The days are getting hot, and everyone is moving just a little slower.
Denizens of the Crystal Coast are taking to their boats, wading in pools and making sure to stay on the shady side of the backyard.
But not the Morehead City Marlins. When you’re playing for a summer college baseball team, there’s no time for frolicking on the boat or taking a beach day. There is no shade at Big Rock Stadium.
The Fish are one of the hottest team in the country right now with a 21-7 overall record and a No. 2 ranking in the College Summer Baseball Report rankings. They pitch well, they hit well and they’re led by a coach in Jesse Lancaster accustomed to winning at Division II powerhouse Mount Olive.
What gets lost in the fray, however, is that every single one of the players and coaches have forfeited their summer to pursue better baseball and better opportunities. For the students, the grind continues fresh off finishing their spring semesters in college. They get a break for a week or two, and then it’s off to a locale that could be 3,000 miles away.
The Marlins, for instance, have student-athletes hailing from such schools as San Francisco State, North Alabama, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Western Michigan and Central Connecticut.
The life of a college athlete is already a tough one. Often waking up at 5:30 a.m. for early workouts, scarfing breakfast down and then cramming 18 hours of credit hours into a seven-hour span, college athletes have no gap moments. Practices begin the moment classes end, and when that’s over, it’s often off to study hall until bedtime.
If your team is good, you end up in the College World Series, where as soon as your team is either eliminated or wins the whole thing, you’re shooting off across the country for summer ball.
Think a player lucked out because he wound up in a beach locale? Guess again. There are very, very few true days off during the summer season. Seriously, during the Marlins’ nine-week regular season schedule – that’s 63 days, mind you – they will play an astounding 52 games. After the Coastal Plain League All-Star Festivities break, which takes place Sunday and Monday, the Fish will play 21 games in 25 days.
There will be a run of seven straight games between July 16-22 and then six consecutive games from July 25-30. The Petitt Cup Playoffs will continue through mid-August, and then classes start at the end of the month. With that come more classes, more practices and the ever-revolving wheel of student-athlete responsibilities.
So why would college athletes do this to themselves? The CPL provides the cream of the league’s crop with opportunities as well. In regular league games, as well as honorary contests like the All-Star Festivities, MLB scouts are in attendance looking for the next big prospect or confirming what a club already thought about a player.
Most of the players will never show up in a scout’s notebook. They’ll never get drafted, and they’ll likely never play semi-professionally or professionally. So why do they do it?
It’s simple: a love of the game. Why else would someone commit to literally playing baseball for six straight months, forgoing a summer vacation and a break from the grind for afternoon practice sessions under the hot sun?
Watching summer baseball evokes memories of relaxation and fun. Playing it is a whole different matter. Kudos to the summer league boys. They deserve a packed house every game night.
(Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @zacknally)