The Rhode Island Scholastic League schedule of games, events, and matches for the Spring, 2021 season is touching third and heading for home. Typically, at the end of a sports season, schools acknowledge Senior student athletes with a Senior Day event. I have been to a few this season already and they are just awesome to be a spectator at, let alone be a family member soaking in one last home game for their beloved player. This past Saturday June 5th, I found out a Senior Day event in East Greenwich with an additional emotional component. Not only would the Seniors from the East Greenwich Baseball team be honored at their last home game, Head Coach Bob Downey, a 21 year fixture as Skipper, would also be coaching his last home game. East Greenwich vs Middletown. What a story!
So I headed up Route 2 from my home in North Kingstown, passed Camp Fogarty, up to Dear Hearts Ice Cream, took a right on Middle Rd., then a right onto Avenger Drive, which lead me to this sign for Game Day:
Pretty cool start to my story. Great public tribute to a fantastic coach and mentor, and my former North Kingstown High School teammate and fellow lawn mowing assistant for the late Al Southwick – Coach Robert (Bob) Downey. East Greenwich High School had a ton of sports activities going on Saturday morning. Mostly lacrosse, which was being played on several fields on the EGHS campus. EGHS has an incredible sports complex and the grounds crew does an amazing job with the fields, the track, the baseball fields – everything looked spectacular Saturday morning. I parked a short walk from the two baseball fields and headed over to check out Senior Day at Avenger Field.
A decent crowd of family, friends, former players, EGHS JV baseball players, parents, and EGHS staff had gathered on the first base side of the field. It was a hot, sunny day already at 11:40 when I arrived. Wind was blowing out to right field and very little, if any, chance of rain. Senior Day would happen, the Seniors would get to walk out with their parents and family members and be acknowledged. Awesome way to start a baseball Saturday. As I walked around the field, I spotted Coach Downey prepping his infielders and outfielders. A routine he had probably followed for 21 years, but this one had to feel a little more special. That left handed swing, that friendly voice, the positive chatter – that’s the Coach Downey everyone had grown to respect and love there at EGHS.
After EGHS had finished their warmups on the field, it was time for Middletown High School to take the field. EGHS coaches and players began to stir in their first base dugout in anticipation of game day and the game day ceremony. Fans continued to pour in and around Avenger Field to catch a glimpse of Senior Day and all that it entails. After Middletown players had finished their warmups, Coach Downey took center stage and began the Senior Day ceremony. He thanked EGHS staff members and recognized faculty members in attendance. Then, he took a few moments to recognize Seniors from the lost season of 2020, speaking about their accomplishments and how they benefited the EGHS baseball program. Before introducing the EGHS Seniors, Coach Downey named the Middletown High School Seniors and acknowledged them. Then, it was on to the Senior baseball players from East Greenwich High School. Every player got a moment of positivity, a small resume of their accomplishments, and where they would be attending college in the fall. Players marched out to the first base line with their family and stood together, for one last home game, at Avenger Field.
Then Coach Downey began to thank the many, many supporters he has had in his baseball and personal life. He mentioned the coaching staff, the EGHS faculty, the grounds crew. He thanked the players, the parents, the fans for making his stay at East Greenwich High School so special. He thanked his mother, his wife, his sisters, his son – for all their love and support during good times and difficult times. And speaking of his son, Logan, Coach Downey will be moving on next season to Coach at Coventry High School where Logan attends school and plays baseball. It was an emotional and positive and uplifting speech and the crowd thanked Coach Downey with a huge round of applause.
Players and coaches handed Coach Downey a plaque and Senior Dan Prior came up to the microphone to say a few words about his coach. Then, the players headed back to their dugouts, the starting lineups were announced, the National Anthem was played, and it was time for lineups to be exchanged and the first pitch. The East Greenwich JV Baseball team left the bleachers and headed over to the adjacent field, where they had a game against Middletown’s JV squad. Senior Dan Prior would take the mound for East Greenwich. Senior Ryan Andrade would take the mound for Middletown. Sun was shining bright, clouds were wispy and spattered throughout blue skies, nice breeze out to right field, field looked incredible, players were ready, fans were ready, I was ready. First pitch was thrown about 12:18 and EGHS vs Middletown was off and running!!!
Nerves can get the best of the best players in any sport. I got the sense that both teams were a bit over anxious in the field, at the plate after the Senior Day ceremony in the first inning or two. Once those nerves were calmed, the play on the field got consistent with what these teams showed all season long. East Greenwich’s Starting Pitcher, Dan Prior, is a tall left hander with a plus fastball and excellent command and presence on the mound. Middletown’s Starting Pitcher, Ryan Andrade, looks a like a polished veteran pitcher with a great fastball and devastating off speed stuff. Not knowing much about the two teams prior to Saturday but I would have to guess that each is the Ace of their staff. As a former pitcher myself, it was really fun watching these two student athletes, two Seniors, compete against each other at a very high level.
As I was getting ready to head out, I spotted a young fan watching the game. He was dressed head to toe in his Cranston Western Little League uniform, hat on, glove ready, cleats laced. He was watching the EG vs Middletown HS game today, perhaps dreaming of the day when he would be atop the pitcher’s mound on Senior Day. Standing there in between former EGHS players who were attending the game, studying Dan Prior and Ryan Andrade rear back and fling fastball after fastball, soaking it all in.
When I left the game in around the 4th or 5th inning, Middletown High School was up a few runs on East Greenwich. I messaged Coach Downey when I returned home to email me the score and some of his thoughts on the game, when he had a moment. I did receive a message later that afternoon from Coach Downey which read “will do, crazy comeback win today.” I checked the RIIL baseball page for scores and sure enough, East Greenwich High School had come back against Middletown to win. Final score, East Greenwich 10, Middletown 9. Bob’s thoughts, in his words, “Today meant the world. Great community, lots of former players coming back, that is what coaching is about – relationships. I love this team, we are never out of it.”
It was such an awesome Rhode Island Baseball Experience attending East Greenwich High School’s Senior Day and Last Home Game for players and Coach Bob Downey. Fans were treated to an incredible and emotional pre-game ceremony to honor Coach Downey and the Seniors from Middletown, East Greenwich 2021, and East Greenwich 2020. The two starting pitchers have very bright futures – Ryan Andrade and Dan Prior – and threw the baseball expertly on Saturday. The weather was amazing, the field looked professionally groomed, the fans were into it from the get go – what more can you ask for? Congrats to all the Seniors from Middletown and East Greenwich High Schools. Good luck to Middletown and East Greenwich High School baseball teams as you finish your 2021 seasons. And best wishes to Coach Bob Downey the rest of this season and as you transition to Coventry High School Baseball next season.