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Veterans Field brings community together for Anglers' season opener

by Chris Blake
Monday, June 13, 2022

Veterans Field brings community together for Anglers' season opener

Chatham's players finished preparing the infield themselves ahead of their season opener. Hayden Durke used a rake to freshen the dirt around home plate while Magnus Ellerts polished the third-base line with a new layer of chalk. An hour before first pitch, the visiting Cotuit players spilled out of a small yellow school bus just outside Veterans Field.

This is all part of the Cape Cod Baseball League's charm.

Young bat boys stood dressed in full uniform in both dugouts. The Chatham Fire Department raised an American flag for the national anthem. Fans gathered on the angled hill in front of a flagpole and lawn chairs surrounded the field.

Fans often show up early to place chairs and mark their seats for upcoming games. For those who arrive early enough, they can get any seat they'd like.

Crayton Nickerson took no chances; he placed his set of chairs behind the home plate bleachers six days before the first game.

'I brought my three chairs, set them up ' put a garbage bag over them so the rain wouldn't bother them and I put a little lock on them,' Nickerson said. 'I call it staking my claim.'

Nickerson said he began following the CCBL in 1970, when he and a player worked together at a store. Fifty-two years later, despite Chatham's 5-0 loss to Cotuit, Nickerson said his decision to put his chairs out early was worth it. He plans to keep his chairs in the same spot for the entire season, locking them up after each home game.

Marylou Macaluso didn't beat Nickerson ' she put her chair out at 9:30 a.m. Sunday ' but she still secured a front-row seat behind the plate.

Macaluso started coming to cape league games around 1996. She said she used to always come see the Anglers play when she was in Cape Cod. It's much easier for her to be a fan now; she lives in Chatham permanently and can see Veterans Field from her home.

'It's the boys of summer,' Macaluso said.

Macaluso has experienced the intersection between the backyard-baseball feel of a cape league game and what's truly at stake for the players. She recalled one particular game, when a major league scout sitting nearby got her attention to show her his radar gun. It lit up with two zeros, clocking the previous pitch at 100 mph.

While the games attract locals, they also have a national draw. Matt Willey and his son, Daniel, came to Cape Cod on vacation from their home in Illinois. One of the primary reasons for their visit was to see the CCBL's Opening Day.

'I knew about the Cape Cod league growing up as a kid back in the 70s, early 80s, but never came to a game,' Matt said. 'It's kinda the myth and the legend, and all of the sudden we had an opportunity to come see one, and I was like, 'We gotta come watch.''

Chatham and Cotuit's game Sunday marked Daniel's first cape league experience. He was one of the lucky fans who left Veterans Field with a foul ball that night.

'It's not just about the game, it's the atmosphere,' Matt said. 'It's created for community.'

That sense of community is not lost on the players, who come from around the country to play in what many consider to be the nation's top collegiate summer baseball league.

'I get to talk to people out in center field, and people that come from all over, they ask for balls and stuff,' Chatham's Caden Grice said. 'Anything I can do just to make someone's day. I mean, we were once that kid.'

Perhaps some of the kids who requested baseballs from Grice will don an Anglers jersey and dish out souvenirs themselves in the future. Right now, kids, adults and players alike have experienced the first of many mystical nights of summer baseball in Cape Cod.