The Yale baseball team made big strides this past spring, finishing the season with an 11–9 record in the Ivy League and coming one tiebreaker game away from winning the Red Rolfe division for the first time since 1995.
This summer, several Bulldogs took their game to the next level against some of the premier talent in college baseball. Eli pitcher Chris Lanham ’16 and catcher Robert Baldwin ’15 were called up to the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League in Massachusetts, the summer college baseball league that has produced over 1,000 Major League Baseball players including Bobby Valentine, Nomar Garciaparra and even Dartmouth’s Red Rolfe himself.
Lanham and Baldwin are the first Yale players to play on the Cape since Ben Johnstone ’00, who played Cape League baseball in 1998 and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs the next year.
“It’s a real pleasure to be able to play with these outstanding players,” Lanham said. “This is the pinnacle of college baseball.”
The only other Ivy Leaguer on full contract in the CCBL this year was Ronnie Glenn, a southpaw from Penn who plays for the Harwich Mariners.
Baldwin, who enjoyed a successful spring in New Haven this past year as he batted .304 and bashed three home runs, took that momentum into the beginning of the summer for the Chatham Anglers (17–26–1), the CCBL alma mater of current Major Leaguers such as Evan Longoria and Chris Coghlan.
Splitting time behind the plate with Georgetown’s Nick Collins, Baldwin batted .314 through his first 13 games for the A’s, including two games in which he went three for four. He cooled off at the tail end of the season, finishing with a .228 batting average and .302 on base percentage.
“I’ve been trying to use all fields [when hitting],” Baldwin said. “There are really good outfielders and pitchers in the League, so I’ve been trying to hit liners and ground balls, not too much in the air. Everybody in the league has aspirations to play professionally one day, and every pitcher you face is some [college] team’s ace pitcher … You don’t get any breaks when you’re up at the plate.”
Lanham, who was stellar for Yale this season, when he allowed just one earned run in his five regular season conference starts, made five appearances for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks (19–26–1). He earned a win in one four-inning appearance and put up zeroes in two more, but two rocky outings in July upped his season ERA to 6.52.
Lanham said that pitching against hitters from other Division-I conferences has helped him grow on the mound.
“As a pitcher, facing this kind of competition, you really learn to focus on every pitch because any mistake you make is going to get hit pretty hard,” Lanham said. “I think that [this] experience will help next year in the Ivy League, for sure.”Baldwin added that he has learned to be more selective at the plate, because pitchers on the Cape offer few if any good pitches to hit during the course of any one at bat.
Recruiting for CCBL teams is normally done during the fall, with college coaches recommending players to the general managers of summer teams, Baldwin said. But neither he nor Lanham joined the League through that channel.
Since Baldwin did not start behind the plate in his sophomore season, he waited until after his season this past spring before deciding on a team.
Following Baldwin’s dominant season for the Bulldogs, Yale assistant coach Tucker Frawley sent emails to teams in top summer leagues, and the Anglers, who needed a catcher, eventually offered Baldwin a full contract.
Lanham, meanwhile, headed up to Hyannis in the middle of the season after the Harbor Hawks lost several pitchers.
While on the Cape, players stay with a host family and are free to spend their summer as they please — outside of the games, which they play just about every night.
Baldwin said that the life of a CCBL player is exactly like it is depicted in “Summer Catch,” a 2001 romantic comedy about a Cape League player who played in Chatham.
“I have a host parent who’s great. I get all my meals cooked. I go to the beach on off days, sometimes before games, and there’s a gym,” Baldwin said. “I’ve got everything. It’s been a pretty relaxing summer.”
Hyannis and Chatham both ended their runs at a CCBL title early; Baldwin’s Anglers did not make the eight-team playoff, and Lanham’s Harbor Hawks were eliminated in the West Division semifinal round.
Baldwin and Lanham will begin play this October for the Bulldogs with the annual City Series.