On a mid-August afternoon in Cotuit, Mass., after yet another season in the storied Cape Cod Baseball League had been all but played out, GW junior Eric Cantrell toed the rubber to assume a central role in forging its conclusion. His Bourne Braves had already won the opening game in a best-of-three series a day earlier, meaning a win in Cotuit against the hosting Kettleers would bring them their first league title.
And so it would be easy for a 20-year-old pitcher to feel a few butterflies taking the hill on such a stage. Not only were there matters of winning and losing and a championship at stake, but given the nature of the league – a summer showcase for many of the nation’s top collegiate players – there were also professional scouts in the stands looking to size up talent for potential paychecks down the road.
But Cantrell was cool. He knew that all he had to do was what he had done before, what had gotten him to that point to begin with. Just another start, really.
“I can’t even explain it,” Cantrell said with a shrug while describing his title-game mindset. “I guess after playing 100 games in the last few months, it’s just gotten easier to handle.”
With the nerves and pressure dealt with, the 6-foot-4 righthander handled Cotuit’s lineup in kind: in 5 and one-third innings of work, Cantrell let up just one run on six hits, striking out another half-dozen in the process. Most importantly, Bourne’s bullpen preserved the lead it inherited from its starter, giving the squad a 5-1 win, a Braves championship, and the celebratory spraying of mock champagne and silly string.
“It was a great end to a long summer,” Cantrell said.
To be fair, his summer was not much of a break. In addition to his title-winning outing, Cantrell made seven starts and a relief appearance during the Braves’ 42-game regular season, earning a 2-2 record and compiling a 3.08 earned-run average while striking out more than a batter per inning.
He did all that after working a morning shift at an instructional baseball camp for kids aged 8 to 12. When that wrapped up, it was just about time to head out to the ballpark – usually three hours prior to the game’s first pitch – to tend the field and warm up. Then the game was played, dinner was eaten, and it was time to rest up and recharge to push through the same schedule yet again.
“It’s all a blur now; the same thing everyday,” he said. “Just a lot of baseball is basically what it came down to.”
With six games every seven days, those weekly off-days became precious – “Those were my vacation,” Cantrell said – as he and his teammates would bond over rounds of golf or trips to the beach. The Virginia native took a liking to his temporary peninsular home, though he did have one small complaint.
“It’s a great place, except the water’s pretty cold,” he said. “I probably went in once all summer. I just can’t handle the cold – it’s ridiculous.”
The people of Cape Cod, however, were nothing but warm. The locals take great pride in their summer league, a fact Cantrell came to understand quite well. He and his fellow Braves would be approached by strangers or children seeking autographs if still in uniform when grabbing a post-game meal.
But while Cantrell may have been pitched like a big shot that day in Cotuit and been treated like one by fans around Bourne, he’s not sure if such status is something he would see himself getting used to.
“I don’t know about that,” he said, cracking a smile. “But it was fun while it lasted.”