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Set Review: 1988 Ballpark Cards Cape Cod League

One of the things that I got excited about when I decided to move to New England was the Cape Cod Baseball League.  If you’re unfamiliar, the Cape Cod League is a long-running amateur league that features college players from around the country playing wood bat baseball.  It’s become a proving ground for MLB prospects, as it’s the first time scouts get to see them swing wood bats.  There are maybe 2 dozen such summer college leagues around the country, but none has the history or the pedigree of the Cape.  One of the other allures is the opportunity to spend some time out on Cape Cod, surrounded by all things Cape and then wander up to a field behind a high school in towns like Falmouth, Chatham and Barnstable (where they still pronounce it “bahrn-stahble”) and watch guys like Frank Thomas, Mo Vaughn and Jeff Bagwell pepper the trees just beyond the outfield wall for free.

My first Cape League experience came in Bourne, where a friend and I spent a cool early summer evening sitting on a stone fence behind the chicken wire backstop, watching Jeff Conine’s son take his hacks and petting the occasional stray dog.

And it’s with that perspective that I’m looking at this 1988 Ballpark set.

This is a 30 card set, featuring two players from each team that had been tagged as top prospects.  Fortunately in hind sight, they hit on a lot of names like Frank Thomas, Mo Vaugh, Jeff Bagwell, John Valentin and Chuck Knoblauch.  I don’t think any of those guys have actual college sets, so these will be the first on card appearance for a couple Hall of Famers.

The front of the card is clean and simple.  A step behind design wise what some minor league team and prospect sets were doing in ’88.  But considering the laid back, non-commercial aesthetic of the league, this design works very well.  The front features “action portrait” photos with a nice mix of batting stances, fielding stances and pitchers in different points of their delivery.  The front graphics limited to a black border around the photo and a grey field featuring “CAPE COD PROSPECTS” on line one, the player’s name & position on line two and their team on line three.

The back of the cards are also very well done.  It feels like a lot of time went into the execution of this set, particularly on the back of the cards.  Each card features the player’s name, college, home town and typical demo stats (height, weight, bats/throws, etc).  Each player also gets some basic stats from their NCAA career and then a mix of “honors” from their regular college season and Cape League trivia.  Then up in the left corner is the Cape League logo from the era and an older MLB logo (the ball on flag design from the 60’s) instead of the familiar Killebrew logo.

Another fun aspect are the uniforms themselves.  I think we’ve gotten accustomed to the Brandiose uniforms, where every team has 10 jerseys, and logos that cost thousands of dollars to design.  The Cape League in the 80’s was very much an amateur league.  The jerseys reflect that in the best and most warmly nostalgic way possible.  It hammers that the league’s focus is on playing baseball for the love of baseball.

My only, very minor, nit-picky complaint is that the cards are hand cut.  That means that they aren’t uniform in dimensions and some may not fit cleanly into a 9-sleeve binder page.  That was where I intended to store this set, and it was mildly disappointing that I’m not able to do that.

But, the set is pretty readily available on eBay for around $45 opened (virgin sets are a few dollars more).  But considering the Frank Thomas card itself floats at around the price of the entire set, I think it makes sense to also grab a Bagwell and Mo Vaughn for the collection.

This is a great set for college collectors, pre-rookie collectors, Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, Mo Vaughn and Robert Gralewski completists, and if you just like odd-ball non-big brand sets.  For under $50, the set has a ton of bang for the buck.

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