The Ascent of Summer Collegiate League Baseball
As the College Baseball regular season is wrapping up, the excitement of the NCAA Baseball Tournament is on the horizon. The countdown to the College World Series in Omaha begins. Many college ballplayers around the country, however, are preparing for a new Summer season. Summer Collegiate Leagues begin their seasons at the end of May or beginning of June. Those seasons will conclude at the beginning of August. There’s plenty of important developmental baseball and fan friendly fun packed into those two months.
There are a number of things that make Summer collegiate baseball unique. Summer leagues use wood bats (rather than aluminum bats). This gives college players an opportunity to get a feel for the same equipment the professionals use. The location of franchises is also a unique feature of these leagues. Unlike professional teams, the size of the local market is not always the primary consideration.
For many years now, the premiere Summer league is the Cape Cod League. Ten teams in that Massachusetts peninsula, concentrated in small towns named Chatham, Falmouth and Harwich host many of the future stars of the game. Others will head to the far northwest, to play ball in the Alaska Baseball League. Summer leagues include the Coastal Plain League, which includes franchises in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. The Valley Baseball League, which is concentrated in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
There’s the New England Collegiate Baseball League, sprinkled throughout Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. The Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League, has all their teams located in the DC and Baltimore metro areas. There’s the Northwoods League and the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League in the Midwest. And the Florida Collegiate Summer League and South Florida Collegiate Baseball League in the Sunshine State.
Unique locations of the summer baseball leagues offer something different, some of the franchise nicknames are fun as well. There’s the Omaha Filthballers (Corn Belt League), Winter Garden Squeeze (Florida League), the Traverse City Cherry Spitters (Northwoods League) and the Royal Oak Leprechauns (Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League). Then, there’s the infamous Savannah Bananas (Coastal Plain League). Last season, I was fortunate enough to witness the Bananas phenomenon in person and interview owner, Jesse Cole. They’ve created an entire brand of baseball like no other. As Cole says, “you’re attending a circus and a baseball game will break out.” They’ve earned plenty more attention in recent months with documentary specials by HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” and ESPN+ (coming this Summer).
Like Minor League Baseball, teams playing in collegiate summer leagues have to create interesting promotions and brand themselves to grab attention in their local market. They are unattached from parent MLB franchises.. This gives them more freedom and flexibility to shape their own brand and create a unique ballpark experience for fans.
The Future of College Baseball
I have argued in several other articles, I believe College Baseball is a vastly underrated sport. The “Road to Omaha” is underway and there’s plenty of College Baseball action to follow. Collegiate Summer baseball is an important part of this whole picture. Get out and support your local teams this Summer!