Michigan players find new challenge in Cape Cod Baseball League

Monday, July 15, 2019 - 12:45pm

Rising junior outfielder Jesse Franklin is one of three Wolverines playing in the Cape Cod Baseball League.

Rising junior outfielder Jesse Franklin is one of three Wolverines playing in the Cape Cod Baseball League. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

CAPE COD, Mass. — Jesse Franklin smacked a single, then motored into second on the throw home.

Waiting for him there was none other than Jack Blomgren. Reunited briefly with his Michigan teammate, Franklin took the opportunity to mess around with Blomgren.

Franklin and Blomgren are two of three Wolverines who headed to Cape Cod for summer ball after their second-place finish in the College World Series. Franklin plays outfield for the Brewster Whitecaps, Blomgren is an infielder with the Wareham Gatemen and left-hander Angelo Smith pitches for the Orleans Firebirds.

The Cape Cod Baseball League, a summer league for college baseball players, is in some ways a far cry from Ray Fisher Stadium. Players trade in their dorms for host families, joining a team of high-level players from all over the country. Sometimes, they play against their own teammates.

The fields harken back to the old days of baseball. Many are located at high schools. Some still don’t have lights. All have real grass, not the turf to which Michigan players are accustomed, and players on the home team must tend to the field after games. The sounds are different, too — the “crack” of wood bats replacing the “clink” of aluminum ones. But in the end, it’s still the same game.

“It’s awesome,” Franklin — who also spent last summer with the Whitecaps — told The Daily. “It’s a good shot to get a lot better, play with really good players, meet different guys from around the country and guys I’ve played against and just kind of share in baseball.”

The College World Series threw a wrench into the Wolverines’ plans this year. Michigan wasn’t expected to even make it to Super Regionals, so coaches expected to have them right away. Instead, the Wolverines didn’t come until halfway through the season.

Franklin was in Ann Arbor for two days after the final game, then went home for a week before flying out to the Cape. He didn’t appear in a game until July 9, the 23rd of 44 games for Brewster. Smith and Blomgren didn’t play their first games until July 11 and 12, respectively.

And there’s another element of collateral damage. Right-hander Jeff Criswell and outfielder Jordan Nwogu were also slated to come to the Cape, but Criswell decided to eschew it for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team and Nwogu stayed home to rest a quad injury he suffered against Vanderbilt. Still, the coaches are happy to have them — better late than never.

“I’m always gonna have Michigan kids,” said Whitecaps manager Jamie Shevchik. “Their coaches do things the right way, I have a great relationship with the Michigan coaching staff. … Some of these programs, their coaches do a great job of understanding where they are and what the Cape Cod means to them.”

The Cape League is a little more relaxed than NCAA baseball. Instead of the bright lights and the pressure and the cheering fans like the College World Series or a home Michigan game, contests have an intimate feel. Little kids come on the field asking for autographs afterwards. In some ways, that’s a good thing, but it comes with its own challenges.

“There’s no coaches here or academic advisers or people like that looking out for me,” Franklin said. “I’ve gotta be responsible for myself and warm up correctly and work out by myself and eat the right things and do things in my best interest.”

Many players struggle at first on the Cape, whether because of the new wood bats, playing against different competition or simply the adjustment of being in a new place. That’s certainly been true of Franklin, Blomgren and Smith so far. Franklin is hitting .273 with a .360 on-base percentage, but all of his hits have been singles. Blomgren is 1-for-5 with four strikeouts in two games. Smith had a scoreless 2.1-inning appearance in a loss, but then allowed two runs and two walks and committed an error in just 0.2 innings in his next.

But no matter their final stats, playing in the Cape League will help each player improve against top-notch competition and get used to the way things are done in the pros — whether that be wood bats, the challenges of self-starting or playing games almost every day. Ultimately, that’s the most important part.

“Just the opportunity to get better every day,” Franklin said. “You get to play so often and it’s always a challenge out here, so it feels like I’m getting better and that’s what I want to do the most.”