By Zach Leach
On Thursday night, the Firebirds took on none other than the New York Yankees and won 8-4. Now before you start thinking David Thompson (Miami) vs. Derek Jeter, let’s clarify the parameters of this game. Orleans hosted the Yankee’s High School Scout Team, a collection of the best high school players in the Northeast who travel around to exhibition games gaining invaluable experience. The team is managed by Yankee’s area scout Matt Hyde, who is assisted by scouts from many other Major League clubs. Coach Hyde called up Firebird’s manager Kelly Nicholson before the season started, and that’s how this unique opportunity was born.
“I think a lot of these kids are gonna be future Cape Leaguers, and we wanted to provide them the opportunity to come play up against a Cape League team”, Nicholson said. He did admit that it may not be the best way to spend an off day, but that he felt he was giving back to the game. It also gave the Firebirds starters a chance to rest and relax, while some of the bench players, including brand new acquisition Dathan Prewett (Walters State CC), were able to get some work in.
Hyde, who has an extensive history with the league, was very excited about the chance afforded to him and his team. “What we want to do is get these kids in a competitive environment, and do something different by putting them up against college guys”, he said, adding “this league means so much to amateur baseball…so it’s just a great opportunity.”
An exhibition game of this style is not only unique for the players and coaches involved, but even more so for scouts. “In the grand scheme of things, we’re trying to evaluate these guys and see what they can be, and when they’re playing against good competition, that’s the only way to do it”, Hyde said. “In their high school seasons, they’re the best player on their team and in their area and everybody knows about them. Here they’re all good and trying to be better”, he explained. A game of this type allows for the elite young players to face a higher level of competition, which helps to both keep them grounded and also see who can step up when the game difficulty is way up.
The team had been trimmed from 300 original tryouts to just a 25-man roster, so each and every player had more than earned their spot and were ready to go on Thursday. “They’re pumped”, Hyde said with a smirk, “Probably a little nervous, but definitely excited, and that’s what it’s all about.” Hyde was maybe even more “pumped” than his players, as he has a special relationship with the league. He grew up in Chatham and was a ball boy there growing up, before becoming the bullpen catcher in Orleans for four years. He returned to the league later on as a coach in Chatham for two years, and then another season in Falmouth. “It’s a wonderful history, and what a lucky experience to be able to grow up seeing so many great players” Hyde said. He credits the Cape League for being the reason he got into and succeeded in scouting. Hyde currently serves as the scout liaison to the league, and works directly with the league every year at the Fenway Park Workout among many other things.
While the result of the game didn’t matter, the experience meant everything. It was a rare opportunity for a great group of young players to gain some perspective into the collegiate game and hone their skills at a higher level, and it was a unique chance for scouts, coaches, and fans to see them doing so. Thursday night’s game was a special event, and something that the Cape League would like to see more of in the future. “It’s just a great opportunity and a lot of fun”, Nicholson said, and that’s what the Cape League is all about.