Illini play at nation’s top summer league

By Erik Hall

“The premier amateur baseball league” and “where tomorrow’s stars shine tonight” is how the Cape Cod Baseball League describes itself.

Illinois junior catcher Chris Robinson and senior outfielder Drew Davidson both had the opportunity to play in the elite league this summer. Robinson played for the Hyannis (Mass.) Mets. Davidson played for the Harwich (Mass.) Mariners.

“We always said that we’re playing with a big leaguer on this team. We just don’t know who it is yet,” Robinson said. “One in six that comes out of the league ends up being a big leaguer. And you got to think that you’re playing against hall of famers. I think that’s just something you’ll be able to take with you forever.”

Some of the more famous former Cape Cod players include Chicago White Sox player Frank Thomas and Chicago Cubs shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.

This summer was Davidson’s second consecutive season playing in the Cape. Davidson played only five games during summer 2003. He returned home to Iowa because of shoulder tendonitis with only 15 at-bats in 2003.

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Experience aided Davidson through his 38 games playing this summer. He finished with a .206 batting average (seventh on Harwich) and a .270 slugging percentage (sixth on the team).

“It’s hard to explain how hard it is to hit out there,” Davidson said. “It’s hard to explain the movement these guys get on their pitches and the way that their off-speed pitches explode out of their hands and look like fastballs. You’re facing everybody’s ace from big schools like Florida State and Georgia Tech. A mixture of stuff definitely makes it a pitcher’s league.”

Only seven of the Mariners’ 16 position players finished with a batting average above .200. Thirty percent of the Mariners’ at-bats resulted in strikeouts.

“That league is so competitive, you can win the championship with a below five hundred record,” said Greg King, manager of the Mets. “It’s a streaky league. A lot of it has to do with luck.”

The Mets experienced enough wins to qualify for the postseason, but lost in the final game of a three-game series. Robinson played in all three playoff games and batted .250 with one home run.

The final day of the regular season presented Robinson with a pleasant surprise from Cape Cod President Judy Scarafile.

“That day I was supposed to catch the (ceremonial) opening pitch,” Robinson said. “I was in a hurry because I wanted to catch the starter in the bullpen. I got out there and I’m all by myself. I’m looking around and thought, ‘Where’s this guy that’s supposed to throw it out?’ Judy Scarafile walked out and they announced it over the P.A.”

Robinson had received the league’s Daniel J. Silva Sportsmanship Award. The Cape Cod League umpires voted for the award’s winner.

“I got a lot of compliments from umpires on how much a pleasure it was to be with Chris catching,” King said.

Earlier in the summer, Robinson earned a spot on the Cape Cod League All-Star Team as the West Division’s starting catcher.

“I showed that I can compete in that league,” Robinson said. “Now I’m coming back (to Illinois) and will work on some of my weaknesses. I’ll go out and fine tune those and help turn it around here, and we’ll have a big winning season.”