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Baseball’s Cape of Good Hope : Exposure Provided by East Coast League Attracts Many Californians With Professional Aspirations

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If a wood bat breaks in the Cape Cod baseball league will a professional scout hear it?

A trio of area players on the Chatham A’s, as well as several other local players scattered throughout the league, are betting scouts will.

These Californians have come to the Cape to play against top collegians, gain attention and pick up experience with the wood bats used at the professional level.

“You hear a lot about the Cape league, and it’s good exposure,” said Chatham’s Mark Skeels, a Thousand Oaks High graduate who will be a senior at Stanford. “My dream is to play in the major leagues and, hopefully, this is a step toward that goal.”

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Scouts like to see how players will perform with unfamiliar lumber, and players, well, they like to break in by breaking their bats.

“It was kind of cool to see a bat go flying out of your hands and just be holding a little stick,” said Chatham’s Jeff Antoon, a former Notre Dame High standout and upcoming senior at UC Santa Barbara.

The Cape Cod League is one of the few amateur leagues that use wood bats, and Chatham, which is coached by Cal Lutheran Coach Rich Hill, alone went through 12 dozen last season.

“Pitching to the wood bats is the thing I most like,” said Chatham pitcher Derek Wallace, a Chatsworth High product who will be a junior at Pepperdine. “Breaking bats is a good feeling.”

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Even Abe Lincoln didn’t have this much fun splitting wood.

“I know when I’m catching it’s fun to get in on someone and break a bat,” Skeels said.

Although the players may be taking cuts with lumber on the field, they are not sawing logs during their summers on the Cape. They follow a hectic schedule.

The 44-game regular season stretches from mid-June to early August and teams play games four out of every five days. It is a professional, baseball-intensive life style, and players also work as many as 28 hours a week.

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The jobs are typical light summer labor: Wallace works at the A&P;, Antoon teaches youths at the Chatham A’s baseball clinic, and Skeels works at a Stop & Shop.

“It’s not a career move, but it pays the rent,” Skeels said.

Career moves take place on the field. The Cape is considered perhaps the preeminent amateur league in the country. Last season there were 114 Cape alums in the majors and six of the first 12 picks in the major league draft this year had played on the Cape.

Behind the Chatham bleachers stands a sign, emblazoned with players’ signatures, that says “Stars of Tomorrow.” It is no hollow boast: Thurman Munson, Glenn Davis, Mike Pagliarulo and Kevin Seitzer are all former Chatham players.

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Hill, who is in his second year as the Chatham coach, recruited the Valley-area players, and they signed contracts that linked them to Chatham.

“I knew if I didn’t get drafted I wanted to play on the Cape,” said Antoon, who hit .329 and had eight home runs last season for Santa Barbara. “It’s been a lot better than college here. It’s more consistent. Each team is like an all-star team.”

Wallace has been a standout among standouts on the Cape. He was chosen by scouts as the winner of the Robert A. McNeese award for the outstanding pro prospect in the league, and he is in rarefied company.

Ron Darling, Cory Snyder and Robin Ventura are among previous winners. With a fastball in the 90-m.p.h. range, the right-handed Wallace is projected as a potential first-round draft pick next year.

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Wallace is a Cape veteran who played last year for Hyannis. Coming off a 4-0 season at Pepperdine, he is Chatham’s short reliever. He finished with an earned-run average of 2.61 and led the team with seven saves.

Antoon, who began the Cape season with an injured ankle, split time at first base, third and designated-hitter, batting .275 with three home runs and 16 runs batted in.

Skeels also moved around the field, playing catcher, first, third and outfield. After hitting .290 for Stanford this spring, he hit .242 at Chatham.

The Valley-area players are part of a 10-man California contingent on the Chatham roster (thanks in large part to Hill), and Wallace said: “I like the Southern California atmosphere a lot.”

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Because teams pay half of each player’s air fare in and half out, the California corps has been expensive for Chatham, but it has paid off with the town’s first division title since 1982.

The players do not have all their expenses covered, but they do receive a good deal in one of the East Coast’s most popular summer destinations: They live with house parents and pay about $40 a week for their rooms.

Between work and baseball there is little time for going to the beach or partying.

Antoon says he misses boogie-boarding, but “I have a month at home to relax when this is over. I’ll look back and say I’m glad I went.”

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For these Californians, the verdant Cape is also a contrast from home.

“The Cape is kind of weird,” Wallace said. “I’ve never seen so many trees in my life.”

Well, all those wooden bats have to come from somewhere.

Roster of Valley-Area Players in the Cape Cod League Player: Greg Shockey School: CS Northridge Hometown: El Toro Cape Cod Club: Hyannis Statistics: .192, 4 HRs, 18 RBIs Player: Billy Morris School: USC Hometown: Burbank Cape Cod Club: Orleans Statistics: .168, 2 HRs, 8 RBIs Player: Derek Tamburro School: UCLA Hometown: Westlake Villg. Cape Cod Club: Hyannis Statistics: .108, 1 HR, 1 RBI Player: Bobby Hughes School: USC Hometown: North Hollywood Cape Cod Club: Wareham Statistics: .278, 5 HRs, 24 RBIs Player: Andrew Lorraine School: Stanford Hometown: Valencia Cape Cod Club: Hyannis Statistics: 2-1, 1.85 ERA, 5 saves Player: Jason Evans School: Cal Hometown: Chatsworth Cape Cod Club: Wareham Statistics: .316, 0 HR, 10 RBIs Player: Brian Eldridge School: Oklahoma Hometown: Sepulveda Cape Cod Club: Orleans Statistics: .216, 4 HRs, 14 RBIs Player: Mark Skeels School: Stanford Hometown: Thousand Oaks Cape Cod Club: Chatham Statistics: .242, 1 HR, 12 RBIs Player: Derek Wallace School: Pepperdine Hometown: Oxnard Cape Cod Club: Chatham Statistics: 0-1, 2.61 ERA, 7 saves Player: Jeff Antoon School: UC Santa Barbara Hometown: Sherman Oaks Cape Cod Club: Chatham Statistics: .275, 3 HRs, 16 RBIs

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