Also see: Final top 50 summer teams
Train Rides Wave To National No. 1 Rank
Big Train manager Sal Colangelo is fully aware that the Cal Ripken
League is not in the same ball park as the Cape Cod League, in terms
of national prestige and reputation. With more than 125 years of
history to draw on and a documented track record of producing volumes
of elite-level draft picks, the Cape simply dwarfs the seven-year old
Ripken League in tradition, and as a talent source.
Colangelo firmly believes that his 2011 Big Train team, which handily
won its third straight Cal Ripken League title, was so special that
it not only could have competed on an equal footing with Cape Cod
League teams this summer, but might have even challenged the top
teams in that league.
had a bunch of kids this summer that really knew how to play and our
pitching staff was so good that I believe it was Cape Cod quality,”
Colangelo said. “I would be surprised if our club couldn’t have
won 25 games this year if we had played in the Cape Cod League.
was a very special team, definitely the best one we’ve had in the
last three years. Pitching was the separator.”
if it won’t get the chance to take on the Cape, the Big Train
handily took care of its competition in the Cal Ripken League,
finishing first with a league-record 33 wins, and closing out its
season in style by capturing the league title with three straight
playoff wins. Overall, the Big Train went 36-9 on the season.
the strength of its wire-to-wire domination of the Cal Ripken League,
the Big Train’s success enabled it to finish the 2011 season atop
Perfect Game CrossChecker’s weekly ranking of the nation’s top
summer league clubs. In the process, it secured an unofficial
national summer-league championship for the Maryland-based franchise.
Big Train concluded its summer schedule in late July, long before
most other leagues concluded play, and simply ascended to the No. 1
position when all the other contenders faltered down the stretch.
Coastal Plain League’s Edenton Steamers (49-14) and Cape Cod
League’s Hyannis Harbor Hawks (30-17) had traded the No. 1 spot all
season long with impressive regular-season ledgers, but both teams
bit the dust in their league playoffs, opening the door for Bethesda.
which had been ranked No. 1 for five straight weeks, needed to win
just one of two games on the final night of the CPL playoffs to
secure a final No. 1 ranking, but fell twice, 4-2 and 2-0, to
sixth-seeded Gastonia in a major upset.
would also have been in line for a No. 1 final ranking, but it failed
to even make it out of the first round of the Cape playoffs.
the final ranking of the nation’s top 50 summer clubs, Edenton
finished at No. 7 and Hyannis at No. 8.
the end result, Bethesda had to withstand stiff challenges from the
California Collegiate League’s co-champion Santa Barbara Foresters
(44-13), which finished No. 2, and the No. 3-ranked Harwich Mariners
(30-20), the Cape League playoff champion.
Barbara was proclaimed the unofficial 2008 national champion after
winning that year’s National Baseball Congress World Series, and
nearly achieved the feat again after easily winning the 2011 NBC
World Series. The Prospect League champion Quincy Gems (40-18), New
England Collegiate League champion Keene Swamp Bats (34-16) and West
Coast League champion Corvallis Knights (44-18) were also in the
running for the top spot.
of those clubs, however, put together a season to remember quite to
of our kids probably should have played in the Cape this summer,”
Colangelo said, “and the best part of it all is our kids got the
experience of a lifetime by playing here. They all bought in to what
we were trying to achieve as a team, and I told them all at the end,
‘what you accomplished was very, very special.’
almost no head-to-head meetings among the nation’s 30-some summer
leagues, teams in the running for No. 1 are ultimately measured by
various established criteria such as overall record, league dominance
(in both regular season and playoffs), number of bona-fide
professional prospects and the overall strength of the league. No
teams with sub-.500 records are considered.
the exception of one local player, every player on the Bethesda
roster came from a major Division I college program, with almost half
coming from California.
recruiting network extends to all areas of the country,” said
Colanglo, the longest tenured coach in the Cal Ripken League. “With
the success we’ve had, we’ve started to get a lot of name
recognition among college coaches, and they’ve started sending
their better players to us.”
Train third baseman Adam Barry wasn’t drafted in June as a
red-shirt sophomore out of Cal State Northridge, but was named the
league’s most valuable player after setting league records with a
.414 batting average, 67 hits and 43 RBIs. Though he homered just
once on the summer, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Barry roped a league-best
14 doubles and enjoyed his greatest success as he continues his
transition to baseball after playing two years of football at Wyoming
in 2008-09. In the process, he may have taken big strides in
improving his standing for the 2012 draft.
aside, Bethesda’s best prospect was unquestionably catcher Hunter
Renfroe, a freshman from Mississippi State and projected first-round
draft pick in 2013. He excelled on both sides of the ball, leading
the Cal Ripken League with eight homers while showcasing
extraordinary arm strength behind the plate. The powerfully-built
Renfroe flashed a 1.7 pop time during the league’s Scout Day and
also reached 98-99 mph in limited pitching action.
will tell whether he’ll be a pitcher or catcher,” said Colangelo,
“but he was by far the best prospect in this league this summer. He
has the best raw power and arm strength I’ve ever seen from a
player in this league, and if he continues to hit and hit with power,
he’ll be a catcher at the next level. If he struggles at the plate,
he’ll most likely become a pitcher.”
State coaches wanted to see Renfroe get a steady diet of at-bats this
summer so he could learn to hit breaking balls with more authority,
and also focus on his receiving and blocking skills. He excelled at
the plate with five of his eight homers, including several
tape-measure shots, coming on breaking balls.
worked in only one game on the mound for the Big Train, earning a
save in his only appearance, but easily had the best arm strength of
any pitcher on the Bethesda staff. He also flashed a quality slider.
But on a deep and talented staff, Renfroe’s arm was considered
ace Matt Bowman (Princeton) went 5-2, 0.82 with six walks in 51
innings, and was selected the league’s outstanding pitcher.
Righthander Mike Aldrete (San Jose State), who also played shortstop
for the Big Train when not pitching, was the team’s primary closer
and didn’t allow a run all season while saving five games. His
fastball reached 94 mph.
son of the former major leaguer, was named MVP of the league’s
four-team championship series after hitting a game-winning two-run
homer to win Game Two and saving the deciding contest. As a team, the
Big Train posted a 2.41 ERA.
Cal Ripken League, with nine teams based in and around the
metropolitan areas of Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, has made
significant strides in its seven years of existence, and it has been
the two-team tandem of the Big Train and Youse’s Maryland Orioles
that have dominated the league pretty much from the start.
Big Train joined the league as an original franchise in 2006 after
leaving the since-disbanded Clark Griffith League, while the Orioles,
who have been in existence since 1952 under various names and
sponsorships, came on board the same season after dominating the
annual All-American Amateur Baseball Association World Series in
Johnstown, Pa., through the years. That team is named in honor of the
late Walter Youse, a long-time area scout who coached the team from
1957 until his death in 2005.
finishing well behind the Big Train in the Cal Ripken League
standings this summer, the Orioles recently waltzed through the
16-team AAABA World Series for its 28th title at that
the success enjoyed this season by both the Big Train and Orioles,
it’s been a break-out season, of sorts, for the Cal Ripken
League—maybe not quite noteworthy enough to put the league on a par
with the more-established Cape Cod League, but enough to enable it to
continue its steady climb up the hierarchy of the nation’s top