They like their players on the thin side in the Cape Cod League.
Give them time and lots of weight training and some of these kids are going to fill out. And now and then a real bruiser will step up to the plate. But most of them are built the way ball players used to be built until one day when somebody invented Frank Thomas and Mo Vaughn, not like linebackers and tight ends and fullbacks who happened to have quick wrists and keen eyes, but like, well, anybody.
Up until a generation ago, team photos featured few Adonises and only the occasional lumberjack. Scarecrows, bantams, and plowboys big of bone but light on muscle and fat filled the rosters. Mickey Mantle, a coal miner’s kid, and Willie Mays, son of a factory hand, looked like they arrived at their first spring training with their lunch pails and were each less than six feet tall and under 190 pounds.
Now days, Adonises and lumberjacks are the norm and Derek Jeter, who could play Superman, looked slight and fragile beside other All-Stars on the field in Anaheim Tuesday night.
Cape League players come in all shapes and sizes, just usually not thick in the chest, gut, or shoulders.
Tonight, Chatham Anglers down 2-0 in the bottom of the seventh, two out and a man on first thanks to being hit by a pitch, kid comes to the plate, thin kid, young Joe DiMaggio thin, not quite young Ted Williams thin. Six-two, one-ninety it says in the program.
Center fielder. The crowd erupts for him. I figure he’s a local favorite, having a great summer for the Anglers, who, as a team, are having a fairly mediocre summer. But I think I hear somebody in the stands behind me explaining the applause is for a catch the kid made earlier in the game, before I got here in the top of the fourth. But whoever said it might have had him confused with the left fielder who’d made a beaut of a sliding catch of a foul ball in the sixth.
First pitch. The pitcher burns one high and tight inside.
And the kid grins.
He looks straight out down the left field line. The grin is not for the pitcher and definitely not for the umpire, at least not for the umpire to see well enough that he can’t ignore it, because you can tell by the way the kid holds it, the way he keeps looking down the line, as if pointedly not looking in any other direction, especially not behind him, and the way he lets his shoulders go loose and his bat resting on his shoulder dip, and the way the grin turns into a small laugh as he shakes his head that he disagrees with the call.
That he’s disagreed with it all summer.
This is a silent argument he and this ump have had before and he knows he’s lost it. I don’t know if they’ve ever had it out. I’m just sure that the kid is convinced he’s made his case persuasively and he thinks this ump is being stubborn, to put it mildly.
Ninety years ago or so. Pitch comes in. A perfect strike. Ball, says the umpire. The young catcher turns around, surprised.
What was wrong with that one, ump?
Son, says the ump, it’s not a strike until Mr Hornsby says it’s a strike.
The kid squares his shoulders, cocks his bat, the argument’s over.
Second pitch comes in, same spot, high and inside. Strike two. No reaction this time from the kid. Neither the pitch nor the call surprised him.
No way the pitcher was going to resist throwing it there again. No way the kid was going to swing.
It’s 0 and 2 now.
Third pitch, another heater, and I can’t see where it would have crossed the plate, I can only see where it’s going to land in right field.
It bounces once, twice out there, deep, the right fielder turns the wrong way on it. Kid’s in with a stand-up double and the runner who was on first is walking back to the dugout accepting high fives and fist bumps from his teammates, scores now Chatham 1, Yarmouth-Dennis 2, and the crowd’s thinking rally time, and I’m thinking, Who’s the last player I saw who liked hitting 0 and 2?
Some sabermetrician have the numbers, how many doubles Boggs hit with two strikes on him?
That’s the high point of the game though. Next batter rolls one to short and the rally’s over, 6-3 if you’re keeping score. The Anglers go quietly in the bottom of the ninth.
But I go home happy, telling myself this is one to remember, like the time I was there for Boggs’ first game at Fenway. Write the kid’s name down, I tell myself, so you won’t forget. You’ve seen Jason Bay play here. Evan Longoria. Now this kid. This kid who knows how to hit.
The trouble with this story is that it’s fiction. The kid’s future is a long way from certain. Best there ever was, best there ever will be…Only one hitter his age ever knew that about himself.
Brian Humphries is not exactly tearing up the league. Batting .240 as of Thursday night. The grin and the chuckle I took to be at the umpire’s bad eyesight might have been at his own continued struggles at the plate. He has major league potential, according to a couple stories on the Google. He hit .305 for Pepperdine last season. Drove in 32 runs in 52 games.
Seventeen doubles, 427 slugging percentage.
Not a lot of walks though, but only 25 strike outs in 220 at bats.
Humphries knows what he’s doing at the plate. Still way, way too early for comparisons to Wade Boggs or Rogers Hornsby or Ted Williams.
My imagination and my memory combined to tell me a story I believed to be true because it’s the kind of story that ought to be true.
But it’s also the kind of story that sometimes comes true.
That’s one of the things I love about baseball, though. What might happen, what might have happened, what did happen, once upon a time, somewhere else to somebody else, what should have happened, and what is happening all happen together.
You’re never just watching this one game, this one hitter, this one play.
You’re watching every game that has ever been played, every batter who has ever come to the plate, every great catch, every bad hop, every can of corn, every ball that ever left the park and appeared to keep on going.
Brian Humphries takes a strike high and inside and laughs quietly at a joke known only to himself and at the same time it’s not a strike until Mr Horsnby says it’s a strike.