Warwick native D.J. Jamiel didn’t fall in love with baseball right away. Not when he was growing up and playing in the St. Gregory’s baseball league, and certainly not at Bishop Hendricken High School, when he had already scrapped the sport to play lacrosse.
It was the summer of 2011 when it finally happened, and Jamiel went head over heels.
“I never knew the game of baseball until I watched Cape League baseball,” Jamiel said. “It completely changed the game for me.”
Three years later, Jamiel and a few like-minded Cape League baseball diehards are spreading that baseball love. They spent the summer filming a documentary with the working title “Summer Heat.” It will chronicle the lives of three players as they navigate the challenges and try to reap the benefits of playing in the nation’s premier summer collegiate baseball league.
It’s a project that Jamiel and colleague Nick Johnson had toyed with for a while, ever since they were interns with the Cape League’s Hyannis Harbor Hawks, back in the summer of 2011.
“Every year, we would just have tons of conversations about doing a documentary,” Jamiel said. “People have done it, but a lot of the people we talked to felt like it was never done right.”
That first summer was the spark. Jamiel had just finished his freshman year at Ithaca College, where he played lacrosse. His mother grew up in Brewster, Mass., on Cape Cod, and the family had always spent summers there. Jamiel had an interest in sports communications and took an internship with the Harbor Hawks.
It was an eye-opening summer.
“With 44 games in the span of three months, you immerse yourself,” he said.
Jamiel helped out with broadcasting and a few other things. When he said goodbye that August, he didn’t expect to come back, but the opportunity to join the broadcast team opened up in 2012. He returned in 2013, as well.
This fall, Jamiel will work in athletics communications at West Virginia University, while pursuing a master’s degree, but he and his former broadcast mate Johnston wanted to make one more summer on Cape Cod a special one.
They decided to pull the trigger on the documentary.
In the months leading up to the summer season, they started an online fundraising campaign and reached out to former Cape League players on social media, asking for retweets and shares, simply to get the word out.
One day, a message was waiting for them on Twitter, from former Cape League and Major Leaguer Eric Byrnes.
“Next thing you know, we get a direct message from Eric Byrnes,” Jamiel said. “He says ‘Here’s my phone number, I’d like to talk to you guys.’”
Byrnes, now an analyst for the Major League Baseball Network, was interested in investing, and so was Peter Princi, a friend and a fellow Cape League alumnus.
The small project suddenly felt a little different.
“It brought us from asking friends for money to getting real investors, and it was like, ‘Now, this is getting real,’” Jamiel said.
When the summer began, Jamiel, Johnson and their crew were off-and-running. They trained much of their focus on three Harbor Hawks – Donnie Dewees of the University of North Florida, Blake Hickman of Iowa and Ian Gibaut of Tulane.
“We’ve been lucky,” Jamiel said. “The stories of the three guys are really, really great.”
Dewees is an outfielder who has had to fight injuries throughout his collegiate career. He ended up hitting .340 this season and was a starter in the Cape League All-Star Game.
Hickman, a two-way player whom scouts love on the mound, hails from inner-city Chicago, a far different background from most of his teammates. He had several moments of brilliance this summer.
Gibaut is a closer at Tulane and he saved two games for Hyannis. Jamiel and Johnson were excited to delve into the mindset of a closer.
Cameras followed the players’ every move on the field and also kept up with them off of it. One of the more unique aspects of the league is its reliance on host families that house players – and the relationships that ensue. The documentary aimed to capture that, as well.
Throughout, every moment aims to reflect what summer ball on the Cape means. The title encapsulates it.
“The heat of the summer and this place, but it’s the heat of the moment too,” Jamiel said. “This is the summer of their lives.”
For the guys behind the camera, it’s been a pretty good summer, too, and they hope the finished product is what they always envisioned. The plan is to get the movie ready for film festivals next year and an official release soon after.
What started with a little baseball love is turning into something big.
“It went from the two of us doing something we always wanted to really making a movie,” Jamiel said. “It’s been awesome.”