Summer baseball has always been a part of Will Geoghegan’s life, going back to his childhood when his family used to watch Cape Cod League games while vacationing in Massachusetts.
They attended quite a few games there, and the Cape League is no joke. They play a full 44-game schedule – reeling in some of the most talented collegiate players from around the country – and oftentimes attendees will see athletes who make it to the majors.
“Maybe next year they’ll get drafted, the year after that you’ll get to see them potentially make it big. I was always sort of fascinated with that, just being able to see those guys in that setting where you can reach out and touch them, and they’re throwing foul balls at people and they’re giving out autographs. It’s a real community environment but big-time baseball, too,” Geoghegan said during a recent appearance on the “Radio Beacon” podcast. “So that was something fun to watch growing up. Just a kid liking baseball, it was really cool to go to those games.”
The fascination followed Geoghegan as he grew up. When he took over as sports editor at Beacon Communications, Geoghegan started a blog to track the goings-on of the Cape Cod League called “Right Field Fog.” He wasn’t able to attend many games, so he would track statistics and box scores online and write roundups for the site.
He then expanded his reach, keeping tabs on other summer leagues across the country. Then a bolt of inspiration hit – there really hasn’t been a book encompassing the entire “Summer Baseball Nation.”
“I just had the idea and decided to take the plunge,” said Geoghegan, who is now sports editor of The Independent in South County. “Reached out to people before the summer of 2016, reached out to some people I wanted to highlight, some trips I wanted to make and everything. They were super welcoming, and it ended up being a really cool summer and went from there, and four years later here we are.”
“Summer Baseball Nation: Nine Days in the Wood Bat Leagues” tracks Geoghegan’s journey across the country, taking him from the shores of Cape Cod to Fairbanks, Alaska, soaking in the summer traditions of some of the best teams around. The nine-day theme mirrors the structure of a baseball game, too.
The story begins, of course, with the Cape Cod League and the Cotuit Cavaliers, who have won the most championships in CCL history and are considered one of the most storied franchises. Geoghegan explained that during their first practice of the summer, new teammates meet and coaches discuss expectations before having a little bit of fun to lighten the mood.
“They play wiffleball,” Geoghegan said. “Just a reminder to them, ‘All right, it’s supposed to be fun. There’s going to be a lot of pressure this summer, it’s a big chance to prove yourself, but let’s have fun, too.’ That chapter sets everything up for a look at the beginnings and where we’re going to go from there.”
From there, Geoghegan takes a trip to Cardines Field and meets with the Newport Gulls – “one of the premier teams in the country” – of the New England Collegiate Baseball League. While he said the NECBL is a notch below the CCL, it still brings in players from powerhouse organizations like UCLA and Vanderbilt.
The next stop wasn’t exactly close to home. He spent some time with the Alaska Goldpanners of the Alaska League, which has seen players the likes of Barry Bonds and Tom Seaver come through its ranks. His favorite memory there was the midnight sun game, which begins between 9 and 10 p.m. and features the setting sun as a backdrop.
“I went for the midnight sun game, which was definitely the most bucket list game I had to get in the book,” Geoghegan said. “It starts late and they play through midnight and the sun doesn’t really set. It kind of sets, but you get basically twilight that basically lasts forever.”
Geoghegan then had stints in Santa Barbara, California, and Kenosha, Wisconsin – the latter of which featured a home run derby into Lake Michigan. The same squad, the Kenosha Kingfish, even had a “diamond on the diamond” where they dropped a real jewel on the field and invited fans to find it.
“The home run derby thing was pretty cool too, they had thousands of people there lining this harbor that was perfectly shaped for a home run derby,” Geoghegan said. “It was fun to talk to the guys from the Kinnosha Kingfish organization who kind of organize that … The North Woods League has that [minor league] vibe of a lot of promotions, they try crazy stuff.”
He went from Wisconsin to Washington D.C. to visit the DC Grays, a team that is very close with its community – from adopting middle school teams to running the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, or RBI, initiative.
Just nearby were the Peninsula Pilots, located in the Hampton/Newport News area of Virginia, playing at War Memorial Stadium. Geoghegan said the stadium, which opened in 1948, was in danger of closing once the last minor league team left its grounds. Thankfully, the Pilots saved the day for War Memorial Stadium, which has a famous designer.
“It was designed by Branch Rickey, the former Dodgers general manager who integrated Major League Baseball with Jackie Robinson. They had a long history of minor league teams there, then the last one left and the stadium was in danger of getting demolished and then this team comes along and they’ve been hugely successful.”
Once Geoghegan completed his travels back in Cape Cod, he had to focus up and write “a good chunk” of the book during the spring. He sent out query letters to agents shopping his book before linking up with Rob Wilson, a former baseball player with connections to the University of Nebraska Press.
Wilson took a swing at a first-time author, and he hit a home run. “Summer Baseball Nation” is available wherever books are sold.
“He’s got a pretty good connection to the University of Nebraska Press, who puts out four or five baseball books a year,” Geoghegan said. “That’s one of their niche areas and I’m really lucky to be part of it.”