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Coming of Age in New England : Baseball: Cape Cod summer league offers Westside college players a chance to polish their skills.


WESTSIDE — Tim Kubinski is busy chopping wood this summer.

No need to hide the spotted owls, though, because the only lumber he's sawing is in the hands of innocent batters.

Kubinski, a junior left-hander from UCLA, has been one of the top pitchers in the Cape Cod Baseball League, a summer league for collegiate players in Massachusetts. He has been feasting on hapless hitters who must use wood bats.

"I was psyched because I broke one the first game," said Kubinski, who is in his first season with the Cotuit Kettleers. "I was like, 'This is going to be a fun summer.' "

Kubinski, who has a 5-3 record and 3.25 earned-run average, has helped pitching-rich Cotuit clinch a spot in the four-team playoffs, which begin Sunday.

"I can make a lot more mistakes than in a Pac (10 Southern Division) game," said Kubinski, who was 5-1 with a 4.24 ERA last season at UCLA. "If you jam them, their bats are going to break. . . . There aren't many cheap hits. As a pitcher, I love it."

Some Cape pitchers collect the splinters of the bats they shatter, but Kubinski simply has left a trail of tattered batting averages by challenging batters with his fastball.

Although he batted .255 as a part-time designated hitter for the Bruins last season, Kubinski concentrated solely on his pitching until Monday, when he went two for four in his first Cape plate appearances.

Unfortunately for Kubinski, he works at more than pitching. Players on the Cape generally work 20 hours a week, and when Kubinski is not chopping wood on the mound, he's cutting brush during his day job as a landscape caretaker.

"The work is what's bumming me," said Kubinski, who is from San Luis Obispo. "I don't really like to work. It gives me a good sense of responsibility. I guess that's what scares me more than anything, but I think I'm growing up."

One of the many advantages of Cape Cod baseball is the minor league lifestyle--an intense schedule of four games every five days, living away from home and top-notch competition. The learning curve is steep on and off the field.

This summer could be a preview of things to come for Kubinski because his draft potential is high as a lanky (6-foot-4) left-hander with good if not overpowering stuff.

"I think he'll be a pretty good draft (pick)," Cotuit Coach Roger Bidwell said. "He has enough arm strength and ability to maybe go in the top 10 rounds."

While Kubinski has been one of the top pitchers for Cotuit, another Westside collegian, Steve Duda, a senior right-hander from Pepperdine, has been virtually unhittable in leading Chatham to an Eastern Division berth in the playoffs.

He leads the league in ERA (0.92) and has a 6-1 record. He was chosen pitcher of the week for July 5-11 and has been "the ace of the league," according to Chatham Coach Rich Hill.

Duda was one of the top pitchers on the national championship Pepperdine team with a 9-1 record and 1.92 ERA, and he started for the Eastern Division team in the Cape all-star game last year and this year. He threw a no-hitter and finished 4-4 with a 2.89 ERA last season.

His statistics shine, but Duda says the difference between seasons is like "night and day."

"It was basically my first time away from everything," Duda said of his first year on the Cape. "Cape Cod was something I'd never seen before. . . . I think there is culture shock. There's a nice little bumper sticker--'If you're in a hurry, you shouldn't be in Chatham.' That's not at all like in L.A."

The Cape is the land of traffic circles, cranberry bogs and Kennedys. Milkshakes are called frappes, and a local delicacy is something called a quahog.

Duda said the lifestyle change was worsened by his housing situation. He was living alone outside Chatham without a car, television or radio--the basics of life for any Southern Californian.

Duda also has one of the prime jobs on the Chatham team--instructor at the town's youth baseball camp.

Camp jobs are reserved for second-year Chatham players. Duda returned to the Cape when, despite a Pepperdine career record of 32-6, he was not picked in the June draft.

"I personally didn't expect to be drafted," said Duda, who is on schedule to graduate next spring. "I knew from the beginning of my junior year that I would not leave Pepperdine unless I got a head-turning figure."

Duda also has the rare luxury of pitching to his regular-season catcher, Scott Vollmer of Pepperdine, a Chatham teammate.

Coming off a Pepperdine season in which he batted .313 with seven home runs and 55 runs batted in, Vollmer has stayed hot in the Cape league, batting .293 and starting in the all-star game.

A senior, he is back for a second season at Chatham after a one-year hiatus.

"I'm a lot more confident," Vollmer said of his second Cape tour. The first time, "I would say I was a little overwhelmed."

Vollmer jumped behind the plate at Chatham immediately after the College World Series and also works at the baseball camp.

"I'm having a lot better time this year," Vollmer said.

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