Last summer, I visited Block Island to help complete my tour of Rhode Island Baseball fields and celebrate my wedding anniversary, not necessarily in that order. Block Island’s Heinz Field was photographed and catalogued after a nice day at the beach, touring the island’s beautiful landscape, and dinner and a toast with my wife Rachel. I got some great shots of the field and surrounding area on that warm, summer day.
I was interested to see how the Block Island School managed to play a regular season of baseball games, travel, recruit and develop players through their recreation program, and compete with other Rhode Island Schools. Their baseball team, The Hurricanes, plays in the Coastal Prep League. Through Julie Mancini of the Rhode Island Interscholastic League, I had the opportunity to meet, via email and phone conversations, Block Island School’s Athletic Director Robert Closter and Head Baseball Coach John Tarbox. Robert and John had a similar response to my question about how Block Island School manages to field a team, travel, and compete, “It is a tricky, sometimes challenging situation, but always, in the end, very rewarding.”
Closter mentioned that travel is a very tricky element of their program. Block Island School must prepare for close to 3 hours of travel sometimes depending on location of their away game opponent. Coach Tarbox mentioned “the team takes about a 15 minute bus ride to the ferry, then about 1 hour on the water, then we hop on a bus (bus is courtesy of Narragansett School Department) and then more travel to our game destination.” So, the Block Island Hurricanes travel and sit and try to stay focused on away game days. Oh, and there is the weather element and what Coach Tarbox described as being “off island.” “Off island is not an option for our kids,” Coach said, “so we have to leave school early for heavy travel days, which we of course work out with the teachers and school administrators. And, we check the weather for any potential scenarios that would delay and/or cancel ferries to and from the Island, like every hour of a game day. And, one more thing. We need to be back on the return ferry or last ferry of the day, no questions asked. So we work with the opposing coaching staff on scheduling early game and sometimes have to leave mid-game to meet our ferry schedule. As I said earlier, it is tricky at times.”
Another interesting wrinkle in the Block Island Hurricanes program is player availability. Coach Tarbox mentioned that the BI high school team typically fields 10-12 players. The 2019 season was one of the largest rosters at 15 players. “We have little or no feeder system in town, simply due to population. Where other towns and cities have tryouts and huge turnouts for recreational programs, we have to be realistic with the numbers presented to us.” Tarbox mentioned that there are a number of homegrown, Block Island Hurricanes that played through the New Shoreham (Block Island) recreational system, then at the middle school level (which over the years featured both boys and girls baseball), and are now starring for the High School team. “We have been blessed with a few players this year whose families moved here from Guatemala and their sons joined our roster. However, this season was one of their first experiences with playing baseball.” The coaching angle that presents Coach Tarbox with interesting challenges is balancing his talented players with his less experienced players. Keeping the positive vibes flowing on a team with players who can hit, pitch, catch, and play defense with proficiency versus players who cannot do most baseball skills of an average youth baseball player. The rewards came, according to Tarbox, did in fact come during the season with players getting their first hit, their first putout in the outfield, their first steal, and the team rallied and celebrated together, as teammates, as Hurricanes.
The 2019 Block Island Hurricanes Baseball team finished a respectable 5-5 in league play. Coach Tarbox has a nice group of players for next season and his optimism and approach to baseball is just fantastic. He has been with the Block Island School baseball team for 31 years now. John is also a member of the Block Island School teaching faculty in the Physical Education Department. He, along with Athletic Director Rob Closter and yours truly (class of 1994), attended Springfield College and played collegiate baseball for the Chiefs (now Maroons). And check out AD Closter in this classic picture from the 1994 season of Block Island Baseball. He has the catcher’s gear on, first row all the way to the left.
Coach Tarbox will be running The Champion Baseball Camp this summer at Heinz Field, Block Island from July 8th through the 11th. Heinz Field is located just passed the Block Island Airport on Old Center Rd. (just ask a BI local and they will direct you.) The camp will feature Tarbox as well as Coach Paul Steiner, a longtime associate who coaches RHAM High School in CT. The camp will run from 9am to 1pm and will include baseball skills training for ages 6 – 15 years of age. This is an awesome idea for your baseball son or daughter to get some quality instruction, if you are on the Island vacationing for the week or the day. Contact the New Shoreham Recreation Department for more information and payment details.
It was great meeting AD Robert Closter and Head Baseball Coach John Tarbox of the Block Island School. The Hurricanes play a tricky, challenging, yet always rewarding season of baseball in the Coastal Prep League as well as some interstate games with other Division 2 and 3 RI schools. Their players experience the travel log of a professional minor league team, having to go 3 hours sometimes by bus, ferry, bus again to their away game destinations. Coach Tarbox is a positive influence with over 30 years of baseball coaching experience, which leads to his success both on and off the baseball field for these young athletes. Great story of dealing with so many different elements and how a team effort – Athletic Department, School Department, parents, players, coaching staff – works together to get these players playing baseball.
If you would like to attend the Champions Baseball Summer Camp, contact the New Shoreham Recreation Department at 401-466-3223. Thanks again to Coach John Tarbox and AD Robert Closter for their detailed insights on Block Island Hurricanes Baseball.