CAPE COD, Massachusetts — As the sun sets on Cape Cod and the swimmers leave the beach, local ball fields light up as top college athletes face off in the Cape Cod Baseball League.
“The talent is unbelievable here,” says Jeff McNeil, a second baseman at Long Beach State University in California. He’s spending the summer on the country's opposite coast, playing for the Brewster Whitecaps. “My dream in baseball, like everyone’s, is to go pro and the Cape Cod League is a good starting ground for that.”
Hundreds of current major league players used to compete on these same fields and the top college prospects continue to draw scouts from the major league teams.
During batting practice before a recent Brewster Whitecaps game, the players were watched by scouts from the Colorado Rockies and Chicago Cubs.
“They’re here at every game, they’re here to watch batting practice," says McNeil. "They’re watching your every move. Basically everything you do on the field, you’re being evaluated for.”
Fans gather to watch the Orleans Firebirds during the Cape Cod Baseball League's summer season. (VOA/D. Gruenbaum)
For fans, though, the atmosphere is laid back. There’s no admission fee and spectators line the field, filling the bleachers, settling in their own beach chairs or sitting in the grass like Max Finocchio, 9, and his father, Mark.
“Oh it’s great. We love baseball, it’s a great sport to watch, a good chance you’re going to catch a foul ball down here," says Mark. "Maybe [we'll] actually catch someone that’s up and coming in this league who's going to become a major league baseball player.”
But this summer experience goes beyond baseball.
Each player lives with a host family. McNeil and one of his teammates are staying with Julia and Bob Tulloch and their two children. Julia Tulloch considers the players adopted sons for the summer.
“Having the boys around has been fantastic, absolutely fantastic," she says. "They’re great kids.”
“I feel like I’m actually a part of the family," says McNeil. "They’ll do anything for me.”
One morning, the Tullochs treated the players to a boat ride and a chance to engage in a classic coastal activity: clamming. While standing on a wet sandbar, McNeil used a rake to dig down a bit to look for the shellfish.
“It’s been real fun, real fun so far, trying new things," says McNeil.
That's Julia Tulloch's goal.
“I want them to leave knowing there are so many different things to do on the Cape. You know, the fishing, the clamming, the tubing, the quaintness of it all.”
The Cape Cod Baseball League has 10 teams and when the Brewster Whitecaps are on the field, McNeil says the Tullochs are in the stands.
“We’re just proud of them just like we would be of our own kids,” Julia Tulloch says.
It’s a two-month stay on the Cape, but the players and families say they’re creating memories that will last a lifetime.