: I think so, unfortunately. I was not doing it for economic reasons.
Times: Whose idea was the game originally?
Stead: It came from them. I got a letter from Fay Vincent (former Major League Baseball commissioner and an adviser to the NECBL). Is it a great thing for them? Yes, it is. But it's a great thing for baseball. I haven't looked back since the decision was made.
Times: What about playing Team USA again?
Stead: The executive committee voted not to play them every year. We're going after sponsors' dollars and we didn't want to dilute the product. We felt it was a big deal last summer because we hadn't played them since 1984. There's been some talk that we play them every other year because it was such a big event. I'm very much in favor of playing Team USA. There are some people in the league who say we're only helping Team USA by playing them and they are our competitors. Don't you think a kid on USA is going to say, 'Holy cow, Chatham or Orleans. Maybe I'll play here next summer.' Or they'll tell their teammates. To me, it's a no-brainer.
Times: What is your major-league grant?
Stead: It's $95,000 now. We called Park Avenue (major-league headquarters) and received $95,000 the last two years (up from $45,000). If we didn't have the product, we wouldn't have got the money. It was a cooperative effort. We got a lot of help from baseball people behind the scenes.
Times: What if there's a work stoppage in the majors next year?
Stead: That could happen anytime, and if it does, the money is in jeopardy.
Times: Has the league built up a nest egg?
Stead: We've tried to build up as best we can, but our operating costs have gone through the roof, along with everything else. What people don't understand now, we're now a million-dollar operation. Our league budget is $300,000 and the average budget to run a franchise is $70,000. The Cape Cod Baseball League is no longer a little mom-and-pop seaside operation. All the good things that take place on the field cost money.
Times: What about the state of the fields? There was some concern when you took over and you and (Chatham manager) John Schiffner toured the fields and made a list of possible improvements.
Stead: Our fields are still not what we hoped they could be. I will say this, the 10 franchises have done a great job improving the fields the best the can. Look at Dennis-Yarmouth. The Y-D Red Sox did all that fencing and put in the new backstop. (Former player) Mike Bordick gave them the money to get started. But the fields are what they are. Half of them are high school fields, half are town fields.
Times: Where does the umpire situation stand?
Stead: We have established a partnership with the ECAC (based in Centerville). We will now have the utilization of 300 umpires from Philadelphia to Maine who belong to the ECAC. That was my No. 1 priority coming into this season because the umpiring last summer was not what it needed to be. I didn't want to put our players, coaches or fans through that again. The fact that we have the ECAC on board is a real positive. I'm looking forward to greatly improved officiating this summer.
Times: How do you feel about having established a Cape League Hall of Fame (the first class was inducted in January), which you made a top priority three years ago?
Stead: It's a thrill that we have it. It took a lot of cooperation. Certainly Paul Galop has done an unbelievable job as chairman. That is going to be a plus for the Cape League for years to come. We open at Heritage Plantation in May 2002.
Times: Are you working on a permanent site?
Stead: I've sort of been told by the directors of Heritage they would be willing to give us ground on the lands for a permanent structure. That would take a big capital fund-raising project. But nothing is signed.
Heritage Plantation director Gene Schott said the league approached Heritage Plantation about becoming a permanent site.
"The directors have told the Cape League they would be willing to discuss having the Hall of Fame on the grounds," Schott said. "But that is still in the discussion stage. It would be a great marriage. We're a museum of Americana, and what is more America than baseball? However, much has to be done. Right now it is a dream of some people."
Times: Look down the road five years. What do you see happening with the Cape League?
Stead: My feeling is we'll still be the No. 1 summer league. There will be some modifications. I think the college presidents will have a lot to say about the length of the college season. I think to stay on top we will have to have the continued commitment of the people who run the franchises. One of my fears is, we have such great people, but they get burned out. When an Arnold Mycock (a fixture in Cotuit and the league for decades) steps down, is there someone in the next generation who will step up? If (league president) Judy Scarafile steps down, will we find anyone who can match her dedication to the league? We need to implement and develop a strategic plan. We're starting to. Developing a five-year plan is on our agenda.