What is your ideal summer vacation like?
A relaxing week in a beachfront condo? A Caribbean cruise? A trip to Disney World?
I think mine would probably be drinking margaritas on a Tybee Island condo balcony overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Don’t get me near the water, though. I’m more of a reading and relaxing kind of guy.
Whatever the case may be, your dream summer vacation does not likely include working as a seafood hauler in Orleans, Mass. or a clerk in Victoria, Texas. But, for hundreds of college baseball players looking to impress pro scouts, this is the tradeoff for a summer of playing baseball in the country’s most competitive collegiate wood-bat leagues.
Over 30 leagues, with teams stretching from Azusa, Calif. to Yarmouth, Mass., invite freshman and sophomore college baseball players to join these summer teams and improve their skills and show them off to roving major league scouts looking for talent.
The players are not compensated in any form, allowing them to keep their amateur status (however the NCAA is defining the word “amateur” this week). This means players board with host families in the community and typically work odd jobs to make pocket money.
The teams themselves are usually funded by sponsors and through 50-50 raffles, merchandise sales and donations. And, unlike even the college fields most of the players are used to, most summer baseball teams play in, shall we say, more austere facilities.
For example, in the prestigious Cape Cod League, the most famous of the summer baseball leagues, the Orleans (Mass.) Firebirds play at beautiful Eldredge Park on the campus of Nauset Regional Middle School. The Haymarket (Va.) Senators of the Valley Baseball League play at a local high school.
A far cry from the cathedrals of Alex Box Stadium and Disch-Falk, to be sure.
A lucky few, however, get invited to play in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League. In 2006, the CCBL had over 1,000 alumni playing in the Major League Baseball system, with 198 alums playing in the bigs. If that weren’t enough to excite a young baseball prospect, there’s the 68-degree June weather on the Cape compared to the roughly 325 degrees (what is that baking smell?) of Southwest Louisiana this past month and the cache of the Freddie Prinze, Jr. movie Summer Catch.
This year, one of those invited to the Cape was former Sulphur High star J.T. Chargois. Chargois, a sophomore at Rice, is playing his summer ball with the Brewster Whitecaps, joining the likes of current Major Leaguers Troy Tulowitski, Ryan Braun and Chase Utley.
Chargois, an all-state selection in high school, hit .308 for the Owls in the regular season this year while contributing as both a first baseman and relief pitcher.
For most players, however, spending your summer playing baseball on the Massachusetts coast is a rare privilege. Most everyone else spends their summer hacking at curveballs and laying down squeeze bunts in towns no bigger than Sulphur.
Not that that’s a bad thing. The less-famous but equally prestigious Jayhawk Collegiate League fields teams from dusty cowtowns all over Kansas. Folks in towns like Hays (Albert Pujols), Hutchinson (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens) and Liberal (Ron Guidry) can say they were there when some of the biggest stars of the past 40 years were still wet-behind-the-ears kids trying to better their craft. Heck, guys like Pujols and Clemens are more famous now than Old West icons Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, guys whose legends were made in these towns, ever were.
But, while prestige is nice, excellence on the summer league field is the easiest way to get the scouts’ attention. Just ask former McNeese State star Lee Orr.
Orr has spent the past two summers with the East Texas Pump Jacks of the Texas Collegiate League, where he has dominated a wood-bat league that also features teams from Alexandria and Lafayette. Orr was the TCL Player of the Year in 2010, hitting .284 with five home runs while stealing 24 bases and throwing out three baserunners from his spot in the outfield.
All of Orr’s hard work under the hot Kilgore, Texas sun paid off this past week when he was drafted in the 13th round by the San Diego Padres.
This season, including Orr, the TCL features a bumper crop of local baseball talent looking to make a name for themselves with the scouts. Orr is joined in Kilgore by fellow McNeese State teammates Seth Granger of Iowa and Jaden Dillon. The Lafayette representative, the Acadiana Cane Cutters, will feature former Barbe grad Juan Rosado (a 34th round draft pick by Pittsburgh this year) and former DeQuincy star Caleb Kellogg, a pitcher at Louisiana-Lafayette.
Time will tell whether the hard work these guys will be putting in this summer will translate into a selection (or higher selection in the case of Rosado) in next year’s draft. But, just as I would rather be on the coast with my margarita and book, I’m sure these guys are happy to be out there working to make themselves better, more attractive to the big-league scouts.
Brandon Shoumaker is a graduate of McNeese State University and has covered sports for more than seven years for various publications. Coaches or parents with story tips may contact Brandon at firstname.lastname@example.org or send him a message on Twitter (@bshoumaker).