By: Carson Field
Some stay for weeks. Others never leave. A few don’t even play before they are sent packing.
One word accurately embodies what it’s like to be a temporary player in the Cape Cod Baseball League: uncertain.
“You just gotta be ready for opportunity,” Southern New Hampshire pitcher Wesley Tobin said. “When you get it, you got to perform it.”
On June 18, Tobin was one of 19 “temp” players on the Braves’ active roster. The initial number was 21 before Bourne released Derek Duffy and Robert Cerulle.
Regardless of how long a player is on the roster, being selected to a roster in the Cape League — the world’s most prestigious collegiate summer league — is an accolade of its own.
“It’s a big honor,” UNC Wilmington outfielder Noah Bridges said. “I’m just lucky to be here.”
In this league, a coach can make the decision to send a player home at any given moment. Because of this, performing well from the jump is imperative.
“Take the opportunity that the team has given you and try to do the best that you can with what you’ve been given,” infielder AJ Curtis said.
But the brief transition period between the college season and the start of Cape Cod ball isn’t easy for hitters. In college, players use BBCOR bats, while the Cape League uses wooden bats.
For players who have never used wood bats, like Curtis, finding a groove early can be difficult.
“Just hitting with wood (is difficult),” Curtis said. “I had never played summer ball, so this gave me an opportunity to hit with wood.”
A Cal State Fullerton first baseman, Curtis struggled in his first two games with the Braves. In his first seven at-bats, Curtis went 1-for-7 (.143) with one strikeout. But, since then, Curtis has augmented his stat line, raising his average to .238 with a .273 on-base percentage.
This growth is what Curtis came across the country for.
“My goal is definitely becoming a better player, without a doubt,” Curtis said. “There’s not much of a better way to do that than in the Cape.”
Every player who plays in this league — temporary or permanent — shares one ambition: to play at the best of his abilities in front of MLB scouts, making him seem “draftable.” While this is the main goal, nearly every temporary player on Bourne’s roster has something else they hope to accomplish.
For Bridges, he wants to help the team in any way possible.
“You just come out here every day, realize the opportunity and try to be the best teammate you can be while you’re here,” Bridges said. “Take every pitch and swing as good as you can.”
Before being released, Tobin had a goal that no one else currently on the roster can relate to — setting up a platform for Division II players.
“I’m hoping we could get more guys that can come and represent D2,” Tobin said. “Everyone around me is a D1 guy, so I want to show that we play similar-caliber baseball.”
After Bourne cut Duffy on June 15, Tobin was Bourne’s only Division II representative. While representing the SNHU Penmen on the Cape, Tobin was mostly reliable. In four innings of work, Tobin allowed just one run, posting a 2.25 ERA.
Of his two appearances, opening night against Orleans marked his most memorable performance.
“I felt pretty good,” Tobin said. “I can’t complain with three scoreless innings, so I’m ready to get back out there and keep showing what I can do.”
Following that season-opening call to the bullpen, he got another chance on June 17. But he struggled in that appearance, allowing one run and loading the bases in only an inning of work. A day later, Tobin received notice that he was no longer on the team.
In addition to Tobin, other pitchers have been assertive on the mound.
Rutgers pitcher Harrison Rutkowski is 1-1 in two starts and didn’t allow a run in Monday’s win over Harwich. In the bullpen, Minnesota hurler Joshua Culliver has been one of the Braves’ most dependable arms, allowing just one run in five innings pitched.
Culliver hopes this early groove leads to a longer stay on the Cape.
“I’m trying to get a full contract,” Culliver said. “Not being afraid of whoever’s in the batter’s box and trying to get ahead.”
Even for the coaching staff, making roster moves and maneuvering a roster is arduous. That said, pitching coach Ace Adams said he’s been impressed with Culliver’s first two outings.
“He’s done a hell of a job,” Adams said. “It’s hard to say at the beginning of the season, but we’ve been impressed with him.”
No matter how long players like Culliver stay in Bourne, they’ve been helpful in the early portion of the season. With seven Braves playing in this year’s College World Series, Bourne started the year with a decimated roster. During this early-season stretch, these temporary players filled the void and produced in key roles.
Manager Harvey Shapiro expressed the importance of having a deep squad of guys who can fill in at any given moment.
“Another significant factor isn’t necessarily the first team you recruit; it’s the second team,” Shapiro said in an interview with the Cape Cod Times. “When you lose players, are you able to get good enough players so that you’re competitive in the Cape League?”