The Rhode Island Baseball Experience

Promoting Rhode Island Baseball Since 1972

Saturday, April 17th, two Rhode Island collegiate baseball teams squared off in a doubleheader at Newport’s Reynolds Field. The home team, Newport’s Salve Regina University played host to Bristol’s Roger Williams University. I had circled this game (doubleheader) on my calendar when the two teams posted their Spring 2021 schedules about a month ago. A Rhode Island school vs a Rhode Island school, both with tons of local Rhode Island baseball talent, that is a great story, I thought. However, a lot of colleges and universities are not allowing spectators to see live games on their campuses. Each Rhode Island school, college, and university has fairly similar policies on safety protocols – social distancing, mask wearing, CDC guideline procedures – and then has more specific school policies on campus spectators. I want to attend every game I can, but safely and within the guidelines of the school, the college, the organization. So, I emailed/reached out to Coach Eric Cirella of Salve Baseball who then put me in contact with Ed Habershaw, Sports Information Director at Salve Regina University.

Ed phoned me and left me a detailed voicemail on Thursday to let me know that I could attend the game, but there was a “no fan” policy in effect at Salve Regina for their home baseball games. Parking in front of Reynold’s Field was not permitted, so I would have to find parking on the two streets that form the perimeter of the field – Shepard Ave and Lawrence Ave. Also, fans would not be allowed inside the field area, in the bleachers, next to the dugouts, or along the grassy areas of the foul lines. I was allowed to view the game along the perimeter of the field, not inside it. I phoned Ed and voiced my okay to Salve’s policies and mentioned that I would definitely stop by on Saturday and stay to the perimeter of the field. Since there were two games on Saturday, 12 noon and 3, and with the weather being very iffy for baseball around 12, I decided to attend the 3 pm game.

I took the short drive from my home in North Kingstown, over the Jamestown then Newport Bridge, through Downtown Newport, passed Cardines Field, up to Bellevue Ave, passed the International Tennis Hall of Fame, then left on Shepard Ave and found a nice parking spot just a short walk to Reynolds Field. Newport is one of my favorite cities in the entire USA and I just love visiting and seeing all the historical landmarks and uniqueness. As I walked up to Reynolds, I could hear the sounds of baseball, a PA system was playing in between inning music, and the faint chatter of a few fans. I was so excited to be at Reynolds to catch this game and as I got to the entrance of the field, I stepped toward the moss covered stone wall to take my first game photos. “Excuse me, there are no fans allowed on this side of the street, can you please move back. Thank you,” said one of the student attendants at the front entrance area. It was then when I spotted the “No Spectator” signs lining the perimeter of the field, as Ed Habershaw had mentioned. “My fault,” I apologized to the student and moved back to the street. I turned to see a few fans on top of a wall across the street from the field and a few other fans who had found a space under a tree, also across the street. I couldn’t really see much from where I was so I decided to make my way around the perimeter of the field.

Reynolds Field is slightly raised up from street level, so this presented me with a bit of challenge viewing wise. I was able to catch some of the game action from about the first base, short right field area. Again, standing on Shepard Ave and adhering to the “no spectator” policy signs that lined the stone wall perimeter. The first base dugout blocked my view of the batter, but I was able to see the infielders and pitcher. And I was really excited to see North Kingstown’s and Salve student-athlete Patrick Maybach on the mound and to watch him throw. Tall, left handed Pitcher who is the all-time strikeout leader for Salve Regina University Baseball. Wow, what an accomplishment.

As I walked to the right field corner perimeter and made a left onto Lawrence Ave., I spotted a number of fan pockets along the stone wall. There was a pocket of students jawing at the opposing players and then yelling encouragement to their home team. There was a section of parents who had gathered around the centerfield area of the stone wall perimeter. And across the street, there were a few parents up on top of walls and in their cars. I stopped to chat with a few of the parents, who were very excited for Spring baseball but rather disappointed that they had to watch from so far away. I would ballpark their viewing spot to be about 400 feet from home plate, so it definitely was a challenging spot to view the game action. I found a spot nearby and took this video:

I left the parent fan section and continued walking up Lawrence Ave to the corner of the stone wall. Actually, from this spot in just about dead center field, I got the best view of the game. I could see the field, the American Flag was waving proudly next to me, I could see the bullpen area behind the left field fence. I watched a few innings from this spot on the stone wall, sitting with my feet dangling over the side, notebook next to me. The skies in Newport had started to clear up and the sun was shining brightly. The weather had gone from rainy and icky to pleasant and seasonal. I was really loving this view of Reynold’s Field.

On my way back down Lawrence Ave, I stopped to say good-bye to the parents and wished them and their players well. As a parent, I can certainly understand their frustration over not being closer to the game action. Watching a game in the bleachers behind home plate or along one of the baselines is ideal for a baseball fan and parent. Watching it online or 400 plus feet away doesn’t have the same personal feeling or affect, I get it. Salve Regina University, like some many schools, businesses, and organizations has an obligation to protect its student-athletes, its coaches, its faculty, its University, and the health/wellness of its visitors to the campus. These “No Spectator” policies are not meant to be personal or negative, in my opinion. They are put in place with the health/wellness and safety of everyone who attends these baseball games. My hope is that we can all work through these times in a positive manner so that these “no spectator” games become a thing of the past.

As I walked up Shepard Ave towards the front entrance of the field, I once again spotted a few students atop a wall across the street from Reynolds Field. I stopped to chat with them about their view and asked them to take a photo of what they saw. As with the views I encountered, they mentioned that their view wasn’t perfect, there were some obstructions in the way, but it was pretty cool overall. Here is a photo of their view and their spot:

Despite the obstructed views and the “no spectator” policy, I had a fantastic visit to Reynolds Field to watch Salve Regina play Roger Williams. I got to watch North Kingstown’s Patrick Maybach pitch. I caught some of the game action from various spots along the stone wall perimeter. I got a great vantage point in center field next to the American Flag. I chatted with some of the students and parents who attended the game, all along the perimeter of the field and obeying the “no spectator” policies laid out by Salve Regina University. The weather, which was really lousy in the morning, was quite pleasant for my time at the game with sunny skies and wispy clouds and just a light breeze. So, I couldn’t sit in the stands. No problem! I still got to experience the game of baseball on a beautiful Spring afternoon in Newport, safely and within the guidelines of Salve Regina University. And that is why it was a fantastic Rhode Island Baseball Experience.

By the way, the two teams split the doubleheader on Saturday. Roger Williams University won Game 1, 4-2. Salve Regina University won Game 2, 4-3. If you want to learn more about the two Rhode Island collegiate teams and view their upcoming game schedules, here are links to their baseball pages:

Salve Regina University Baseball

Roger Williams University Baseball

Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) is a national sports mentoring and coaching advisory organization whose goal is to “be a catalyst for a positive youth sports culture in all communities across the U.S. PCA works with players, coaches, families, and organizations (large and small) to develop positive youth sports development and good practices on and off the field. I attended an informational session a few seasons back hosted by PCA Certified Trainer Chris Fay, who presented an excellent slideshow of the Positive Coaching Alliance philosophy of youth development in sports. Chris and I have stayed in contact over the years and he recently sent me an email regarding an upcoming PCA information session. Here is the information from that email:

PCA AND THE RED SOX FOUNDATION PRESENT

FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME: 

ADVANCED COACHING WORKSHOP ON LEADING

PRACTICES AND GAMES TO BUILD A POSITIVE, WINNING CULTURE

Rhode Island Baseball Coaches: Thursday, April 29th at 8pm (simple registration required)

Dynamic, interactive workshops for youth baseball coaches designed to tackle the game’s biggest challenges, including:

  • Developing a Positive Team Culture
  • Running Effective and Efficient Practices
  • Managing Common In-Game Situations
  • Teaching the Mental Side of the Game

Positive Coaching Alliance trainers will share research-based, field-tested tips, tools, and best practices, to help coaches build a positive winning culture.  Space is limited to 100 coaches per session.  Please register for the (Rhode Island) workshop via the link below. All workshops will be via Zoom.

Workshop Dates & Times:

  •  Rhode Island: Thursday, April 29th at 8pm (Register)   

There will be a drawing at the end of each session for an autographed Red Sox baseball.  Each workshop is limited to 100 coaches.  If you register, please be sure to attend as we expect these sessions to fill quickly and be extremely popular.

We hope to see your league represented on April 29th!

Questions? Contact Chris Fay at chris_fay@positivecoach.org or 857-225-1889

If you click on the highlighted words “simple registration required” or “Register” above, you will be redirected to the page for registering for this PCA Zoom meeting. And definitely check out the official website of Positive Coaching Alliance at www.positivecoach.org. Please share this with your league’s administrators and any coaches interested in learning how to develop a positive team culture for your baseball organization.

The New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) is a 14 team summer baseball organization that features top collegiate talent playing on some of the best baseball fields in New England. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and like a lot of other summer baseball organizations, the NECBL did not have a season in 2020. The anticipation for 2021 has been ramping up over the past few months and just today I spotted the official 2021 game schedule on their website, www.necbl.com. The schedule can be downloaded into your calendar on your phone or computer, just like this:

According to the NECBL’s game schedule page, opening day/night for the 2021 season is Thursday June 3. The season will run through June and into the first week of August. Rhode Island has two teams in the NECBL – the Newport Gulls and the Ocean State Waves. You can find their individual game schedules by clicking the links here (games and times are subject to change):

As with seasons passed, there are a number of Rhode Island born players who will play this summer in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. As of today, April 15th, here is a list of players from Rhode Island who will be on NECBL teams this summer:

  • Matt Woods, Martha’s Vineyard Sharks
  • Sean Sposato, Mystic Schooners
  • Addison Kopack, Mystic Schooners
  • Bo Brutti, Newport Gulls
  • Alex Ramirez, Ocean State Waves
  • Daniel Baruch, Ocean State Waves
  • Benjamin Kailher, Winnipesaukee Muskrats
  • Luis DeLeon, Valley Blue Sox

Rosters can change from week to week, so stay tuned for more updates on Rhode Island players added to these NECBL teams. Here are a few games I will be looking forward to:

  • June 3rd – Opening night for the Newport Gulls @ Valley Blue Sox
  • June 4th – Opening night for the Ocean State Waves @ Bristol Blues
  • June 4th – Newport Gulls vs Martha’s Vineyard Shark, 1st home game at Cardines Field
  • June 9th – Ocean State Waves vs Danbury Westerners, 1st home game at Old Mountain Field
  • June 12th – Ocean State Waves vs Newport Gulls @ Old Mountain Field
  • June 25th – Newport Gulls vs Ocean State Waves @ Cardines Field

No word yet on whether fans will be allowed to attend games. As more details become available regarding fans, live TV streaming services, tickets, etc, I will be sure to post here and on my social media pages. Whether it is in person or online or on my phone, I am excited to follow the games and the awesomeness of the New England Collegiate Baseball League.

On Tuesday, I decided to venture to Smithfield in search of “big fields” as I would like to refer to them as. Big field is the traditional Amateur, Middle School, High School, Collegiate, Professional style field where the mound is 60’6″ from home plate, the bases are 90 feet apart, and the overall dimensions are much larger than your standard youth baseball field. Smithfield has some of the best baseball fields in Rhode Island. In years passed, I have visited the fields and grounds of Deerfield Park and Whipple, which are a host fields for mostly Smithfield Little League teams. And on Tuesday, I was able to find two “big fields,” which were literally a walk in the woods apart from each other.

Smithfield High School is located on Pleasant View Avenue. The high school baseball field is located beyond the main building and sits opposite to the softball field. I was immediately struck by the condition of the field, the dugouts, the bleachers, the grounds. Everything looked groomed, picked up, tidied up, it was really impressive to see the field in such great shape. I walked around the field and took some photos of the field. Then, I found a hilly area around the mid left field area and took a few photos and video of the field. One thing that struck me was the 402 sign in Centerfield. Someone hits one over that sign, that is showing some Major League power!!! Here are some of my photos of Smithfield High School’s baseball field:

And a video of the field from the hill:

When I was travelling into Smithfield and looking for the high school, I noticed another field close by named Burgess Field. So, after my visit to the high school, I drove about a mile down the road to Albert St, parked, and walked around Burgess Field. Burgess is located across the street from the Smithfield YMCA, but I didn’t see any sort of walking or street access to the field from the Y. No problem, I found Albert St. pretty easy and there was plenty of space to park. I walked the grounds of Burgess and just loved the fact that it too was in such great shape. Whoever takes care of the fields and facilities in Smithfield, should get a raise!!! The park and grounds around the field are massive and there is plenty of space for families to sit and watch a baseball game. I took a lap behind the outfield fence and checked out the wooden area and the brook that runs just past the field. It was so peaceful and comfortable. Here are a few photos I took of the field and surrounding areas:

And a video of the field:

It was a great visit to Smithfield to visit their high school field and Burgess Field. Smithfield truly has some of the best fields in all of Rhode Island. I thoroughly enjoy walking the grounds and checking out all the great nature sights behind and around these baseball parks. After visiting Whipple and Deerfield Park over the years, it was great to discover a few of Smithfield’s “big fields.” Definitely worth the drive to Smithfield to check out a game this year!!!

Saturday morning, through the GameChanger app on my phone, I spotted a Saturday morning game that peaked my interest. The 14U RI Rays were set to play the 14U New England Scorpions at Cranston’s Calise Field at 10am, so I decided to take the drive from my home in North Kingstown. It was a seasonably warm Saturday morning in April, very little wind, and just a spattering of clouds in the sky when I arrived at the field off Dyer Ave. I have been to Calise several times over the years and one of the things I love are all the elevated views. For example, the back parking lot gives the fan, the parent, the incoming player a fantastic first view of the field. Like this photo I took yesterday:

From the parking lot, you can see all of the game action. In fact, there were a number of fans/parents in the parking lot watching the game in their cars or in their foldable chairs. As I walked down the cement path towards the third base dugout, I stopped and found another great spot to watch the game. There is a cement landing that I traversed up a small hill to get to. From there, I could see the entire baseball field and game action, sort of like a camera operator at a professional ball game. Here are some of the photos I snagged from atop this perch in medium left field:

And I captured this video of the entirety of Calise Field from atop this awesome fan spot:

As I walked by fans and family members cheering on their player, I did happen to notice that most were socially distant apart. As I stated earlier, there were fans in the parking lot, some were set up on the grass, others along the bleachers on both sides, and some set up behind the home plate area behind the backstop. Behind home plate, there were two parents videotaping the game, perhaps for the GameChanger Live Stream feature, which allows fans not at the game to actually watch live game action on their phones or computers. I made way up another hill and sat on the stone wall that forms the perimeter of the playground, which sits street level way up and above the field. I got some great shots from this vantage point:

After an inning or two behind home plate, I ventured out to the fencing in short right field to grab some additional photos. Typically, early April baseball games require at least a few layers, possibly a winter ensemble of hats, gloves, scarf, and down jacket. But Saturday was a low to mid 60 degree sunny day, so there was no cause for bundling up. From the left field area, I got some more game photos:

At Calise Field, there is no press box, no concession stand, in fact there isn’t even a scoreboard. Each team sits in uncovered dugouts and shares a single bench. In a lot of ways, Calise is a classic throwback, neighborhood baseball field. It may have had the same look and feel 10, 20, 30, maybe 40 years ago. What I love about Calise is this. There is no pomp and circumstance, no frills. It is just a safe place for players to play, coaches to coach, and fans to cheer at. Calise has some of the best perches and vantage points to watch a baseball game. The fact the field is sunk below street level and there are so many hilly spots throughout the park means you can easily find a great spot throughout the park to watch a game. My personal favorite is the stone wall up the hill behind the backstop.

The RI Rays and the New England Scorpions played in front of their family and friends Saturday morning. That has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it??? Two talented Rhode Island baseball clubs getting ready for their 2021 AAU Spring season as fans and family cheered them on. It was great to catch the game and take a walking tour of Calise Field and all its great vantage points. A fantastic Rhode Island Baseball Experience at Calise Field in Cranston.

I was semi-introduced to Lenny DiNardo about 3 years ago. I was doing an article about a newly founded and newly opened Snapdragon Baseball Facility in Exeter. Inside the facility, my two hosts Jeremy and Sean showed me around the front desk area, where the cages were set up, we talked about some upcoming plans for the facility, as well as their new baseball organization – Snapdragon Baseball. As I toured the facility, a tall left handed coach was playing catch with a tall right handed player, about my son’s age, in the back corner of the facility. Clearly, the two were just warming up and I didn’t catch their faces at first. As Jeremy walked me into the netting to show me their baseball equipment, the coach and the player started to ramp up their throws. I turned to watch the tall left handed coach zip a straight laser fastball towards the player, who caught it about chest high and with a “THWACK” so loud it echoed. That echo shouted “I am a Major League Baseball caliber pitcher.” As I looked closer at the coach, I realized who it was, Lenny DiNardo. The player who caught it, by the way, was Henry Hersum, who is now an elite prospect right handed Pitcher has signed to play for Old Dominion University in Virginia.

A few weeks back, on a return visit to Snapdragon Baseball in Exeter, and after chatting with a few of my North Kingstown/Wickford Little League friends at the facility, I found Lenny DiNardo in a familiar spot in the back section of the facility. He was working with a few youth baseball players on, you guessed it, Pitching. I formally introduced myself to him, lowering my mask to say hello, and then let him get back to coaching. Real nice guy, pleasant, humble, but you could hear the professional ball player in his feedback to the players. Having a coach of Lenny DiNardo’s caliber watch and analyze your wind-up, your arm angle, your throws to the plate – that is an exceptional opportunity for a young baseball player.

Post Major League Baseball career, Lenny DiNardo has been a frequent contributor in-studio at NESN and provides expert analysis of Boston Red Sox games. As a former Red Sox Pitcher, Lenny helps dissect the why’s and what happened’s alongside a team of former Boston Red Sox greats. In addition to his coaching clinics at Snapdragon Baseball, Lenny is the Northeast Assistant Director of Pitching for Area Scouts, which is an national organization that “provides athletes with a state of the art assessment, an athlete development program/score, and professional evaluations. Through our innovative B.A.S.E. Assessment™, and Professional grade scouting reports, athletes will be given specific tools to enhance their skill set and achieve success,” according to their website, http://www.areascouts.com. Through my relationship with Area Scouts Director of Operations, Bryan Murray, I was able to message Lenny to gauge his interest in answering some baseball questions. Lenny agreed and we connected recently via email to chat about pitching, guitars, and his favorite youth baseball memory. Here is an excerpt of that conversation:

RIBBE: In a close ball game, a hitter beats out an infield single where most runners would be out.  At any moment, you and your teammates could be dealing with a base stealing situation.  Right handed or left handed pitcher – how to keep this fast runner at first base guessing and hopefully at first base?  

Lenny: I feel like the best way to keep a base runner guessing and close to first base is by alternating your times and being quick to the plate. Typically 1.3 seconds from start till glove pop is a good time and will give your catcher enough time to throw a runner out. Holding at the set position for a one count or four count and everything in between while not getting stuck in a pattern is key.

RIBBE: On average and at various levels of baseball, do pitchers take a peek at who’s on deck?  There is a focused effort on the batter in the box, but do they stop and think “oh, Jones is on deck, I better dig in here?”

Lenny: Yes it’s always a good idea to know who’s on deck and even who’s in the hole. If there’s a strong hitter on deck, it’s not a bad idea to bear down and get the guy at the plate out. Also, if there’s a weaker hitter on deck you might be able to pitch around the strong hitter at the plate. Strong and weak is relative of course. In the MLB any hitter can do damage. Knowing the scouting report and how well/poor you’ve done in the past against these hitters is important.

Red Sox pitcher Lenny DiNardo (55) delivers against the Orioles at Camden Yards Thursday, September 14, 2006.

RIBBE: On average, what velocity difference should a pitcher work on achieving between their fastball and off speed pitches? 

Lenny: For me the quality of a pitch is directly associated with the location, the movement and the speed or the difference of speed in regards to an off-speed pitch. If it’s located you don’t have to have a great difference in speed or movement. If it’s moving everywhere it doesn’t have to be located in the perfect spot. It just has to get a swing. Just a rule of thumb is around 8mph difference between a CH (change-up) and FB (fastball). It’s pretty wide for a CB (curveball). You see a pretty wide difference between pitchers. The long and short is that if you locate with movement than it really doesn’t matter too much.

RIBBE: Why do some pitchers work better out of the stretch position as opposed to a wind-up? 

Lenny: It’s really just a comfort level thing. A lot of pitchers feel they get better flow or timing out of the wind up versus the stretch. These days you see a lot more pitchers strictly pitching from the stretch or a modified version of the wind up that resembles the stretch. 

RIBBE: A youth baseball player, say 12 years old, is really struggling on the mound throwing strikes.  Is there anything a catcher can do at this point to make a difference?  Take a time out?  Move around behind the plate to the inside or outside half of the plate?

Lenny: First and foremost a catcher can slow the game down for a pitcher who is struggling. A game that’s too fast can snowball causing a pitcher to really struggle and dig themselves in a deep hole. Going out to the mound with a positive affirmation can go a long ways. When a pitcher is missing in a certain spot whether it’s up or down, a catcher can put his target in the opposite direction in an exaggerated zone. For example if he’s missing consistently up and in by 8 to 12 inches the catcher can put his glove down and way 8 to 12 inches to force the pitcher to adjust his release point.  

RIBBE: Dispel the rumor – A short (height wise) pitcher can’t throw hard.

Lenny: False. I played with plenty of pitchers short in stature who threw a lot harder than some pitchers that are huge. One for example in Oakland was Rich Harden who threw close to 100 miles an hour. A smaller pitcher just has to get the most out of their body. Being efficient with their mechanics and drive will allow this. Genetics also plays a big role.

RIBBE: In your opinion and based on your experience, how far up the chain can a one trick pony type pitcher go?  For example, a youth baseball player, maybe HS level, that can just throw so hard that he throws it by hitters.  No change-up, no breaking ball, just gas.  How high can a pitcher like this go?

Lenny: I feel like a pitcher in high school can get away with one pitch as long as he locates it very well. Once he gets to a higher level he’d get exposed pretty quickly because hitters will start guessing one pitch in one zone. The more gifted the hitter the more he’ll be able to catch up with just a fastball. A well located change or breaking ball along with a fastball will slow/down speed up a hitter and make his fastball that much better.

RIBBE: What makes LHP’s so hard to hit for a left-handed batter?  Why don’t right-handed batters have the same issues with RHPs?

Lenny: It might have something to do with lefties having a little more deception or being only 10% of the population they’re just not used to seeing the ball coming from that angle.

RIBBE: What goes through a Pitcher’s mind when the baseball is popped up in the infield?  Drop, hide, and run?  Or, “I got it, I got it!!!”

Lenny: As a pitcher, when there’s a ball popped up in the infield the thought process should be aggressive to the ball until you’re called off. When called off peel away so you don’t get in the way. The worst thing you could do is assume that someone else will grab it because that’s when the ball will land right in front of you.

RIBBE: Is there such a thing as a rising fastball?  One that leaves the pitcher’s hand, travels in one plane, then accelerates up and out of the strike zone?

Lenny: My understanding of a rising fastball is that it doesn’t actually rise but it stays on the same plane longer rather than dipping. A four seam fastball has four seams working together, gripping the air keeping it up on that plane longer versus a two seam fastball. Two seam fastballs or sinkers cause the ball to fade typically arm side.

RIBBE: Ok, Uncle Charlie coming at ya!  If you could be gifted a guitar for your next live gig, would you go Martin, Gibson or Fender? or Fill in the Blank.

Lenny: I would actually choose a Maton Wedgetail. I believe there were only around 30 made in Australia in the 60’s and it’s my white whale. I collect/play a variant of Maton’s. Great guitars. 

RIBBE: What was a better feeling for you as a youth baseball player/high school player – strikeouts in a big game or a big hit in a big game?

Lenny: In my youth I was able to experience throwing a no-hitter in high school and also hitting a grand slam to win the game. I’m gonna go with hitting the grand slam probably because it didn’t happen as often. Pitchers are always bragging about how good of a hitter they are. When I was older, I was one of the best 5 o’clock hitters around.

I was so thrilled to connect with Lenny on this series of questions and his answers did not disappoint. I really appreciate the well thought out answers and the amazing advice. Also, from a fan perspective I am a “geeking out” about the photo with Lenny and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. Wow. Thanks so much Lenny, I really appreciate this.

Special thanks to Bryan Murray of Area Scouts for helping me set up this interview. You can check out all things Area Scouts by going to www.areascouts.com.


The Rhode Island Rays are an AAU charter baseball team with divisions from 9U to 14U. Over the many years of covering RI AAU Baseball, I have gotten to know some of the outstanding coaches and talented players who are part of the Rays Baseball Club. Many North Kingstown/Wickford Little Leaguers have played for the Rays and have enjoyed not only the local games, but tournaments throughout New England, New York, and Florida.

I saw a recent post on the RI Rays Facebook page regarding a charity golf tournament for their 14U division. The post read “The Road to Ft. Myers” meaning Ft. Myers, Florida so I emailed Jim Agnew, who has been sharing posts with me about the RI Rays for years now. Jim sent me the PDF document of the upcoming fundraiser golf tournament. The tournament will be held on Saturday, June 5th at Laurel Lane Country Club in West Kingston. There are registration opportunities for single players or foursomes. Here is a snapshot of the flyer which includes pricing and contact information for registering:

Jim then directed me to the Perfect Game Tournament page for more information. I am a “FAN” of the RI Rays 14U club on GameChanger, so I looked up their schedule and there it was. June 26 through July 1st – PG Ft Myers Tournament. On the Perfect Game Tournament page for that weekend is the 2021 14U BCS National Championship Tournament. There amongst the 90 or so baseball teams scheduled to compete is the 14U Rhode Island Rays Baseball Club. Oh, by the way, they are playing at Jet Blue Park, Ft. Myers, FL, Spring Training home of the Boston Red Sox. Very cool. You can read more about the tournament by clicking this link – PG 14U BCS Ft Myers.

If you would like to participate in the 2021 RI Rays 14U “Road to Ft Myers Golf Tournament”, click the link in caption section below the team flyer above. This will take you to the RI Rays webpage where you can find out more information about registering to play in the golf tournament, as well as more about the RI Rays baseball club. Having visited Jet Blue Park and all of their baseball fields several times myself, I can honestly say that this experience will be incredible for these players and their families.

Chariho Regional High School’s Henry E. Kenyon Baseball Field is located off Switch Road in Wood River Junction, Rhode Island. From my house in North Kingstown, I took Ten Rod Road to Route 2, then took the side road to Shannock Hill Road, then Pine Hill Rd, then left onto Switch Road before spotting the baseball field across from a massive turf farm. It is the first time I have stepped onto Kenyon Field since I played there as a North Kingstown High School Skipper baseball player in the Spring of 1990.

The temperature was barely over the freezing mark when I arrived this morning. The front gate to the sports area (track oval, football field, baseball field) was open so I decided to head over to the baseball field and take some photos. Despite the cold temps, it was a really nice, sunny Spring morning there at Chariho High School. I walked around the baseball field and checked out the dugouts and press box area. Around the field, I could see some pending field and grounds projects in the works, as High School baseball is due to start around the first week of May.

Chariho, for those of you not from Rhode Island, is not actually a town or city in Rhode Island. It is an area that represents several communities in Southern Rhode Island – Charlestown, Richmond, Hopkinton. This area of Southern Rhode Island has some amazing landscape that ranges from beautiful beaches to gorgeous wooden areas, and impressive farms and agricultural areas. Just alone on my drive to Chariho this morning, I drove from the beach area of Wickford, through the wooden area of Exeter, and into the turf farms area of Wood River Junction. Nestled right there across from the turf farms and with the wooden backdrop that borders the high school is Kenyon Baseball Field.

Chariho Regional High School starts their 2021 season on the road this year at Mickey Stevens vs Toll Gate High School on May 7th. Their first home game at Kenyon is May 17th vs Central High School. I hope to catch a few of their games this Spring down at Kenyon. It was great talking a walk down memory lane this morning. Great field and great sports complex down there at Chariho Regional High School. Good luck Chargers Baseball players, coaches, and families this Spring!

A few weeks back, I had the incredible opportunity to meet and sit with Bert Reid of Pappas/OPT Physical Therapy in his office in Wakefield. During that visit, Bert and I discussed a number of topics related to baseball and sport injuries and treating athletes of all ages. He gave me a tour of his Wakefield facility which includes a full compliment of rehabilitation and fitness equipment, and as well as photos and sports memorabilia and local team shout-outs to Bert and his amazing staff at OPT, which recently merged with Pappas Physical Therapy. At the end of our meeting, Bert shared a number of articles and research documents on a very hot topic leading up to Opening Day for youth baseball – what is the most common injury for the youth baseball player. Bert and I agreed to converse over email regarding this topic and I am so thrilled to share our conversation with you. Bert is an expert in the physical therapy and sports rehabilitation profession and his decades of knowledge are so important to share with youth baseball parents, players, and coaches. Please follow along as Bert and I discuss a number of topics related to this very important discussion about the youth baseball player’s health and wellness.

RIBBE: Bert, first off thank you for taking the time to answer these important questions. So, what is the most common injury, based on your experience, that a youth baseball family should be concerned with.

Bert:  The most common injury of Little League and/or a young person playing baseball would be the diagnosis of Little League shoulder and Little League elbow. What exactly does that mean, how does it occur, and what is the best approach to make sure it doesn’t turn a small problem into a very big problem.

RIBBE: Bert, if a youth baseball player tells his/her coach that they are experiencing pain while throwing the baseball, what are the first steps that should be taken? By the player?  By the coach?  By the parent?

Bert: The first thing, the most accepted strategy, and this is from Dr. James Andrews, is if the player says they have ” shoulder pain”, the recommendation is immediately 3 weeks of no throwing. He/she would be allowed to hit, play in the field and stretch out but not allowed to throw for 3 weeks. If the pitcher says he/she has elbow pain, the immediate recommendation is 3 weeks of no activity. The difference is zero activity for elbow trouble, with the shoulder they allow the player to hit and play the field. They would try to minimize the amount of throws so playing catcher or centerfield is dicey. Realize a couple of things, that recommendation applies to the research of a thousand baseball players, and that represents the path towards an earliest return, a better outcome and the likelihood of not turning a small problem into a big one. A single player, like a pilot study if you will, may possibly be able to come back somewhat sooner. But generally, over the course of the studies, three weeks is the recommendation. Shut down time, and during that time they would be into rehabilitation. Physical therapy or with the athletic trainer, whomever has the expertise. The coach has to open the communication with the player and have the trust that the player will admit to having soreness in the shoulder or elbow. That is a matter of maturity on the player, and that the coach can trust that an injury will be reported. What the player (and parent for that matter) may want to hear most is that the coach understands the injury, and that both of their goals is to make sure a small problem does not become a big problem. Usually if you tell the player if we take care of this problem now you will be looking at three weeks, if you don’t tell me about it or you prolong taking care of it it could take you out for three months or more. If they don’t report the injury and a major injury is in fact suffered, the player could be out for at least 12 months, for things such as UCL (Ulnar Collateral Ligament Tear) or Rotator Cuff (Shoulder) repair. The actual return to play statistics from Dr. Steven Cohen at Al, of the Rothman Institute of Orthopedics, the Doctors for the Philadelphia Phillies, are:  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23015998/

RIBBE: At what point or what would be the criteria for a player to be seen by a medical professional, such as yourself?

Bert: The criteria for deciding when a player should be seen by the orthopedist, the sports medicine doctor, or the Doctor of physical therapy is similar in the sense to when a runner is injured. If you are compensating and changing the way you run because of the injury a good rule of thumb is you should not be out there running. It has been stated that if you are able to play with some symptoms but don’t have to change your technique, compensate or avoid the symptoms then you are likely safe. If you are trying to run, but limping and compensating in the gait technique, best advice would be to avoid the activity.

Bert: It brings up another interesting paradigm that the player will report that they have a symptom. It’s very important to understand that where the symptom is is very likely not where the problem is. From a kinetic chain biomechanics standpoint, the job of the physical therapist is to identify which joint or muscle group is limited in its motion, or which one has an element of weakness, and that limitation would cause a symptom such as tendinitis. The important understanding there is that symptoms will occur as a result of somewhere else in the kinetic chain where there is a lack of good range of motion for lacking the functional stability/strength to control the motion. An example of this would be for the runner having very tight hip internal rotation can change the way the limb hits the ground during shock absorption, and then during the propulsion phase also limited which would cause a torqueing at the knee. So the runner may feel the symptom at the knee or diffusely at the knee, but the problem exists because their hip mobility is poor and causes symptoms at the knee. In the baseball player a lack of good shoulder internal rotation is the number one cause for elbow sprain/strain and shoulder pain.  For example, a group of pitchers with a lack of shoulder internal rotation are twice as likely to have elbow strain/sprain than a group of pitchers with normal range of motion of the shoulder.

RIBBE: In the dugouts, team managers have a first aid kit with ice bags.  Is an ice bag still recommended for treating an upper body injury, such as a sore elbow or tight shoulder or is there another remedy you would suggest?

Bert: Generally you can’t go wrong with the old axiom PRICE – Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate.  Ice after injury is very effective for the first one to three days. Not as effective after the first several days, but still recommended for symptom relief locally.  Newer evidence suggests ice does less than what we thought it did years ago, but early on it does have an effect that saves time down the road regarding edema/inflammation.

RIBBE: If a player has an elbow sleeve, will that solve as a quick fix for a player’s elbow injury?  What is the purpose (if any) of the elbow sleeve?

Bert: Elbow sleeves can help with compression, some people feel like it “feels good” to have that compression and tactile stimulation. It doesn’t do anything to prevent or to heal the injury.  Generally if it feels good, it is okay to wear one, but it should not be looked at as any kind of a solution. It may help relieve some symptoms, but remember we don’t want to chase symptoms. As a physical therapist treating a youth baseball player, I want to find out where the mechanical flaw is in the kinetic chain.

RIBBE: If a player has an elbow injury and continues to “play through the pain”, can he/she cause damage to other parts of the upper body?

Bert:  Playing through the pain is never recommended. In this example of the player that has an elbow injury, as stated in previous answers, the recommendation is three weeks of no activity before beginning a rehabilitation program. The payback is that you may be out three weeks plus rehab time, but if you damage the elbow and require surgery it would be more like 14 months to return to play on average.

RIBBE: Do catchers experience arm and shoulder injuries in the same frequency as pitchers?  What about infielders and outfielders?

Bert: Catchers definitely have arm injuries as a result of continually tossing the ball back to the pitcher, but it is at such a lesser intensity. A pitcher throwing a fastball will be moving the arm through an arc of motion as much as 3000° per second. It is the fastest velocity that we can create, and the forces are maximum.  Any degree of less velocity is less likely to injure the shoulder… so the many throws per game of the warm-up and then in game return the ball to the pitcher do add up, but do not constitute the same level of likely injurious velocity. They are more likely to get hurt when throwing out a base runner at second base trying to steal because of the high rate of arm speed.

RIBBE: In your experience, should youth sports athletes such as youth baseball players stretch their upper body muscles before games?  What benefits (if any) do stretching the muscles of the upper body give the youth athlete?

Bert: Definitely a need to stretch and more importantly go through some functional baseball movements in warm-ups. This is a very important message for the warm-ups for all sports, running, tennis, and baseball as well. Every joint, every muscle, every fascia, every ligament, every tendon has these sensors called Proprioceptors.  They respond to movement and guide us regarding the angle of movement, the speed of movement, what muscles to call in and when to call them in, among other beautiful and amazing graceful activations.  The most important message here is that we have to warm-up the proprioceptors, we have to wake them up. And they will help us move better, more gracefully, more powerfully, and just as importantly they will prevent the injury. What this means for the baseball player is warming up in a functional baseball way. These are things that look like throwing, they activate the muscle groups which protect your shoulder, focusing also on the landing leg which is the “braking system” for the throwing shoulder to protect it from injury. We also do a core warm-up because the middle of the body is where the power is created in the shoulder is acting as an extension of the core. You do not want to create power with the shoulder or elbow or you will ruin it. You create power at the core and the shoulder becomes an extension of the core. So, we do warm-ups before baseball for a purpose to turn on, to rev up the proprioceptor’s. Unfortunately, most of what is handed down from generation of basic stretches are things that are not likely to hurt anybody but they rarely help because they are not baseball specific, and not based on the proprioceptive activity that matches baseball tasks and movements.

RIBBE: Referring to youth baseball players, are there strength and conditioning movements for the upper body areas – shoulder, forearm, elbow – that players should be doing under supervision?  At what age would a player want to start this type of conditioning program?

Bert: Newer information shows that you can begin strength training at any time. It is progressive, precautionary, a great idea to build strength and endurance and now is done in what is called a “sport – specific” way. For example there are running exercises for runners, there are baseball exercises for baseball players, and there are football exercises that are specific to football. Again, they focus on the proprioceptors and the movements related to the sport.  General fitness is wonderful, the weight room is a good idea if you want to become stronger in the weight room but that does not necessarily translate into becoming a better athlete. A good example of this would be you can become the bicep king of South County, and have beautiful biceps, and that does not make you a better tennis player or baseball player. Doing heavy squats in the weight room means you would likely get bigger legs and become better at squats but it does not mean you will become a better baseball player. You would still have to go through the process of developing baseball specific strength and power, as well as endurance which are all subsets of strength.

I am so excited to talk baseball and rehabilitation and more importantly, path to recovery with OPT’s Bert Reid. Bert is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to sharing important tips on injury diagnosis and the clear route back to the playing field. In the weeks and months to come, Bert and I will be chatting about a number of baseball related topics that he sees with patients from youth sports athletes to the amateur and professional athletes at his facilities. This article contains a lot of great information and if you need further clarification on any of the topics discussed, feel free to contact me at ribaseballexperience@gmail.com. You also connect with Bert or a Pappas/OPT staff member by going to their website, www.pappaspt.com/opt-ri/, to learn more about their facilities, locations, and services.

My mother got her second Covid-19 vaccine shot recently, so I stopped by her home to check on her. She was doing fine and after we exchanged stories about what was going on in our lives, she mentioned that she had something for me. She had found a Standard Times newspaper clipping back from when I played high school baseball that somehow had landed on the floor in her den closet. It was from May, 1990 and it featured a baseball game I played in for North Kingstown High School vs Narragansett High School. Peeling back the cobwebs of baseball memories, I started to recall bits and pieces from that game. One memory that popped into my head was a towering home run hit by one of my teammates, Jason Tucker. It actually landed in the tennis courts and then bounced onto Kingstown Rd. A massive shot that I would estimate at about 420 feet, at least. My mom pointed out the mention of that Tucker dinger in the article. “See, it mentions Jason. The Narragansett Coach said ‘I haven’t seen a ball hit that far since the days of George Nixon.'” “Let me see that, Mom,” I asked and she handed me the crumpled newspaper page. “George Nixon,” the name didn’t ring any bells for me. “May I keep this,” I asked my mother wanting to find out who this George Nixon player was. “Oh yes of course, I have no use for it,” she replied and we said our good-byes. As I was walking towards my car in her rain soaked driveway, I looked at the newspaper page again. “George Nixon” “haven’t seen a ball hit that far” I said out loud. I started to ponder “was George Nixon on the team that year or in the years I played?” I was eager to get home and do some George Nixon research.

I got a hit on the first search for “George Nixon baseball” on Google. This is going to be the easiest baseball article I have ever researched for. I giddily clicked on the link on Baseball Reference and my enthusiasm deflated. George Nixon in this case played 2 seasons of Minor League baseball in the late 1940s. He managed to win 11 games in 2 seasons. Surely, this wasn’t the George Nixon the Narragansett High School coach was referring to. Strike one. I then entered “George Nixon Rhode Island” into the Google search. Strike two, no mentions specifically about a man named George Nixon and baseball and ties to Narragansett. There were a few “George Nixons” listed that lived throughout the state, but nothing that I was researching for I wasn’t ready to strikeout on George Nixon, so my next order of business was to text my sister Erin, who is a teacher at Narragansett High School. “Hey sis, who is the current Narr Baseball Coach and how can I contact him?” She replied later that afternoon with the coach’s information. Success – base hit!!!

“Thanks for taking the time to chat Coach,” I stated via email to Narragansett Baseball’s Alex Plympton. “Do you recall the name “George Nixon” and did he play for Narragansett High School? If so, can you contact me at 401-533-0913, because I am very interested in his story.” A few hours later, I received a call from Coach Plympton while I was driving to work. “George Nixon, wow, where did you dig that name up from,” started Coach Plympton. I mentioned the visit to my mother’s home, that I played high school baseball in the late 1980’s, and the newspaper article featuring my friend Jason and the home run comparison to George Nixon. “I haven’t heard that name in years, my older brother played with him on the Narragansett team in 1977. Wow, that name was the talk of Narragansett that high school year. In fact, the entire state of Rhode Island baseball knew the name George Nixon.” I asked Coach Plympton if I could contact his brother regarding Nixon, to which Plympton agreed. Plympton’s brother Aaron worked for the Narragansett Parks and Recreation Department and could be seen most days at Sprague Park attending to the grounds. I thanked Coach Plympton and was excited about this next link in the George Nixon chain. Another successful at bat, runners on first and second!

On Tuesday morning, I took the drive from my home in North Kingstown down to Sprague Park in Narragansett to meet up with Aaron Plympton. I had phoned Plympton over the weekend and he said he would have about 10 minutes to talk baseball, as he was prepping the Majors Field and the High School fields for Spring baseball. I arrived and saw a man attaching signage to the backstop of the High School field and called out to him “Aaron?” The man, focused on his work, flinched and then turned around to face me “yes, I’m Aaron.” “Hi,” I raised my hand “I’m Noel from the Rhode Island Baseball Experience, I called you about George Nixon.” Aaron put his work assignment down on the lawn cart in front of him and smiled. “George Nixon, the one season wonder,” he said. An incredible rush went through my baseball soul as I was finally going to hear about this man. “Let’s find a spot in the home side dugout here and chat, it looks like we are going to get some rain in a few,” Aaron motioned to the dugout on the first base side of the field. I walked next to him with a little pace as the raindrops, as Aaron predicted, began to fall. Aaron found a spot in the corner of the dugout and sat with his back up against the cement wall. I parked myself about 6 feet from him and took out my notebook to take notes. Aaron started “So, what do you want to know about Nix?” Crack, another solid base hit, bases are loaded and the clean-up hitter is walking to the plate.

I mentioned the newspaper article and the home run my friend had hit. “Landed in the tennis courts, wow that is a humdinger of a homer. Nix used to hit them onto the street in batting practice,” laughed Aaron. “So, he batted left handed?” I asked. “The funny thing is I remember him starting to bat right handed and then he switched. George’s father was a fisherman down there in Galilee and George would work with him during school and on school vacations. From the reeling, I guess he got his left forearm muscles busted or something, so he switched to batting left. Used to swing the bat almost like a tennis racquet, like hitting a backhand shot (Aaron demonstrated a backhand motion). With one hand, he could hit the ball a mile.” Aaron paused for a moment, maybe to recall some of the Nixon home runs from his high school days. “Ok, so George played on the Narragansett team? Was he a four year player?” Aaron shuck his head, “No, he only played one season. His junior year, 1977, he played all 12 games that year. And got only 5 hits. 5 home runs. The rest of the time he was either walked or hit by a pitch.” I shot back “So, he batted a thousand? He never flied out or popped out or struck out? 5 hits, 5 homers, that’s it?” “Yep, and a ton walks, maybe 3 per game,” Aaron mentioned. “You see, by the second or third game of the season, George’s name had gotten around to the other High School coaches. No one in the state could throw it by him. And he had the vision of an eagle. Sure they would throw curveballs and sliders and sinkers and the occasional knuckleball to try to get him to chase. George was the most patient player and hitter I have ever seen. Maybe it was his family’s background in fishing or something? He would go 3 games sometimes without seeing a strike. And then, when a pitcher would let his guard down, George would make him pay with a towering blast. George didn’t just hit home runs, he hit moon shots.” “So, you said he played his Junior year and that’s it? What happened to him his Senior year, 1978? Did his family move?” Aaron paused again, a blew out a long exhale. This time it was a sad memory. “After the season, George and his father were back at the fishing thing. One morning they left Galilee, and no one ever heard from him again. They sent a rescue ship out for them, Coast Guard, helicopters, that sort of thing. After a week or so of searching, they came back empty. George and his father and the crew of that fishing ship just disappeared. No wreckage, no life raft, nothing.” Aaron stared out onto Sprague Field as the rain began to let up. “Wow, I’m so sorry for your loss” I sincerely felt bad for bringing this sad memory up for Aaron. “I think he would have been scouted and maybe drafted the following year. I can honestly say I have never seen a more feared hitter in all my years cutting these fields,” as Aaron pointed to baseball fields just on the other side of the dugout fencing. Wham, grand slam!!!

Aaron and I left the dugout and parted ways around home plate. I thanked him for the information about George Nixon and felt both happy and sad to have learned about him. A season for the ages. 5 hits, 5 home runs, a one thousand batting average. Nixon was the most feared hitter in Rhode Island in 1977 and hit Ruthian home runs seemingly with one hand. Pitchers tried their best to fool him but Nix was always one step ahead. A one season wonder and a legendary baseball player gone too soon, George Nixon.

Editor’s Note: This is a fictional story with events, places, and persons both real and imagined. Over the years, I have loved creative writing pieces and most definitely on April Fools Day, April 1st. Last year, with Covid-19 hitting all of us like a fastball to the hip, I decided not to write a funny, fictional piece for April 1st. This year, with renewed optimism and vaccines and activities picking up, I wanted to revisit my love of creative writing and publish a fun and engaging April Fools article.

Happy April Fools Day to all my Rhode Island baseball community members.