Every summer, baseball’s brightest future stars gather on the eastern shores of Massachusetts for the Cape Cod Baseball League.
The Cape League, widely considered baseball’s premier amateur league, has been the summer home for many notable baseball stars throughout its history, from Pie Traynor to Carlton Fisk to Todd Frazier. In 1986, 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Craig Biggio spent his summer with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox and was hosted in the home of the Ellsworth family, who have boarded CCBL players for nearly 40 years. This summer, Biggio’s son, Cavan, a junior at Notre Dame and national gold glove winner is, along with three of his Harwich Mariners teammates, living with the matriarch of the Ellsworth family, Barbara Ellsworth, who at age 86 remains integrally involved with all things CCBL.
Photographer Deanne Fitzmaurice went behind the scenes this summer with Biggio, Ellsworth and the Mariners to get to the heart of the summer game, Cape Cod style.
Whitehouse Field is the home of the Harwich Mariners, who have been active on the Cape since 1930.
Sunflower seed bags hang on the fence near the on-deck circle at Harwich so players can easily reach in for a snack.
Baseball on the Cape has an intimate feel, but one-in-seven current MLB players got his start in the league. Here, the Mariners play the Orleans Firebirds.
With his hands full, Luke Scherzer of Virginia Tech uses his head to hold his glove while he grabs his postgame meal. “Playing in the Cape is an amazing experience as a college baseball player,” says Scherzer.
Mariners players enjoy a postgame meal prepared by their host families. The team last won the Cape League title in 2011.
Barbara Ellsworth has hosted players since 1980 and has also served as a general manager, housing coordinator and league representative.
After games, Ellsworth (known as Mrs. E) often talks to the players about their performance. She has great knowledge of the game and is seen here providing insight to Cavan Biggio in Orleans.
Biggio was recently named to the 2015 Cape League All-Star Team. Here, he bats against the Firebirds in Orleans.
Joe O’Donnell (NC State) and Biggio relax after working at a morning youth clinic. Both were recently named Cape League All-Stars.
Mrs. E. prepares a postgame dinner for the four boys she hosts and two other teammates who often socialize at her house. Mrs. E. has strict rules and will not allow the boys to place their hats on the table or lean back in their chairs.
“Mrs. E is like a mother figure to all of us who stay here. She treats us as if we are her own boys,” says Joe O’Donnell
Mrs. E. is used to seeing towel-clad boys traipsing through her living room. Here, Dylan Bordick (middle), son of former MLB 2B Mike Bordick, and teammates walk in from the outdoor shower.
In the basement of Mrs. E.’s home, there is one large room with four beds, two couches, three easy chairs and loads of dirty laundry. Here, Biggio entertains his teammates Johnny Adams (left) and Bordick by trying to hit a target across the room with a foam ball. “We all enjoy hanging out together away from the field. It’s really cool meeting and becoming good friends with other college players who we only know from playing against during the school year,” says Adams.
While Biggio and O’Donnell try to enjoy their burritos, Mrs. E. gives them a pep talk after their team suffered its third loss in a row. “I’ve done this for quite some time and I enjoy it each year. Getting to know these young men is truly a privilege. Each one of them will always hold a special place in my heart,” says Ellsworth.
The Harwich stadium is adorned with red, white and blue bunting for each game, and the press box/concession stand is built in the traditional Cape Cod style. “Getting to live with the same family that my dad lived with is such a unique experience. It’s been neat for my dad and I to compare our experiences of playing in the Cape League and both living with the Ellsworth family just deepens that bond,” says Biggio.
Even the catcher’s vest is patriotic as it hangs out to dry.
Preston Palmeiro (center), son of former MLB star Rafael Palmeiro, plays first base for the Mariners.
O’Donnell gets a win pitching against the Brewster White Caps.
Sidney Vaughn arrives after a 19-hour drive from Atlanta, Georgia in time to see her boyfriend, Connor Justus, homer against Yarmouth-Dennis.
Children sit on blankets along the fence during the game and are close enough to interact with players and coaches.
Wooden bats were introduced to the Cape League in 1985 by commissioner Fred Ebbett.
The Cape League was the first collegiate summer league to outlaw aluminum bats and is an important stop for MLB scouts and talent evaluators.
A picnic table serves as the Mariners’ bullpen.
“Having the opportunity to come back and play a second year in the Cape League has been really exciting, as I have grown and matured as a baseball player.” says Biggio.
After a win against the Brewster White Caps, Biggio and teammate Brock Deatherage leave the field. Biggio and Deatherage play for rival schools in collegiate ball (Notre Dame and NC State, respectively,) but are teammates during the summer.
Photos By Deanne Fitzmaurice/The Players’ Tribune