The Rhode Island Interscholastic League’s Varsity Baseball calendar for Saturday, May 22nd was filled with incredible matchups. Rhode Island High School teams from all over the state competed on Saturday. Some teams would need to take school transportation, for example a bus, to their games. Other teams, perhaps the home teams, would simply meet at their high school and walk to the baseball field as a team. Some teams that are fairly close in proximity would have maybe a 10 or 15 minute journey to play on Saturday. But one team on Saturday, without question, had to travel the farthest, using not one, not two, but multiple modes of transportation to play their away game. That team, Paul Cuffee School, located on the Cranston/Providence line, would need several modes of transportation to get to their away game vs The Block Island School. And I was lucky enough to experience at least some of their journey on Saturday.
Going back a few weeks, and per the protocol of the Rhode Island Interscholastic League for attending games as media, I reached out to Block Island School Athletic Director Rob Closter. Rob and I have connected on a few articles in the past and I was happy to re-connect with him again. Rob is a Springfield College grad, as am I. And Rob is a Block Island native, having played baseball growing up on Block Island, then attending the Block Island School, and playing baseball for the Block Island School. To say Rob is an Block Island baseball expert is an understatement. You have questions, he has the answers. I asked Rob if it would be okay to attend the game and write about it and he said “yes.” Then, I reached out to the Paul Cuffee School to ask the same permission. I was able to connect with Scott Medeiros, who is the Athletics and Enrichment Coordinator at Paul Cuffee Middle and Upper School. Like Rob, Scott was enthusiastic about the chance to showcase his school and his baseball team. I asked Scott if it would be okay to speak to the baseball Coach and some of the players on the ferry. He agreed and I was happy to be compliant with RIIL rules regarding attending games. I purchased my round trip ticket online, kept a sharp eye on the forecast, and was excited to head over to Block Island to watch a baseball game.
For me (and my wife Rachel who came to the game/adventure with me), I drove from my home in North Kingstown, down Route 1, took the Narragansett exit, followed it down past Fisherman’s Memorial, down the Escape Road, and parked in a commuter lot just down the street from the ferry. A leisurely 20 to 25 minutes or so. As my wife was paying for parking, I spotted a school bus coming down Escape Rd and just knew it was the players, coaches, and team administrators for the Paul Cuffee School. I was happy that my timing was good and I snapped a photo of the bus as it was headed for the ferry entrance.
Rachel and I collected our things and headed to the waiting area for the Block Island Ferry. There in front of the ticket office was the Paul Cuffee School Baseball team. The players looked game ready – game uniforms on, baseball hats on, bat bags stuffed with bats and gloves – the only exception being most were wearing sandals or flip flops as opposed to their game cleats. The players and coaches were all wearing masks, so I walked over and introduced myself. Coach Ryne Rewers then stepped towards me and introduced himself and told me that Scott had mentioned me doing the article. I thanked him for the opportunity to meet with him and some of the players and told him I would connect with him on the “boat.”
I have visited Block Island for decades, being a native Rhode Islander. I love sitting on the upper decks outside and just taking it all in. The ferry, for me, is like therapy for a stressful day or week or month. Deep breathes in and out, the wind whipping the American flag, the water churning behind the ferry, couples and kids and friends and family members excited for what is to come on beautiful Block Island. Block Island is always an awesome experience for me and I was now doubly excited to visit the island and watch a baseball game.
About halfway through the ferry ride, I found Coach Rewers and sat down with him for a chat. Paul Cuffee School plays its home games this season at Joe Williams Field in Providence. Joe Williams Field is located across from the entrance to Roger Williams Park Zoo. From the Paul Cuffee School, it is less than a 10 minute ride to Joe Williams. I asked Coach Rewers about his normal pre-game ritual. “Typically,” started Coach Rewers, “the players arrive around 3pm for pre-game stretch, throw, infield. Some of the players are still distance learning, so they come from home. In years past, we played at Ardoene Field, but they are working on that field this year so we play our home games at Joe Williams.” Rewers is in his first year as Head Coach. Then I asked about the game prep for Saturday’s game. “Well,” he said, “we asked the players to be at the school at 8:40am so the bus could leave at 9am. That was a success, all 9 players showed up ready to go, so that was a positive start to the day. I have 11 players on the team, but dressed 9 for today. My assistant coaches and I got to work shopping yesterday, picking up water, sports drinks, sandwich meats, chips, bagels for breakfast, basically taking care of meals for the players for the entire day.” From Cranston, it is about a 30 to 40 minute ride, then you add in beach traffic, and you may be looking at 45 minutes and sometimes longer to get to the Block Island Ferry. “Let’s just say it was an adventure getting here and I’ll leave it at that,” said Rewers when I asked him about the bus ride down that morning. I asked Coach if he took any time on the bus for pre-game chat with his players on the game or strategy. “Nope,” he quickly answered, “I just let them put the headphones or chat with each other, just let them be kids.” And with that Coach Rewers asked me if I wanted to meet some of the players and I gladly accepted.
One by one, several Paul Cuffee School student athletes came over to sit and chat with me. Four Seniors – Gio (Giovani) De Los Santos, Nirbel Roa, Adrian Carrasco, and Jeremy Morales – answered a series of questions with tons of character and maturity. Gio, a 1st Base/DH mentioned that this was his third year playing baseball at Paul Cuffee (he and the rest of RI High School baseball did not play in 2020). I asked him about the trip over to Block Island and he mentioned that it was his first time on a ferry. “I’m just focusing on the game the whole time today,” answered Gio when I asked him about the bus ride, then the ferry ride to the game. Gio plans to become a History Teacher after high school, because he was inspired by a teacher at Paul Cuffee who “taught it (history) really well and I just fell in love with history and helping people.” Wow, just so inspiring to hear that from this student-athlete!!! Next up, I spoke to Nirbel Roa, who was also playing in his third season at Paul Cuffee. Nirbel is primarily a DH and does play 1B at times. He said the bus ride and ferry ride was “a good experience because it is fun to try new things in life.” Nirbel plans to attend URI in the fall and also tryout for the baseball team. Adrian Carrasco was up next and like Gio and Nirbel, was in his third year of playing baseball at Paul Cuffee. Adrian was an outfielder, “right field mostly,” he stated. I asked him about the multiple modes of transportation to play a baseball game and he answered “we want to use it as a motivator. We are traveling a long way for this game and we would like to win it!,” he said emphatically. Adrian plans to attend New England Institute of Technology in the fall to study to become an auto mechanic. Finally, I got to meet and chat with Jeremy Morales, who had a really great personality. Jeremy is a first year player and stated that he primarily plays left field. He seconded Adrian’s comments about the long ride and being motivated to win. He was a humble guy, stating that the first part of his season did not go so well, in his opinion, but that “every time I play, I improve. Every game, I get better, so that’s a good thing, right?” Yes, absolutely Jeremy. Jeremy plans to pursue a career in medicine, more specifically physical therapy. I have to say this. Gio, Nirbel, Adrian, Jeremy – I became a huge fan of yours and respect all of you for your answers and your motivations in life and your maturity. I wish all of you the very best in your endeavors, on and off the field. Paul Cuffee School, you should be so proud of these student-athletes and how they represented your school.
After the ferry docked, the Paul Cuffee School boarded a bus heading for Heinz Field, which is the home of the Block Island School Hurricanes Baseball team. I snapped a photo of the team on the bus, then headed over to a familiar spot to rent a moped. For many summers, I have used Island Moped and Bike for rentals and they were quick to get me set up with a moped rental. From Island Moped, it was just a short ride through the winding country roads of Block Island, past the Block Island Airport, then left into the entrance of Heinz Field, then right down a dirt road which took us to the field. As we were parking, we spotted the Paul Cuffee School warming up on the third base side of the field, with the Block Island School warming up on the first base side. It was a windy day and the sunshine was intermittent but overall it was very good conditions for baseball. Rachel and I took a spot in the bleachers behind the third base dugout. I took a few photos of the field and spotted Rob Closter behind home plate.
Rob mentioned that today was the first home game of the season for the Block Island Hurricane Baseball Team. The Block Island School had been playing double header games (at Exeter West Greenwich, at Hope High School) so far this season, so it would be nice to just have one game to focus on. The field, which Rob helps to maintain, was in excellent condition for baseball. Rob walked over to Block Island Senior catcher Nicholas Phillips with a game ball, then pointed out longtime Block Island resident and nature advocate Adrian Mitchell who would throw out the first pitch. Mitchell’s name is like gold on Block Island for all of his efforts to preserve and protect precious natural landscapes, trails, and the beauty of Block Island over the years. If you “google” Adrian Mitchell and Block Island, you will read about all of his amazing work. After throwing out the first pitch, Mitchell sat in the bleachers and watched the entire game.
After taking the ferry over, meeting with the Paul Cuffee coaches and players, the relaxing moped ride through the gorgeous natural beauty of Block Island, meeting with Rob and watching the first pitch ceremony, it was time for baseball. Paul Cuffee vs Block Island. The Navigators (Cuffee) vs the Hurricanes (BI). From an arrive time of 8:40am in Cranston to the first pitch at 12:52pm, an over 4 hour journey to start a baseball game for Paul Cuffee. And for Block Island, a chance to play a home game in front of family and friends for the first time in over 2 years, with Adrian Mitchell throwing out the first pitch. The weather had cooperated. The field was groomed and prepped and ready for play. We were now ready for the umpire to yell out, “Play Ball.” And so he did. What an experience!
I took turns watching an inning or so from the third base bleachers, then checked in with Rob who was stationed behind home plate, then out to the left field bleacher area where the Block Island School Hurricanes fans were sitting. There really wasn’t a bad “seat” in the house, as they say. The field is wide open, with stone walls and residential homes forming the perimeter of Heinz Field. Fans cheered as their Block Island Hurricanes took an early lead with some big time drives out to left field. A few of them were hit so far, they took one hop then landing in the parking lot, each of them recording a ground rule double. I asked Rob about the ground rules for a home run. “You have to hit in over the rocks out there and into the parking lot, it can’t just bounce in there,” he stated. Still, those hits were tremendous shots, especially from my vantage point along the third base lines. I watch the balls come off the bat, sail through the air, all the way out to those rocks. Wow, some serious power.
Despite the score, the Paul Cuffee players and coaching staff remained upbeat. I saw a positive attitude up and down the lineup throughout the game. Nobody was getting on another player or the coach was getting on a player. I saw a lot of high fives and instructional coaching and positivity and I was so impressed, yet again, by the character of the Paul Cuffee School. Block Island has some good players and they showcased it – on the mound, plays in the field, the catcher Philips had a really nice game, and certainly at the plate. In the end, it was the Block Island School over Paul Cuffee by a score of 11-1. At the conclusion of games now, the traditional hand shakes at home plate are not allowed. However, I did spot one of the Block Island School players, #11 Cole McGinnes, who came over to the Paul Cuffee dugout to shake hands, a real class act way of showing good sportsmanship on his behalf.
After the game, the Block Island School players departed in their vehicles and the Paul Cuffee School departed on the bus heading back to the ferry. I stayed and took a few photos of the field before saying goodbye to Rob and thanking him for letting me attend the game. Rachel and I hopped on our moped and headed back to Old Harbor and for some much need lunch. We had a great bite to eat at the Mohegan Restaurant and Bar right there in town. As the waitress was seating us, I looked out the window and saw the 3pm ferry departing Old Harbor, with Paul Cuffee School players and coaches on board. I hope they had a relaxing trip back and a pleasant ride back to Cranston from there. We relaxed a bit and checked out the boats in the harbor, then boarded the 5pm ferry heading back to Galilee.
It is always an incredible time for me, no matter what time of year, in Block Island. And Saturday’s trip to Block Island was a very unique Rhode Island Baseball Experience for me. Sitting with the players and coaches of Paul Cuffee and learning about their unique journey from Cranston to play a game after taking a bus ride, a ferry ride, then another bus ride. The trip for those players and coaches lasted 4 hours from arrival at the school to first pitch. And they carried themselves with character and maturity and I was so happy to meet and talk to each and every one of them. Thank you to Scott Medeiros, Coach Ryne Rewers, Gio, Nirbel, Adrian, and Jeremy of the Paul Cuffee School for making this day so special for me. I was so happy to see Adrian Mitchell throw out the first pitch at the Block Island School’s first home game in over two years. And to meet up with Rob Closter who is a great ambassador for Block Island Baseball. The game was very entertaining and the weather was spectacular. It is a memory I will cherish for years to come.
Good luck to the Paul Cuffee School and to the Block Island School as they continue league play in the 2021 Rhode Island Interscholastic League Baseball Season!!!