It was a normal day of fall ball when John Baker got the news.
After the scrimmages and practice, the Ball State right-hander found out his plan for the upcoming summer.
“I talked to coach, and he wanted me to go play [baseball] in the Cape,” Baker said. “He had the connections for that and made it workout. I’m grateful for the opportunity and hopefully I can go out there and show off what I can do.”
The sophomore pitcher gets to spend his summer playing baseball in the Cape Cod Baseball League for the Cotuit Kettleers.
The Cape League is recognized as the best amateur summer league in the country by college coaches and professional baseball scouts. Players from across the United States, representing all college divisions are recruited to play in the 10-team loop. Located in Massachusetts, the league has served as a stepping stone for many future MLB players during their college years.
During the 2014 MLB season, 265 professional players spent at least one summer in the Cape League prior to being drafted. Additionally, over 1,000 Cape League alumni made it to the big leagues in 2006.
Now, it’s Baker’s turn. The 6-foot-3 sophomore from Hartland, Michigan, is in his second season of pitching at Ball State and will put his talent to the test this summer.
“It’s a really great honor,” Baker said. “It’s pretty crazy actually. I didn’t think I would ever see myself there, but I’m going to try my best and see what I can do.”
Ball State head coach Rich Maloney knew that Baker was cut out to play amongst the best college baseball players in the country because with Baker, comes strikeouts.
“He wasn’t consistent enough [last year],” Maloney said. “Then this year, pitching 67 innings and having 91 strikeouts … having one of the most in the country, shows that he has something that separates him from other people. He’s a guy that deserves to go and see how he does against some of the best players in the country.”
Baker is a 2017 Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American and was awarded Mid-American Conference West Division Pitcher of the Week last season. He currently has 91 strikeouts on the season in just 67.1 innings of work.
“Hopefully I go out there and keep striking out guys,” Baker said. “It will probably be a lot tougher playing against the best players in the country. But at Ball State, we play those bigger schools and always compete with them, so I feel like it will be a good fit for me, playing with all of those guys.”
Baker will take the mound for head coach Mike Roberts, who will return for his 15th consecutive season of coaching the Cotuit Kettleers. From 1978 through 1998, Roberts was the head coach at North Carolina. All totaled, Roberts’ North Carolina teams made nine NCAA postseason and two College World Series appearances. Eight of Roberts’ former players have been the first-round draft picks, and sixteen of his former players have played in the MLB.
Now, Roberts is looking to pick up another Cape Cod League Championship and looks forward to having Baker on his team.
“I really press the coaches, and Rich Maloney from Ball State is a tremendous human being,” Roberts said. “When he called me about John, I told him I’d happy to have his players because I know that they can compete at the highest level.”
Baker’s success so far this season hasn’t gone unnoticed either. Roberts thinks he will be a nice addition to the pitching rotation.
“I’ve looked at his stats and certainly talked to Rich about him,” Roberts said. “We hope that he will continue to be a starting pitcher and have the success he’s had there in the MAC. The thing I like the most is that when you look at his strikeout ratio, he misses bats. To be successful in the Cape League, you need to miss bats often.”
Because the Cape League brings the best players in every conference together for 44 games every summer, professional scouts crowd the 10 fields every chance they get, in hopes of finding talent that’s ready for the major leagues.
“Being in the summer league, that’s a big step up,” Baker said. “A lot of scouts are going to be there, so hopefully I can just continue to show my stuff and make a good impression. I’m going to try and impress as many scouts as I can and hopefully, sometime in the future, get to play in the big leagues.”
Although he says it’s not a necessary step by any means, Maloney is excited that Baker is taking a step in the right direction toward becoming a professional, as Maloney has had a handful of his players go to the Cape League and continue on to the MLB.
“If you can go into the Cape and do well, you’re adding value to yourself,” Maloney said. “Anytime you can add value, that’s a good thing. Ultimately, John’s going to be on the radar for the number of guys he’s struck out regardless if he goes to the Cape or not. But if he goes to the Cape and pitches well, it’s just going to increase the curiosity about him. It raises the bar a little bit higher, that’s for sure.”
With the first game being on June 12, Baker has less than a month before he moves 950 miles away. When chosen to play in the Cape, the players are assigned a host family to stay with. The players also participate in events around the community, while also getting the chance to practice at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox.
“It’s going to be a cool experience and like nothing that I’ve done before, so it will be interesting to see how it goes,” Baker said.
While Baker prepares to spend his summer on the mound pitching to college baseball greats, Maloney plans to support his player every step of the way.
“In the summer, we keep track of them,” Maloney said. “If it ends up working out, I might make my way out there and see him play. I’ve done that a few times, too. You want to show your support, and it’s just how we’re trying to run our program. So, we’ll definitely be following him closely, that’s for sure.”