The Rhode Island Baseball Experience Final Swings – The Tournaments
Every Spring, Summer, and Fall here in Rhode Island baseball, a regular season of competition ends and a special season of competition begins. This special season is called tournament time and it can be experienced from Coach Pitch Divisions to Major Divisions to Middle Schools and High Schools to Collegiate levels and every single division in between. You have favorites, you have underdogs, you have sleepers, you have impossible dreamers, you have can’t misses, and where were they all year teams. A hero emerges, an up and coming star is introduced, a player who was down and out is now shining brightly, an unexpected result comes from the most unlikely player. Regular season calmness because tournament craziness, excitement, and joy and I covered a lot of tournament craziness, excitement, and joy these past few years.
You think math and naming the 20th President of the US and completing that book report by Friday before vacation is stressful for a kid? Try competing in a double elimination tournament, held over several weeks, during the regular school year, against 10 to 12 to 15 other all star teams in your division for the right to play in a state tournament against the best team in each district (4 teams) to decide which team represents Rhode Island in the Little League Eastern Regionals (broadcast on ESPN) and perhaps go to the mecca of youth baseball tournaments – the Little League World Series (which is viewed by millions of people worldwide). District All Star season in Rhode Island is some of the most intense and enjoyable baseball anyone can possibly experience. Every pitch matters, every at bat matters, every run matters, every diving catch is amplified, every home run is electrified, every error is magnified, every kid makes a difference on the field, on the mound, in the dugout. I have been to District All Star games not knowing a single player on the field from either team and walking away so knowledgeable about every single parent, coach, player because every one has a role in the outcome of the game. It is a special kind of tournament and I was so blessed to attend so many these last few summers.
As a coach with then Wickford Little League (now North Kingstown/Wickford Little League), I was introduced to the concept of the Friendship Tournament. The Friendship Tournament is an all star team of players from your league that either did not make the District All Star roster or elected (some leagues give parents/players the option) to just play in the Friendship series of tournaments. I was asked to coach a number of friendship teams and had a chance to coach my son Harrison and some of his baseball friends on these teams. The Urwin Tournament in Coventry was my first Friendship tournament. I also coached in the St. Gregg’s, the Jaxon Marocco, the Sally Eddy tournaments over the years. These tournaments were less about the scores and outcomes, although the games were always very competitive. Each friendship tournament had a special meaning for the host league running the tournament. The trophy presentations included family or friends of the namesake of the tournament and a special message always accompanied the medals and trophies the kids won. Many Rhode Island leagues host friendship tournaments – Rumford, Chariho, Darlington, Warwick North, Woonsocket, to name a few – and as a writer I have attended these tournaments and have just marveled out the outpouring of support from the baseball communities for these friendship teams. The Friendship Tournament concept is just so special and I loved every game and every tournament I experienced.
Rhode Island Scholastic sports, like baseball, have a postseason tournament based on wins and losses. Seeding teams based on win/loss records gives some teams a bye in the first round or home field advantage. However, once the tournament begins, it is the team playing the best baseball who typically wins out. I have seen this over the years with Middle School and High School state tournaments. A team with a so-so record in the regular season who barely snuck into the post season gets healthy, a slumping hitter gets hot, a struggling pitcher finds a fastball that wasn’t there in April, and a team builds enough positive momentum to topple the season long favorite. Add in the Senior, playing his last games as a Rhode Island high school student athlete, maybe his last baseball games before heading off to the military or a trade school or life after baseball. Add in a retiring Head Coach desperate for the one accomplishment they have yet to achieve in their illustrious coaching career – a state title. Add in all the prestige of calling yourself a Rhode Island State Baseball Champion, a title you will be bragging about at reunions and the coffee shoppes of Garden City and the beaches of Westerly for decades to follow. And for many when McCoy Stadium held the state finals, the chance to play where the professionals play and to dream about one day maybe wearing the uniform of the Red Sox or the Yankees or the Rays as a member of that organization on that field. The Rhode Island Scholastic sports state tournament has been such a joy to cover and write about these past few years. And a personal bonus, I got to write about my high school, North Kingstown High School, winning several state baseball titles.
Two cities (that I know of) – Providence and Warwick – hold City Series or Mayor’s Cups every summer. Providence has a number of teams competing – Mt Pleasant, Elmwood, Washington Park, Olneyville at Silver Lake, to name a few – as does Warwick – Apponaug, Warwick North, Warwick Continental American. The teams play a round robin series of games at rotating host fields for the bragging rights of the city they play in. Huge turnouts of fans and families and former players show up to cheer on players, many of whom go to the same elementary school together. Personally, I have always loved this concept of inter-community baseball tournaments and I would love to see more cities follow in the footsteps of Providence and Warwick, if they haven’t already. These City Series tournaments were always a blast to cover.
Whether it was a District All Star game in Bristol or an Eastern Regional Tournament game in Cranston or a State Title game at Pontarelli Field on the campus of Rhode Island College, covering the tournament game involves way, way more than just the play on the field. The fans pace, the fans cheer, the fans walk out of the park only to return when they hear the roar of the crowd. I have “caught” parents hiding behind dugouts, under the stands, in the concession stand who are too stressed out because their kid is now going in to pitch. I have “found” parents in parking lots that should be in the bleachers because their kid is leading off the 7th inning. I have met some of the most fanatical baseball fans at tournament time who stop me in mid-sentence to scream at an umpire that that pitch was a foot outside. Tournament time fans cheer so loud it is deafening at times, and the first pitch hasn’t even been thrown yet. Parents, guardians, brothers, sisters, former players, former coaches – they all bring their A game to a tournament game. Again, many times in the past few years I have attended a game where I knew very little about the teams and have left with a gigantic education about not only the teams, the players, but also the amazing fan support system of each team. Just incredible.
I have said it for years and I hope it becomes reality. I truly believe that every Rhode Island baseball league, if possible budget wise and timewise and volunteer wise, should consider hosting a tournament of some sort here in Rhode Island. I know it is a lot of work, I have volunteered for dozens of tournaments in North Kingstown and know it is not an easy thing to do. The rewards however far out number the struggles, I can honestly attest to that. To every single player, coach, volunteer, admin, parent, and team I have had the opportunity to watch and write about during the special time known as tournament time, thank you for some of the best Rhode Island Baseball Experiences of my lifetime!
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The RIBBE is The Rhode Island Baseball Experience. It is promoting the game of baseball here in the great state of Rhode Island for the entire baseball world to see. The RIBBE is positive stories, photos, videos, and responsible social media posts. The RIBBE is an information resource for families looking for an AAU team or a summer camp or a great place to buy a first baseman’s mitt. The RIBBE is a network of coaches, tournament directors, parents, leagues, and baseball junkies whose passion of the game of baseball is unquestioned. I believe that providing expert analysis, information and directions to ballfields, and coaching advice from some of the top RI baseball minds will help promote the game of baseball here in RI to a whole new level.
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