Just as they do back home at Jack Coombs Field, Duke rising seniors Alex Hassan, Jeremy Gould, and Michael Ness have been trotting out to take the field together this summer.
But this time, the name on the front of their jerseys doesn’t read Duke.
Hassan, Gould and Ness are all teammates on the Orleans Firebirds of the Cape Cod Baseball League, an invitation-only wood bat summer league reserved for some of the nation’s top collegiate baseball players.
“It’s been awesome having Jeremy and Alex up here,” Ness said. “It’s made it a lot easier and more fun having guys up here that you know.”
The ten-team league, founded in 1885, is comprised solely of teams based in Cape Cod and is a top stop for MLB scouts each summer. Baseball bird dogs flock to watch games on the Cape for good reason — the league has produced hundreds of future major leaguers, including former Firebirds Todd Helton, Mark Teixeira, and Nomar Garciaparra.
While all three Duke representatives on the Firebirds aspire to eventually join the professional ranks – Ness and Hassan both were selected in last month’s MLB Amateur Player Draft – each has a different agenda when it comes to taking advantage of their summer experience.
In the case of Hassan, a right handed pitcher and outfielder drafted in the 20th round of the MLB Draft by his hometown Boston Red Sox, this summer could provide an immediate springboard into his professional career. Hassan is currently in negotiations with the Red Sox and hasn’t been shy about his preference to reach a contract agreement with Boston if the two sides can agree on contract terms before MLB’s negotiation deadline of August 15.
“Being drafted by the Red Sox was a dream come true, I couldn’t be happier with how it has worked out,” Hassan said. “Regardless of whether it is as a pitcher or position player, I just want the opportunity to play professional baseball and eventually end up in the major leagues.”
If Hassan can agree to a contract in the coming weeks, the Firebirds would lose one of their Cape Cod All-Star game representatives, their second-leading hitter and their most experienced player. Hassan is hitting .285 with a team-high 17 RBIs in his second season on the Cape.
“This summer has been even better than last,” Hassan said. “Two of my best friends are playing on the same team as me, and I’m getting to live at my aunt’s house instead of with a host family.”
Meanwhile pitcher Michael Ness – drafted in the 47th round by the San Francisco Giants – is using the summer to prepare for the spring season and improve his future draft stock. Ness has only pitched 8 2/3 innings for the Firebirds but has fared well in his limited time, boasting a 3.12 ERA. Despite the lack of consistent innings, Ness has thoroughly enjoyed his summer with the Firebirds.
“It has surprised me that with games every single night, everyone comes excited to play every single night. I have been on summer teams that get monotonous,” Ness said. “But, on the Cape, there are 3,000 baseball purists watching each night.”
Also enjoying the atmosphere on the Cape is outfielder Jeremy Gould, who capped off last year’s campaign with the Blue Devil by earning 2nd Team All-ACC honors. With a .178 batting average so far this summer, Gould hasn’t enjoyed the same success on the field that he did in Durham. But some sort of dip can be expected for players in their rookie season on the Cape. Because the league is a wood bat-only league, the transition to using the wood bat can be a difficult one for some players. Also, the general consensus amongst the baseball scouting community is that the level of play featured on the Cape is similar to that of high Class-A minor league baseball as a result of the top college talent participating each summer.
While each of the three Blue Devils-turned-Firebirds has experienced varying degrees of success on the field, they all have taken away substantial lessons from their summer by the sea. Whether the next step is professional baseball in Hassan’s case, or a senior season back in Durham for Ness and Gould, their collective Cape experience this summer is bound to serve them well down the road.