At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A Cape League Postcard from Phillies Camp

Had a few down hours during a business trip to Clearwater last week and spent the day at the Phillies’ minor league facility, where I was able to visit with a few of the players I profiled in my book about the Cape Cod League.

It was a typically gorgeous Florida day, and I was pleased to discover that every player wore a uniform shirt with his name on the back. This made it easy to determine who was who, and thus to identify which workout group – the members of which were listed on a handy information sheet – was on which practice diamond. But before I could even choose a likely vantage point, the lunch bell rang, and practically every player in camp paraded past me on their way inside to eat.

Pitcher Brett Harker spied me almost right away and pointed me to fellow moundsman and group-mate Justin Blaine, who had played with Harker with the Y-D Red Sox. Shortly thereafter, I found third-baseman Mike Costanzo limbering up for his intrasquad game – those of you who have read the book will remember that Costanzo was a one-man gang as he pitched and hit his Hyannis Mets into the playoffs. It was hard to tell who got a bigger kick out of our little reunion: the players or me.

My only “whiff” came in the person of Sean Gamble, another Y-D alum, who was my son’s coach in the week-long baseball clinic the club runs (as do all the CCBL teams). I spied him in the batting cage but was unable to catch up with him afterwards. Still, it was great fun to see him, and the others, in their pro uniforms.

Harker, Blaine, and Costanzo all had productive outings in their practice games, which unfortunately for me were on two different diamonds and had me running back and forth for two hours in an effort to see them all perform. Harker followed Blaine to close out their game against Lehigh Valley College, and Costanzo homered in his intrasquad contest.

A large part of the fun was hearing other players comment on the action as they came out of the games themselves. Harker’s curveball, for instance, was described as being “filthy,” but the most notable moment undoubtedly occurred when one hitter caught a high fastball flush and sent it whistling right back through the box. Remember the old cartoons in which Charlie Brown flips over backwards and his shoes and socks fly off? Well, then you get the idea! Fortunately, no damage was done, and the game continued.

After the games and follow-on conditioning exercises were completed, I sat down with ‘my’ three guys, and they all commented on the high level of play they are finding in the minors. Ironically, they all had said much the same thing upon their arrival on the Cape, right down to the fact that they “face a Number One pitcher every day.” To me, though, the difference isn’t really about raw physical skill; instead, I sensed it more in the form of a mercenary competition that exists between players. Sure, they root for their friends and teammates to succeed – they’re good guys, and they’re all in it together. But I suspect that, someplace deep down, they secretly hope for some measure of failure as well: not enough to derail a career, but just enough to open the door for them to step up and rise through the system as a result.

How high these former Cape Leaguers go remains to be seen, of course, and they are – as am I – looking forward to their first full season as professionals. (All three spent 2005 in the short-season New York-Penn League.) Here’s hoping they weather their trials well, avoid injury, and are back in Clearwater next year at the next level up!

1 Comments:

  • Thanks for the update! It's great to hear about how those guys are doing. The best part, however, was my memory of reading your book on the Cape this summer and then impressing my "friends and neighbors" at some Orleans Cardinals games with details from the book!

    By Anonymous Michael G, At 3/15/2006 11:28 AM  

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