Okay, so the Fourth of July water fight was getting a little out of hand but the baseball team started it, or actually the EPAC Grotto’s peeing clam float started it, but that’s my theory. The local landscape company towed a trailer the size of a tennis court behind a big dump truck and loaded it with the best college baseball teams in the country. Young men at the peak of their capabilities, armed with SuperSoakers the size of Iwo Jima flamethrowers and an endless supply of softball-sized water balloons, wreaking havoc down Main Street from the Kettle-Ho to the elementary school.
Someone was sure to get hurt. Some toddler diving for a piece of penny candy was going to get crushed beneath the trailer wheels like a fanatic hurling himself under the wheels of the legendary Juggernaut. Old ladies in lawn chairs were being rudely entered into a bad wet t-shirt contest that no one wanted to judge. We had to defend ourselves, and over the years the sidewalks were lined with garden hoses, pressure washers, water cannons and the war was on, escalating to the point that finally reason had to step in and say enough.
The Cotuit Kettleers sat out the 2010 Cotuit Fourth of July parade and the village was upset.
Would we take out our aggressions on the Mason’s Mariner Lodge, and do away with a dozen old men wearing white shirts and natty little aprons? Would the librarians get it next? What could be done? The omission of the boys of summer was the talk of the counter at the post office. We were mad. A ritual had been taken away from us.
The season had already opened in early June, when snowflakes still could be imagined in the rickety wooden bleachers in the shade along the third base line at Elizabeth Lowell Memorial Park, the gem of all the Cape Cod Baseball League’s ballparks, an oasis carved out of the pines and oaks a few hundred yards away from Cotuit Bay. Was this our year? Had coach Mike Roberts (UNC Chapel Hill’s coach from 1976 to 1998 and father of Oriole second baseman Brian Roberts) recruited a dugout full of superstars? It was impossible to tell. June was a difficult month, of rosters churned by the College World Series, the Super Regionals, Team USA try outs, and even the Major League scouts knew not to come with their radar guns as the college freshmen and sophomores made the wrenching transition from metal to wooden bats. The scouts would come, trying to answer the question we all asked:
Who would be the next major league superstars? They were out there, on the dusty basepaths and achingly green outfield. We knew they were out there, every summer revealed them to us. Chase Utley. Ron Darling. Mo Vaughn. Jason Varitek. Kevin Youkilis. Nomar Garciaparra. All had once stepped up to the plate, dove for liners, fumbled and stumbled for our ticket-free enjoyment on the hallowed grounds of Lowell Park. But who were they? We wouldn’t know for a few years, not realizing that the tanned pitcher who sold us our 50-50 raffle tickets in the stands would soon be standing on the mound at Wrigley or Petco or Fenway heaving heat on national television. What was clear was how blessed we were to be living in the town with the team that had won the most championships in the country’s most prestigious amateur baseball league, the league where the best of the best came to learn how to swing wood and get noticed by the scouts.
As the season progressed one learned to pick one’s place in the bleachers very carefully, to arrive precisely 45 minutes early while the basepaths were being hosed down and the coaches spraypainted new baselines. The musical cliches of the game blared through the PA – a weird playlist of country music, jump-around fist-pumping hip hop, and hair band anthems that we wished would just stop — and we all snickered at the interns behind the microphone who mispronounced “Cotuit” and referred to Cape Cod as “The” Cape Cod. Top row, back corner, brown paper sack of popcorn from the Kettleer’s Kitchen and a bottle of Poland Springs. Layout the scorecard, fill in the teams, the date, the names of the umps, the start time, and wait for the announcer to list the lineups. A few rows down, the founder of the dynasty, Arnold Mycock, for whom the Cape Cod Baseball League championship trophy is named, dean of the scorers, always presented early with the coaches’ lineups by an intern sent from the press box. Avoid sitting near the bozos — cell phone man who loudly calls his friends and always repeats the same silly cliches “…it’s the best wooden bat league in the country …,” anyone with kids under the age of ten, the Fountain of Misinformation who plaintively repeats over and over the obvious plea to the pitcher to “Throw Strikes.”
Rise for the National Anthem, cap over heart, as Nicky Chevalier takes the microphone out to home plate and we all look out to centerfield, the maroon (or is it Cranberry) uniformed Kettleers standing in a long line in front of their dugout, everyone’s eyes on the flag waving flaccid in the summer southwesterly breeze.
The pitcher superstitiously skips over the third baseline on his way to the mound. The umps and coaches swap line ups at home plate. The announcer reads the same script he’ll read at every game. The first pitch it thrown out by some account manager from Wells Fargo Private Wealth Advisors LLC. Their picture is taken with the catcher, they are handed the ball as a souvenir, the only one that will be given out as balls are too precious to give away blithely like they are in the majors. Shag a foul ball and return it to the red tent for a coupon to the Kettleer’s Kitchen.
And so it goes for 22 home games. The same routine, the same script, the same vista, the same rules, the same nine innings. But the players are all new. Few ever return for a second season. Yet instantly they become Our Team, their names gradually memorized through rote and repetition until they are as familiar as nephews at a family reunion.
Would this be the year? Cotuit hadn’t won the champs since 1999 and Coach Roberts didn’t have a title on his mantle yet. Bandy legged from years of hitting of swinging a fungo bat during batting practice, he gamely rises from the dugout and takes his place before us in the third base coach’s box, semaphoring hand signals and truly coaching his new charges in the art of Roberts Small Ball, a game of bunts and steals, and devious tricks like the mythical Hidden Ball Trick. His temper is wonderful to behold, a mixture of ferocious indignation and bewilderment over the genetic stupidity of umpires and the appalling rudeness of the visiting team’s fans, all philistines who should know when to sit down and shut up in the presence of his righteousness.
My scorebook gradually fills with the record of games won and lost. Exclamation points cryptically marking moments of greatness, moments uncaptured on film, lost in a park with no replay, no statisticians, no grotesque mascot dressed like a kettle. Sweat stains mark the heat waves. Mustard the hot dogs. Every page has a dogeared greasiness from the popcorn butter.
The girls in their summer clothes parade back and forth behind the dugout trying to catch a ballplayer’s eye. Vacationing bozos in Yankee caps self-consciously preen. Every foul ball into the parking lot where only a fool would park is greeted with a warning of “Heads Up!” and cheers as yet another windshield gets smashed with a spidery thunk and the line at the snack bar cowers and holds their hands over their heads.
The sailors from the yacht club arrive in the fourth inning, salt stained, barefoot and sunburned. “What’d I miss?” they ask. And I dutifully read back the highlights from the scorecard. “Bushyhead lined to third into a double play. Coach intimidated the visiting Meat into a balk. Yaz hit a dinger to center. And there’s a yellow jacket nest behind the the bathrooms that just attacked a herd of anklebiters and made them cry.”
The lack of a parade concerned us. Would it cast a dark cloud of bad luck on the home team? Cotuit baseball fans fight all change. “The day they install lights is the day I stop coming.” But no parade? It was wrong. Something would happen and it wouldn’t be good.
It did happen. And it was good. Yesterday the Kettleers won the championship in a beautiful post-season run that saw them sweep their way into the finals against the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox. I missed it, obligated to attend a meeting, but the game played on my phone, a little window of video that suddenly saw a flood of cranberry colored uniforms rush the mound, silent with the audio muted, a clutch of bouncing hopping happy young men surrounding a weathered coach with tears in his eyes.
There won’t be any parade this year. In the 70s, when the Kettleers won a consecutive string of championships, the fans would drive up and down Main Street for an hour blaring their car horns. But last night the village was quiet, chilled with a harbinger of the fall to come, silent except for the emerging crickets.
There won’t be any parade this year. The players have scattered back home or back to college. Soon the Volvos and Range Rovers will file out of town, pink children’s bikes on their racks, back to what seems to be an earlier and earlier start of school every year. The skiffs will be hauled. The yacht club dock dismantled and stacked in the bushes. And the town will go quiet for nine months, waiting for them to return.
I’ve quoted it before, but I must quote it again, Bartlett Giamatti, late President of Yale, former commissioner of baseball, quoted in this summer’s baseball sermon by my friend (who also has sadly moved away) the Reverend Jeremy Nickel, quite possibly the saddest obituary of summer and baseball that I know:
“ [Baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”