On a sultry Fourth of July evening in the Cape Cod town of Chatham, a red sun drops beyond the tall, dark trees behind the left-field scoreboard. Red-white-and-blue bunting drapes the length of the outfield fence. The evening sky, its lacy clouds edged in pink, gives the warm, feel-good sense of a Maxfield Parrish painting; the stadium lights come up, bathing the lush green grass of Veterans Field in gold.
I’m taking it all in from an extraordinary vantage: a lawn chair behind the screen directly behind home plate. I arrived early in the morning to set the chair out and stake my spot, a time-honored tradition in Chatham and one you’d do well to follow: The team, the Chatham Anglers (formerly the Athletics), allows just a single row of seats behind the backstop, and it’s filled long before game time. Now, a thousand people wrap behind me on metal bleachers, and a few thousand more fill the sidelines and grassy embankments with lawn chairs and picnic blankets.
The fans include genial old guys in faded polo shirts and rumpled cotton hats, and suntanned women in sandals and summer hats. Teenagers shuffle in packs along the top of the rise behind me, in the shadow of hawthorn trees that frame and soften the ballpark. Layers of a community overlap; time runs together. Some of the older fans look out and recall Fourth of Julys past, recall Thurman Munson playing here back in the 1960s, Jeff Bagwell playing back … when? Could it already be 20 years since Bags played here, more than 440 major-league home runs ago?
Between innings, staying loose, the players catch with soft hands, glide, whip the ball around the infield. The players look beautiful: young men–boys in men’s bodies–strapping and clear-skinned and tanned. The blue-and-white uniforms of the Chatham A’s practically glow under the lights, in patriotic contrast with the bright-red tops of the visiting Firebirds (formerly the Cardinals) from Orleans. The smell of freshly cut grass, Coppertone, and burgers on the grill wafts with the slightest touch of salt air across the field.
There are other places to watch baseball in New England. But there’s no summer league in the world as good as the Cape Cod Baseball League, where collegiate players on the cusp of stardom play on picturesque town fields for free admission. And in the Cape League, there’s no better place to watch a game than in Chatham, no better seat than a lawn chair directly behind the backstop, no better day than the traditional Fourth of July game against Orleans. That’s where you’ll find–think of dreams, and home, and summer–the essence of our national pastime.
When You Go
Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce
888-332-2732, 508-362-3225; capecodchamber.org
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