Y-D Red Sox and Cape Cod League returning to action

After the pandemic forced Cape Codders to endure a summer without their favorite baseball games last year, the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox are ready to play ball in 2021.

Earlier this month, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced that the state is lifting all remaining COVID-19 restrictions as of May 29. Also, the state of emergency in Massachusetts will end on June 15, Baker said – five days before the start of the 2021 Cape Cod Baseball League season.

COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations are all tracking downward, and Massachusetts is on schedule to meet its goal of 4 million people fully vaccinated by June 1, Baker said. So, with businesses preparing to open at full capacity across Cape Cod, many are eager to get outside and have some old-fashioned fun. It’s also clear that absence has made the baseball heart grow fonder.

There’s a great deal of enthusiasm about the return of Cape Cod League Baseball this year, said Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox President James P. DeMaria. “The pent-up excitement is absolutely palpable. It’s fantastic.”

The league begins its 40-game schedule at 5 p.m. on Father’s Day, June 20. That’s when the Brewster Whitecaps visit Red Wilson Field in South Yarmouth to take on the Y-D Red Sox. (Find a complete Cape League schedule online.)

If the crack of the bat and smell of new-mown grass – along with the occasional waft of grilling hot dogs – doesn’t get you primed, the price of admission should do the trick. All Cape Cod Baseball League games are free. Parking is free. Concessions are affordable. And the spectator experience is incomparable, DeMaria said.

“When people come to visit the Cape, and they’re looking for things to do, and they’re looking for things that are family friendly, and they’re looking for things that are within their budget, and they’re looking for things that their kids will enjoy, and they’re looking for things that are outdoors – we’re all of those things.”

People can bring their families, he said. They can enjoy a wonderful evening outdoors and see future major league stars playing a fantastic brand of baseball in an environment that is “a slice of Americana,” DeMaria said. “It’s a great experience, and it’s quintessential Cape Cod.”

FUTURE MAJOR LEAGUE ALL-STARS

Most fans know that watching any Cape League game offers the chance to see future major-leaguers, including all stars and World Series champions. The Y-D Red Sox are no exception, DeMaria said. He noted that many Y-D players have gone from rounding the bases at Red Wilson Field to thrilling the fans at Fenway Park and other big-league venues. You want names?

For starters, there’s Chris Sale. The Red Sox ace played in Yarmouth during the summer of 2009 then helped the Red Sox win the 2018 World Series – even striking out Dodgers’ slugger Manny Machado for the final out. All told, there were 14 former Cape Cod League players in the World Series that year.

Last year’s Major League Championship series featured more Y-D alums.

“We had four players in the World Series last year – three Dodgers and one for the Tampa Bay Rays,” DeMaria said. The Cape Cod League alumni wearing Dodger Blue in 2020 were Justin Turner, Walker Buehler and Chris Taylor. Tampa Bay catcher Mike Zunino is also a former Y-D Red Sox player.

There’s more: Cleveland Indians pitcher Shane Bieber, winner of last year’s American League Cy Young Award, played with the Y-D Red Sox in 2015. When you count the players on all 10 Cape Cod League Baseball teams, there are annually 300 active alumni playing in the major leagues and more than 1,250 players all time, according to CCBL statistics. One in every six Major League Baseball players has spent time in the Cape League.

SUPPORTING THE TEAM

While all Cape Cod Baseball League games are free, donations are appreciated. Supporting the concession stands and souvenir shops is helpful, too. DeMaria said the hope is that people come to the games and spend a few hours, grab something to eat, buy a T-shirt or hat, and enjoy themselves.

With most games starting at 5 or 6 p.m., dinner at the ballpark is a convenient and inexpensive option. A hot dog is $3; a cheeseburger is $4; and it’s $7 for a sausage, pepper and onion roll. You can also try Capt. Parker’s award-winning chowder for $6 ($8 if it’s served in a bread bowl). And a Moose Tracks ice cream cone is just $3.

All home games are played at Merrill “Red” Wilson Field behind D-Y Regional High School, 210 Station Ave., South Yarmouth. There’s free parking at the high school, and the field has a capacity of 5,500. Bleachers along the first-base and third-base lines, allow a great view of the game, and there’s plenty of open space for those who want to bring lawn chairs to sit on the grass. But keep your eyes fixed on the action and watch out for foul balls – these are future big-league batters with a lot of power in their swings.

The D-Y High School field and all the fan accommodations are in excellent condition, DeMaria said. He says the team will follow any safety precautions recommended by local public health officials.

While the state is lifting its remaining COVID-19 restrictions on May 29, protective face masks will still be required on public transportation, inside health facilities, in public schools, and in buildings where vulnerable populations live. Also, those who have not been vaccinated are advised to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

LESSONS FROM FUTURE STARS

Beyond the games, there’s coaching. Youngsters who want to sharpen their skills at hitting, fielding and throwing can take a clinic under the direction of Y-D Red Sox manager Scott Pickler, with help from staff and players. Clinics are available for boys and girls 5 years and older, with a focus on individual skills, along with sportsmanship, citizenship and character. The clinics run Monday through Friday mornings and cost $90 a week – which includes a T-shirt.

OPEN YOUR HOME TO A CCBL PLAYER

Yarmouth residents who want to get more involved with the team can host a player for the summer. Like other Cape Cod Baseball League teams, the Y-D Red Sox rely on local families to provide room and board for players who stay with one family for the entire season. Ballplayers are expected to toe the line to family rules and provide their own transportation. “We’re always looking for host families,” DeMaria said, noting that those sign up for the program this year, might become host families during the summer of 2022. Find out more at the Y-D Red Sox website.

The Y-D Red Sox also use volunteers to help with fundraising and community activities, help at home games and provide other team services. If you’re interested in learning more, email DeMaria at jdemaria@ydredsox.com.

Andy Tomolonis is a textbook author, travel writer and freelance multimedia journalist.

New Yarmouth Drive-In Set to go ‘Live’

After successfully opening with popular movies, operators of the Yarmouth Drive-In are now launching live performances at the Route 28 venue.

Comedian Iliza Shlesinger will kick off the drive-in’s outdoor shows on July 31, followed by folk singer Livingston Taylor and other music and comedy acts during August and September. An Aug. 18 show with stand-up comedian Bert Kreischer has already sold out, and a second show was added Aug. 17. Find a full schedule on the Yarmouth Drive-in website.

The 22-acre drive-in theater site in West Yarmouth is owned by the town and has been used for festivals in the past. It reopened on July 12 as a pandemic-safe entertainment facility after extensive construction by Chicago-based performing arts company Innovation Arts and Entertainment (IAE). While operators say the first two weeks were promising, the coming months will bring a greater variety of programming.

“We never wanted to stick exclusively to movies because we think that the best and the biggest impact that we can have to support local businesses is to provide something that’s really not being done anywhere else,” said IAE’s founder and CEO Adam Epstein, who owns a home on Martha’s Vineyard.

Big, Bright Screens Make a Big Impact

The difference between Yarmouth Drive-In and other outdoor movie sites is the quality of the video, Epstein explained. IAE invested roughly $500,000 to develop the site, erecting three high-definition LED screens, similar to the massive digital scoreboards at Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium. Sandwiched between two 1,000-square-foot screens at the front of the venue sits a festival-sized stage, where bands will perform while IMAG video cameras capture the action and transfer it to the 40-foot by 25-foot jumbotrons. A third big screen is located farther back to ensure that everyone can see the performances clearly. High-definition audio is transmitted via low-range FM radio tuned to a local frequency (105.3).

Epstein explained that the high-definition (1080p) LED screens are bright enough for viewing in full sun, so the drive-in is capable of hosting performances day and night. The technology also makes for crystal-clear viewing at sunset, which isn’t possible at places that rely on projectors and traditional screens, he said.

Red Sox, Bruins and Celtic Games

In addition to bands and comedy acts, the summer lineup features live-streamed pro sports events, including a Red Sox Opening Day Watch Party tonight, (Friday, July 24). Because Fenway Park will be empty for the long-awaited showdown with the Orioles, this will be the largest Red Sox Opening Day spectator event “in the world,” Epstein said.

Multiple screens also permit viewing of two sporting events simultaneously, which is the plan on Sunday, Aug. 2, when the Celtics vs. the Trailblazers will be showing on one screen while the Bruins battle the Philadelphia Flyers on another. Audio will be transmitted on two frequencies. The games are scheduled for 3 p.m., in full daylight.

New Shows Mean New Jobs

Live performances will also bring more jobs to Yarmouth, Epstein said, noting that concerts require 42 employees on site, compared to the 12 to 15 staffers working at movie showings. Pricing for live performances will be different as well, depending on the artist and the position of each vehicle’s parking space.

The drive-in has three sections for its live performances, with higher prices for spaces closer to the stage. Livingston Taylor tickets, for instance, range from $70 to $90 per car with up to four occupants in each vehicle. Movies are general admission, priced at $30 per car with added fees for more than four people. IAE leases the property from the town, covers related expenses and pays Yarmouth a fee for each vehicle in attendance ($1 per car during July to $2 per in August and September). The company has applied for a license to operate through Oct. 31.

During the opening weeks, attendance at movies numbered around 110 to 130 cars per show, which Epstein said was encouraging, given that vehicles generally had two or more occupants and that most people had already seen the second-run blockbuster films being shown. Local traffic moved efficiently, Epstein said, with three lanes that split into 10, permitting up to 10 ticket-takers. When shows are over, he said, the entire place can empty out in 15 minutes.

Wide Spaces and Social Distancing

The new drive-in was designed with COVID-19 safety measures in mind, adhering to Massachusetts COVID-19 guidelines, as well as recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Each parking site is 12 feet wide, which allows ample space for social distancing. Attendance is limited to 459 vehicles, and when patrons leave their cars, they are required to wear face masks. During the movies, Epstein said customers seemed to have no problems adhering to the safety guidelines, which are published on the Yarmouth Drive-In website.

Improvements to Come

In addition to live shows, the future will bring better food and drink options, Epstein said. Current concessions are limited to standard movie fare, popcorn, drinks and candy, he explained. But IAE is seeking the right combination of vendors to “develop a great food program.” The company is also applying for a license to serve alcoholic beverages, he said.

Also in the works: a policy that would allow patrons to sit outdoors on lawn chairs inside their designated parking spaces. Those with pickup trucks are already allowed to sit outdoors — albeit inside the trucks’ beds.

You can also expect to see bigger-name acts as word spreads. “The more we do this,” Epstein said, “the more positive experiences we provide to artists and audience, bands will say: ‘Oh, it’s not just an old-time drive-in; this is an actual concert site.’ ” he said.

“We want to break free of people’s notions of what a ‘drive-in’ is,” Epstein explained, noting that he prefers to call the venue a “drive-on” because customers drive onto the site and have a great experience in their designated areas.

“Everything we’ve done here is really driven toward that goal — delivering a great audience experience,” he said. “That’s why we put the money and effort into the high-quality screens. … We really wanted to make sure that Yarmouth had something special.”

Andy Tomolonis is a nonfiction author, travel writer and multimedia journalist.