The moose days of summer

Baseball in Alaska seems to make as much sense as snowboarding in the Bahamas, but don't tell that to Tony Cappuccilli.

Cappuccilli is the head coach of the Anchorage Bucs, a collegiate summer league team that plays in the Alaska Baseball League, recognized as one of the top summer leagues in the country.

It's a summer job for Cappuccilli, who will return to Irvine after the season and resume his job as assistant baseball coach for Irvine Valley College. Cappuccilli, 30, just finished his second season at IVC and he plans to be there for a few more years, but he isn't the type to sit still for long.

Cappuccilli is on a mission, and he's willing to travel the ends of the earth to reach his goals. Even this early in his journey, he's already traveled the world, so Alaska isn't such a big deal.

"If not for this team, I would never come to Alaska," Cappuccilli said during a rain delay from Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage earlier this week. "Most of the players wouldn't either. Why would I come to Alaska?"

Cappuccilli is an Orange County boy, a former Edison High School standout catcher who broke the county career home run record in 1999 and still lives in Huntington Beach.

He went to the University of Nevada from 2000-03, highlighted by the 2002 season when he hit .357 with 10 homers and 27 RBIs. He was a pre-season All-Western Athletic Conference selection in 2003.

But after his collegiate career he was forced to take a detour. Cappuccilli, a burly 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, was hoping – expecting – to get drafted by a major league team, but the call never came.

"I had decent numbers, I thought I'd get drafted out of college," he said. "I thought I could hit well enough."

Cappuccilli wouldn't give up on reaching the big leagues, so he signed to play professionally for the Florence Freedom of the independent Frontier League.

That's Florence, Kentucky.

A month into the season, he blew out his shoulder, but once healed, he was back at it again. He played summer league ball in Seattle, hoping to get noticed, but it didn't happen.

"Ultimately I had to come to the realization that I was just not good enough," Cappuccilli said. "My dream was not going to happen.

Cappuccilli, though, wasn't about to give up baseball. He simply reprioritized. If he couldn't play baseball at the top level, maybe he could coach it.

"I didn't accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish as a player," he said. "I didn't make the big leagues. I was determined to make it in my coaching career."

He had already started his coaching career in 2004, coaching the Edison High freshman team. He was living in Portland, Oregon and considering returning to Seattle when he noticed a job posting for a baseball coach at Trout Lake High in Trout Lake, Washington, a rural community in the foothills of the Eastern Cascades, about 80 miles north of Portland. He got the job.

After spending the 2005 season at Trout Lake, he returned to Edison High, where he was a varsity assistant fro 2006-09. He still hadn't gotten the playing bug out of his system, so he played for the UCLA Alumni Baseball Team in Barcelona, Spain in the summer of 2007.

He spent the summer of 2009 coaching in Germany as an envoy coach for Major League Baseball, and in 2010 he was an assistant coach for the Brewster Whitecaps of the Cape Cod League.

"The big thing for me was that I was lucky enough to meet great people who really helped me out," Cappuccilli said. "Guys I played with had careers that went farther than I did, but I kept in contact with people along the way who helped me get opportunities."

One of those who helped Cappuccilli was Tom Myers, the associate head coach at UC Santa Barbara. Myers was the Brewster Whitecaps' head coach who gave Cappuccilli the opportunity to coach in the Cape Cod League, which surely helped pad his resume enough to land the job with Anchorage.

So from now through Aug. 3, Cappuccilli's Bucs will go up against teams like the Glacier Pilots, Lake Erie Monarchs, Fairbanks Goldpanners and Mat-Su Miners, among others.

It may not be the best baseball weather, exactly, but it isn't so bad. Cappuccilli's assistant coaches – Ryan Hanson and Dan Ellis – are friends of his, and they're making the most of their experience.

"We'll get in the car and go driving looking for bears and moose," Cappuccilli said. "And after the season we're going to go for three or four days on a halibut fishing trip."

Then it's back to IVC for another season coaching for head coach Kent Madole.

"I've learned more in two years there with Kent than the previous six years," Cappuccilli said. "It's a blessing for me. He's a family guy, so it's not 'baseball first.' He's able to balance his life and not let baseball consume his entire being. It's a good example for me to see."

Ultimately, Cappuccilli would like to coach at the Division I level, and chances are, he'll get there, however far he might have to go.

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