We're sitting on the grass with several hundred parents and kids on a balmy summer night in Falmouth, Mass., on Cape Cod watching the Falmouth Commodores play the Orleans Firebirds.
We have come to watch the Cape Cod Baseball League -- 10 teams comprised of 350 elite college players from around the country.
"I've been coming to Sea Crest since I was 5 and I'm 43," said Kathleen Donovan, of Boston, who was relaxing at the pool at the Sea Crest Beach Hotel on Buzzards Bay in North Falmouth.
The Sullivans come all the way from Scotland to Falmouth every summer. "Our friends don't understand why we come," said Louise Sullivan.
Wherever visitors are from, rooting on these players and these teams has become a top Cape Cod tourist attraction, drawing some 330,000 fans over the summer. "Nothing else draws nearly that many people on the Cape," says John Gardner, who serves as a spokesman for the league's all-volunteer organization.
A big part of the appeal: The chance to watch future Major League players and future superstars -- for free. At June's Major League draft, 13 of the 18 collegiate players drafted were Cape League alumnae. There are 265 Major League players who spent a summer playing baseball on Cape Cod -- among them Matt Harvey playing for the New York Mets; Buster Posey for the San Francisco Giants; Chris Johnson for the Atlanta Braves and Jacoby Ellsbury for the New York Yankees -- and the league counts 1,040 players dating back to Babe Ruth's time, including his Yankees roommate "Jumping" Joe Dugan.
That's why it is such a popular guessing game to figure out who will be the next generation's stars. These elite college players come from around the country -- California and Nevada, Florida and Missouri, Virginia and Kentucky, and live with some 200 families who volunteer to house and feed them.
"I love being here," said Matt Hall, who plays for Missouri State and is a pitcher here for the Falcon Commodores. He comes over to pet our pooch because he said she reminds him of his dog at home.
The fact that the kids know some of the players from the camps makes watching the games more fun, the parents here say. Besides, "This is much more in the budget than the Red Sox," said Laurie Farley, here with her two kids and three others happily sucking lollipops.
The players patiently sign balls for all of them at the end of the games.
"It's good old-fashioned baseball," said Brian Garside, here with his 8-year-old daughter Caroline from near Boston. "And the sunset will be gorgeous."
"So laid-back," agreed Hannah Sullivan, 15, here with her mom and younger sister from Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Just like a Cape Cod vacation. Take the 264-room Sea Crest that's been welcoming families for nearly 50 years. Kids were playing Marco Polo in the pool and jumping in the waves as we ate take-out from Red's -- named for former Celtics coach and president Red Auerbach, who once co-owned the hotel.
There are complimentary activities for everyone -- morning yoga, face painting by the pool, sand castle-making 101. Sure the Donovans could have rented a house for less money -- there are 50,000 to choose from on the Cape and simple rooms here in the summer start at more than $300 a night. "But that's a lot of work. I'd rather pay for people to wait on me on vacation," she joked. She chose well: The newly renovated Sea Crest has one of the best beach locations of any hotel on the Cape, locals say. Read Full Article
The Cape, just 20 miles at its widest point, is surrounded by water. Take your pick of 115 public beaches, 106 miles of bike paths and 42 golf courses. No worries if it rains. There are 83 museums and 2,400 shops.
"Every year it gets more expensive," says Michael McDonough, 50, laughing, here with his wife, three kids and extended family. He has been coming here since he was 12, he said.
"This is about the only place I'm not dragging the kids these days," his wife Lisa adds.
And that counts for a lot toward vacation harmony. The baseball game seemed that rare vacation moment when parents and kids seemed genuinely happy at the same time.
Said Amy Vickery, observing the crowd, and her happy kids: "What more can you want?"