The Cape Cod Baseball League is one of the great joys of summer on the Cape, and the gem of the league is Eldredge Park in Orleans. Given to the town a hundred and five years ago by Lewis (“Win”) Eldredge, the park has been refreshed and improved many times over the decades, and this being the season’s home opener, it was in mint condition.
We met our friends Ralph and Georgene at 7 p.m. and set up our chairs and picnic baskets on the terraced grassy hill to the right of home plate, underneath a grove of spreading oak trees. It was, as Joe Castiglione, the longtime radio announcer for the Boston Red Sox, might say, “a beautiful evening for baseball,” and it was. But two unexpected occurrences made it a special evening. The first took place after several innings, when a large bird flew overhead. “Was that a gull? “asked Ralph, “or was it…” But then it glided back over us and it was clear it was an Osprey. But what was the bird doing flying around here, amid crowds of people and noisy traffic? And then, as if in answer to our questions, it flew by again, this time over the field, and landed on the light pole behind third base, on the now-obvious nest it had built there.
I’ve seen osprey nests on telephone poles, radio towers, and cell phone towers, but never on a stadium light tower. What was it thinking? All that noise and light and even heat (Ralph quipped, “I think it not only gives her a place to put the nest, it also helps to incubate the eggs!)
But then I remembered that this was the first home game of the season, so in all probability the osprey had already built the nest and probably laid her eggs before the lights were ever turned on., Still, she must have thought, “Are you kidding me? Of all the poles in all the world…”
The other occurrence was quite different, but just as surprising, It was the top of the fourth inning, with the score tied at 2-2 and the bases loaded for Cotuit. The batter hit a long, high fly ball directly down the left field foul line. Several hundred Orleans fans on the hill side, including us, watched as the ball clearly curved foul and landed at least three feet to the left of the foul line. The Orleans outfielder ran after it, but seeing it going foul, he didn’t even try to catch it. Even the Cotuit batter stopped on his way to first base and started to return to the batter’s box.
But, unbelievably, the home plate umpire signaled that it was a home run, and began windmilling his arms vigorously, waving all four runners home, as chaos erupted in the stands.
I’ve never seen any crowd anywhere get this worked up over a call.– This well behaved, polite, family-oriented summer crowd instantly transformed itself into an angry mob, and would not let it go: Choruses of disbelief, then anger, then derision and obscenities and boos erupted. “Foul ball ump!” we all cried. “We all saw it!” “Foul by 10 feet!”
But there was no recourse, no video, no review by an invisible panel in New York. The ump didn’t even review the call with the other two umpires. It was a nasty scene; the darker underside of this bit of Americana. But the game went on and eventually the home team crowd anger transformed itself into a series of sardonic tropes. When an Orleans batter hit an infield pop-up, the crowd chanted “Home Run!” “Home Run!” When a Cotuit batter hit a single to center field, they shouted, “Foul ball!” “Foul ball!”
It was especially striking as the incident happened not long after the PA announcer politely reminded us to act and speak “respectfully.” Still, given the political state of things these days, it was good to see such a passionate response and pushback to such a perverse, blatant and clearly visible disregard of the facts.