As you may know from reading my baseball blogs, I am originally from and still live in North Kingstown. I attended North Kingstown High School and my sons have attended/are attending North Kingstown High School. I played for the NKHS baseball team way, way back in the late 1980’s and still follow the team, watching the sons of some of the players I played with get their opportunity. So if you can imagine, when I read or learn about a North Kingstown High School alum, University of Rhode Island alum, Major League baseball draftee – of course I am going to be interested. And it just so happens that I was able to meet and find out more about this particular NKHS alum – Chris Hess.
Chris and I have communicated over the past few months via social media as he prepared to head south for his new job as an instructor with the Boston Red Sox. After the Boston Red Sox finished their Spring Training and transitioned back to Boston, Chris and other instructors headed to their Fort Myers, FL facility to work with players who are in their minor league or instructional league programs. Here is an excerpt from our email conversation about his early days, his high school and collegiate career, and his journey that still continues in the game of baseball:
RIBBE – Let’s start with where you are now, what position do you hold with the Boston Red Sox, and what are your daily responsibilities?
Chris – My position with the Red Sox is called a 4th Coach or Fort Myers Coach, as far as my daily responsibilities I am all over the place most of the day. Start the day in the cages working with hitters, then I work with the infielders. Mixed in with hitting fungos, baserunning, and throwing batting practice. That is mainly during the morning sessions before games. During the games I am filling out a defensive chart and coaching first base.
RIBBE – What are some of the things you enjoy most about your current position with the Boston Red Sox?
Chris – Working for a first-class organization has been awesome. The best part has been working with the players and staff in this organization. Everyone has been awesome to work with and makes the whole experience amazing.
RIBBE – Have you done instruction locally here in Rhode Island prior to your current position? If so, where and with what organization?
Chris – I did instruction before this position and plan on doing more this offseason. I did it this last year at some local parks and during the winter I was at the Shark Tank over in Warwick. I actually have a website that has all the information for my lessons, www.401elitebaseballtraining.com.
RIBBE – Do you have or follow a specific hitting philosophy? Maybe something that worked for you as you progressed in your career?
Chris – My hitting philosophy creates a holistic approach to hitting. Meaning that it’s not only mechanics, but it’s a blend of pitch selection, swing decisions, mechanics, and athlete. Every player is unique, and nothing should be forced on them. It’s the job of the coach to find mechanics and approaches that maximize that specific player. A hitter should be treated as an athlete first and build that athletic base before anything else. Once that base is built, move on to approach and swing decisions, and work up to more game speed drills. Making sure we are training harder than the game.
RIBBE – Speaking of your career, help me chart your path of your amateur and professional baseball career. If you can, go way back to when you first started playing baseball.
- I started playing baseball growing up in Southern California, playing Tee ball, Coach pitch, Machine Pitch, Pony Baseball, and Little League.
- Moved to Rhode Island in 2004 and started playing little here in North Kingstown in Rhode Island. Started playing AAU with the Mustangs, and Tides through middle school.
- In High School, I played for Phil Davidson and the Rhode Island Rebels Program as well as the high school team at North Kingstown. As well during that time I played for the local legion team.
- Fall of 2013 was my first year at URI. During that time, I played for a couple of summer ball teams:
- Seacoast Mavericks (Futures League)- Summer of 2014
- Shelter Island Bucks (Hamptons League)- summer of 2015
- Ocean State Waves (NECBL)- Summer of 2016
- Hyannis Harbor Hawks (CCBL)- Summer of 2016
- Ocean State Waves (NECBL)- Summer of 2017
- Drafted in 2017 in the 17th Round by the New York Yankees
- In 2017 I played for 3 teams
- GCL team
- Staten Island Yankees
- Charleston RiverDogs
- Charlestown RiverDogs
- Tampa Tarpons
- In 2017 I played for 3 teams
- Released in 2019 and went to play for the Sussex County Miners of the Canam league
- Retired in 2019
- Started coaching in September of 2019 at the University of Rhode Island
RIBBE – Was there a mentor or coach that was instrumental in your success and love of the game?
Chris – This one is tough, I had so many good coaches throughout my career, the list could go on forever. But the one guy that had the most impact on me more than anyone would be Raphael Cerrato at URI. He always had a way of pushing the right buttons with me. Encourage me when I needed it and kicked me in the butt when I needed it. Going into my Redshirt freshman year, I remember him telling me in the dugout before the first game of the year at Florida, you’re good so don’t play like a freshman play like a senior. Then the next season I remember I wasn’t hitting well and hit into a double play with the bases loaded in a big spot and was down on myself in the dugout. He walks over and in front of everyone in the dugout rips me apart about how much better I was than I was playing, and I just remember it lit a fire under me and I started raking after that. He just had the ability to get the best out of me when I needed it the most. But I do need to mention a few other coaches that also helped me out and need to mention them as well.
Kevin Gormely, Peter Clays and Anthony Ucci (NKHS coaching staff)
Phil Davidson, Chris Ursillo and Will Dawson (Rebels Coaches)
Ken Joyce and Dan Fiorito (Minor League Coaches w/ Yankees)
Peter Fatse (Hitting Instructor)
RIBBE – Did you find your abilities to come naturally on the field or did you steadily get better as you aged?
Chris – I had some natural ability but the more I learned from different coaches as I got older the better, I would get. I tried to be a sponge my whole career and apply the information I was given right away. I would write down everything I would learn every day and go over them every so often to help remind myself.
RIBBE – Growing up in Rhode Island, what did you do off season wise to train? Was there a specific indoor training facility that you frequented?
Chris – At first when I was young, I would go to Around the Horn in North Kingstown, then Progressed to Extra Innings in Warwick, progressed to Bomb Squad through high school, then back to Extra Innings for college and into my professional career. As places closed down or opened up I had to move around. But I do need to give a shout out to Will Dawson who I would follow as places popped up and he was always there to help me throughout my career. In college I would work out with Steve Crandall at South County Sports Performance then spend the rest of the day at Extra Innings, hitting for hours, taking ground balls, or giving lessons.
RIBBE – Did you play other sports at North Kingstown High School, and if so, how did those sports help your baseball skills?
Chris – At North Kingstown I played soccer and basketball. Besides the physical benefits of conditioning, foot skills, hand eye skill, and overall athletic ability. I think the biggest benefit is I learned how to compete and learned how to win. Soccer was great for learning how to suffer and still have to perform and make good decisions. While basketball was great for having to understand the opposing team’s tendency and using them to your advantage. We used to watch film and go over the other teams plays and what they like to run. So being able to recognize it as it was happening while also being able to adapt to changes really helped in baseball. You have an idea what the pitcher is going to throw but sometimes that pitch might switch the game plan and you have to adapt.
RIBBE – Were your home games at NKHS or Lischio Field?
Chris – We played our home games at Lischio Field.
RIBBE – Do you have a favorite field that you played on – whether it is here or somewhere else?
Chris – My favorite field is Staten Island with the water and the city backdrop in the outfield. The best atmosphere would have to be a tie between playing at South Carolina during a regional and playing at Charleston the fans were awesome there.
RIBBE – Do you have a special memory from your playing days?
Chris – Winning the A10 Championship is at the top of the list and combination with beating South Carolina opening night of the Regional was a crazy experience.
RIBBE – You played at the University of Rhode Island, how was that experience having grown up in Rhode Island?
Chris – It was an awesome experience to be able to play for URI and being from Rhode Island that much more enjoyable. The support from people around the state and them wanting that program to be the best it could be. Also, taking pride in the fact that I was from Rhode Island when you hear comments from other people at bigger name schools ask, Rhode Island is a state? Always made it much more enjoyable when we beat them.
RIBBE – You also play in the famous Cape Cod League for Hyannis, what was that experience like?
Chris – So, my Cape experience wasn’t a long one. I played for the Ocean State Waves in the New England Collegiate League that summer. Our season had ended, and I was asked to go up for the final game of the season for Hyannis and be there for the playoffs. I played in the last game of the season. Odd enough the pitcher I faced was a former teammate of mine the year before in Shelter Island. But the experience was short but awesome. To get to see the talent in that league and be around that level was a very cool experience.
RIBBE – How did you find out you were drafted by the New York Yankees? Do they send you an email or text or phone call or something more modern and technical?
Chris – So, I was actually on the golf course (Exeter Country Club) with two of my close friends. We had an off day with the Waves that day and I wanted to take my mind off the draft and have some fun. I told my agent that morning that I didn’t want any updates he knew everything on my end, and I trusted him to handle everything and told him to call me when it was final. So, I got a call from my agent on the 3rd hole to check the draft tracker on twitter in the next couple of minutes my name should be called. So, sitting in the golf cart on the 4th hole my name got called. After that the area scouts for the Yankees (Matt Hyde and Kelly Rodman) called me. They gave me my flight information and told me to shave, and they would pick me up in Tampa the next morning.
RIBBE – What were the emotions like when that news hit you and your family?
Chris – There was a ton of emotions that happened within those first couple of moments. I was just excited for the new opportunity and was ready to get going. Then it turned into straight panic. I realized that I had to be at the airport in 2 hours to catch my flight down to Tampa. I didn’t have anything packed. So, I had to rush off the golf course get home, shave my face, pack my bags, and get to the airport. I had my girlfriend meet me at my apartment, help me pack and drive me to the airport. I really didn’t get a chance to talk to my family till I was sitting at the gate for my flight. It all happened very fast. The best part is my flights got delayed so I didn’t get to Tampa till 3am and have to be up for 5am for my physical.
RIBBE – You played a few years of minor league baseball. What was that like waking up every day knowing that your job was a professional baseball player?
Chris – I never thought of it as a job and didn’t really care about the money to be honest. To me I played because I enjoyed competing, trying to win championships, and being the best, I could be. So, nothing changed in a sense of that. I was now just receiving a paycheck every two weeks but never thought of it as a job. Minor league baseball can be a mental grind and the more you think of it as a business and a job it can really wear you down.
RIBBE – What position did you primarily play?
Chris – I was considered a utility player in the minors playing 3rd, 1st, and 2nd. While in college I played 2nd base majority of my career. Sprinkled in some 3rd and left field my freshman year.
RIBBE – After you’re playing days, what inspired you to want to become an instructor?
Chris – So doing lessons in the offseason during my playing days, I had some experience being an instructor in that sense. But after I got done playing, I was hanging out in the coach’s office at URI talking to the coaches and we just talked about some stuff, and they mentioned that if I want to help them out with some stuff I could. That just evolved into the season me being a special assistant where I wasn’t coaching players but more telling the coaches what I was seeing with the players. Before the season they told me that I was going to volunteer for the season and could officially start coaching.
Where do you see your future in baseball? Or do you have plans to do something outside of baseball?
Chris – To be honest, I don’t really have any specific future plans. I always just done things I was passionate about and enjoyed and just see where it would take me. As in baseball you can plan for whatever you want but you don’t know what is going to happen till you get there. So, for now I am just enjoying my time with the Red Sox and going to see where this journey takes me.
It was great to meet Chris and learn more about his journey through the Rhode Island baseball scene, onto the University of Rhode Island, into the prestigious New England Collegiate Baseball League and the Cape Cod League, then being drafted and playing professional baseball. Now Chris gets to be a mentor and instructor to the next group of professional baseball players making their way up the ranks of the Boston Red Sox. Pretty cool Rhode Island Baseball Experience and I was so psyched to meet and get to know this fellow North Kingstown High School alum. Chris, good luck with the Red Sox and wherever your baseball journey takes you from here.
Here is the website once again for Chris’s instructional programs – www.401elitebaseballtraining.com.