For close to five years now, I have been working my way around Rhode Island baseball fields capturing images, writing about games, and getting to know the amazing Rhode Island Baseball Community. On May 23rd of 2019, I was in Cranston for a meeting and stopped in at Cranston Stebbins Stadium to catch a RI High School baseball game. I moved around the stadium, as I tend to do, capturing photos of the field, dugouts, and anything interesting before settling in for a few innings to watch the game. As game time approached, the starting pitcher for Cranston East High School starting throwing his warmup tosses. Nothing out of the ordinary for a pre-game scenario at any baseball game. Every pitcher from age 8 or 9 to the Pros gets a few warmup pitches before each inning starts. However, this starting pitcher was throwing hard out of the gate, really hard. The catcher’s glove was popping so loud, I could hear it way up in the top bleacher row of the first base dugout section. As he turned to throw fastball after fastball, I caught his number, 17. I checked my phone and through the Rhode Island Interscholastic League website’s baseball section, discovered that his name was Giovanni Canales.
Fast forward to 2021. This Spring I have been researching Rhode Island born players competing this summer in top collegiate baseball leagues throughout the country. In truth, there are hundreds of these leagues spread across the USA and I reached out to several of them asking about RI players. Many of them responded, so I had been posting players, where they were born in RI, and the leagues they are playing in. I also encouraged players and parents to send me information if I had missed their name, again wanting to promote every RI player who is competing in a summer league. After one such post, I received a message from Ocean State Bandits Coach David Roy. His message “Giovanni Canales, Cranston East, RHP, Utica Blue Sox of the New York Perfect Game Collegiate League.” I thanked David and remembered seeing Canales that game way back in 2019. So, I reached out to Giovanni (Gio on Twitter) and he asked him a few questions about his Rhode Island Baseball Experience, his motivation on the mound, and where he was playing this summer. Here is an excerpt from our conversation:
RIBBE – Gio, good afternoon. Thanks again for agreeing to do this and continued success not only this summer but as you continue your journey at Coppin State. Tell me a little bit about your Rhode Island baseball roots – Little League? AAU?
Gio – My Rhode Island roots started when I joined Cranston American Little League, a league known as Cranston Eastern. I was part of that league until 12-13; then, I joined the AAU team Rhode Island Reds. Throughout the years, I stayed under the coaching of David Roy, who is now an instructor at Rhode Island Baseball Institute, and we moved from the Reds to the RI Bombers, and lastly, we established the Ocean State Bandits, whom I played for until I went off for college ball.
RIBBE – What was that experience like?
Gio – My roots of playing built the foundations of the type of player I am. I was blessed to be surrounded by the best coaches and teammates who allowed me to excel throughout my young years. They not only bettered me as a player, but they became friends for life, and I will never forget them. When I was young, I was always the biggest kid whom other kids looked up to. At such a young age, I was surprised at how well I took that responsibility; it showed how I was born to lead and aid others.
RIBBE – If you would like to, name some of your baseball and life mentors who helped you along the way.
Gio – At a young age, I was first taught how to pitch by my little league coaches Michael Cuddemi and Rick Lanigan. During my high school years and some college ball, I worked with Will Dawson and he has truly defined the small details of pitching and made sure I do not develop bad habits. There is so much when it comes to pitching that I did not even realize. I am super grateful to work with him and pick his brain before jumping back on the mound. David Roy is probably the most prominent mentor of my entire life. He has been coaching me since I was 12 until I graduated high school and saw me develop into a man. Even to this day, I utilize his facility when I come home to train for the season. He has a significant part in how I play, think and act on and off the baseball field.
RIBBE – Did you have a favorite ballpark to play in Rhode Island? Or on one of your travel team tournaments?
Gio – When I was younger, I always wanted to play in Cranston Stadium; as a little guy, places seem more extraordinary. If I were to pick a place where I loved to play genuinely, it was probably Cardines Field. I played their last year for the Newport Collegiate Baseball League when Covid was going down. I loved it there, even if there were no fans in the stands, but imagine if there was, that place would be electric.
RIBBE – How did you settle on being a pitcher?
Gio – I think I would be a pitcher or a catcher; it was down to those two. I believe it was because of my arm. At such a young age, coaches were amazed at how hard I can throw the ball, so it just makes sense to use that power behind the dish or on the mound. When I tried pitching, I fell in love with it; I think it was because of that powerful feeling, the game relies on you to move the game forward, and a good pitcher can control a whole baseball game, even if it is just defense.
RIBBE – What’s your arsenal? Fastball, curveball, slider, changeup, split? – what do you throw game in and game out?
Gio – My pitching repertoire contains a 2-seam, 4-seam fastball, slider, changeup, and I am developing a cutter. Recently I switched to primarily throwing a 2-seam fastball due to the movement and how easily I can command it, which sits up to 90-92 mph, and then throw my rising 4-seam, which runs up to 94 mph. My slider is also a massive strikeout pitch because it looks like a fastball coming out of my hand and then dives off the barrel. My changeup is easily my best command off-speed pitch, and I can throw it in basically any count, especially 3-2 counts. I have had so much success with it that I can throw it wherever and whenever during the game over the years.
RIBBE – Was that your position throughout youth baseball or something you worked towards later on?
Gio – I was a 2-way player throughout my life; it was not until college that I focused on pitching. I played the corners of the infield and batted clean up a lot due to the power of my bat. As I got older, I focused more on pitching and less on hitting, which only developed my pitching. I started to study pitching grips, mechanics, mental game, an emotional game. I became a willing student of everything pitching-related. Everything I learned pitching did not come; naturally, many failures led to success. I believe that is just the nature of the game, and I adapted to that.
RIBBE – Best game you ever pitched at any level – what was the score, who did you face, what were your stats, what was the feeling like?
Gio – I will talk about a recent game I pitched that was not the best stat-wise, but there is a reason it was so great. At this moment, I am playing for the Utica Blue Sox of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League. On June 9th, I started against the Oneonta Outlaws and pitched three scoreless innings with three strikeouts and no runs. This game was unique because of the raw emotion of the crowd, my coaches, and the fans of Utica. It was so loud there that when I screamed, I could not even hear it. When I was on the mound, it felt like the spotlight was on me, and I loved every second of it. All the failures that had occurred prior did not matter because they shaped me to dominate those three innings. Failure in baseball happens, and it is what you do after that failure that shapes what you do in the future. The hard work after the college season was paying off, and it excites me to see what will come in the future. That game may not have been the best, but it started a new path to success, resulting in me getting drafted.
RIBBE – What advice would you give a youth baseball player who aspires to be a D1 pitcher like yourself?
Gio – To the youth, I would say to enjoy the game and have fun while also surrounding yourself with people who want to see you succeed and are willing to help you succeed. For your teammates, surround yourself with people that have more or the same work ethic as you. My whole life, I have been surrounded by people who want nothing but the best for me, and that is the best feeling in the world. As I moved into college, my work ethic jumped up significantly because everyone wants to succeed and get drafted. That work ethic boosts you in a way that I cannot explain. Baseball at a young age is super important, and the youth have many years to go, but it flies by.
RIBBE – What drives your game on the mound? Is it mental toughness? Physical fitness? Competitive spirit? Why do you feel you are the man to beat every time your coach hands you the ball?
Gio – Dominance drives me on the mound; when I am up there, I feel like nobody will touch anything I am going to throw at them. That is the approach I come into every start and carry it until I step off that mound. The art of pitching is pure strength and mental toughness, and I love competition. The time before the start is a build-up of pure adrenaline-like I am about to go to war. I would not trade the feeling for anything in the world.
RIBBE – What is the summer baseball league you are playing in and for what team?
Gio – I play for the Utica Blue Sox of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.
RIBBE – Do players register for summer leagues like the Perfect Game League or are they recruited?
Gio – Players are recruited into these summer ball leagues through ties with their college coaches. The owners of each team will talk to college coaches, and the coaches pick out guys that will best fit the team.
RIBBE – Can you tell me a little bit about the process of how you were selected?
Gio – I selected before I even stepped foot on a college mound; I was in talks with them in 2019 and signed to play for their summer of 2020. My college coach told me that he wanted to send me there, and I agreed because I heard they develop guys while allowing them to compete every day. The process was pretty straightforward with signing documents and contracts, and the staff of the Blue Sox was super helpful during the whole process.
RIBBE – Ultimately, it is your decision, but what goes into that decision if there are multiple leagues interested in you?
Gio – I think development is the most significant factor when it comes to picking a summer ball. Sure competing is nice, but I want to get better and compete in college ball. Summer is to get better while having fun playing baseball. I chose the best place for me to develop and come out better than I was going in.
RIBBE – How are the games attended in terms of fans? And I’m sure there are MLB scouts floating around?
Gio – Utica has the best fans around; there will easily be one thousand to three thousand fans. It gives you a real boost on the mound with all those eyes on you. Also, the kid fans are fantastic; they genuinely make me feel like a pro athlete. They remind me of little me going to Pawtucket PawSox games and trying to get foul balls and getting them signed. MLB Scouts are always on the prowl; they are hard to find in the crowd, but you will usually find one. It is pretty cool talking to them as well; they are likable guys.
RIBBE – What is your average game day/night like? What time do you arrive at the ballpark, especially if you are the starting pitcher? What does your routine look like to prepare for first pitch?
Gio – The Perfect Game League gives you a taste of what it is like being a pro athlete with these schedules. There are times where you have 16 games straight, all around the time 6:45 P.M., and you do not game home until midnight to do it all over again the next day. It is much baseball, but I love every second of it. When I wake up in the morning, which is around 9 A.M., I head to the gym for about an hour, come home and eat and, depending on if we are home, get to the field around 3 for a 6:45 game. On away games, the deport time is pending on the distance of the game. Last night we played Geneva Red Wings, and the bus left at noon, and we did not get back until ten at night. It is all a lot, but it really gets you a little taste of a professional athlete’s schedule.
RIBBE – Where can fans find you and your team to follow you this summer?
Gio – The Utica Blue Sox plays all around New York, which is approximately a 4-hour drive from Rhode Island. Depending on whom we play, travel can dramatically increase or decrease. However, you can easily hear us play on the Utica Blue Sox Facebook, play commentary on the radio and follow their social media; @UticaBlueSox on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
A dominant pitcher and a dominate performance in this interview by Cranston’s Giovanni Canales. It was so awesome to get to know him, his path to success, how he deals with adversity, and looks to become a better person/player/pitcher every day. Gio, thank you for being so honest and impressive with your answers. Good luck this summer with Utica and in the years following at Coppin State.
To follow Gio and the Utica Blue Sox this summer, head over to their website by clicking this link – Utica Blue Sox.
The RIBBE is The Rhode Island Baseball Experience. It is promoting the game of baseball here in the great state of Rhode Island for the entire baseball world to see. The RIBBE is positive stories, photos, videos, and responsible social media posts. The RIBBE is an information resource for families looking for an AAU team or a summer camp or a great place to buy a first baseman’s mitt. The RIBBE is a network of coaches, tournament directors, parents, leagues, and baseball junkies whose passion of the game of baseball is unquestioned. I believe that providing expert analysis, information and directions to ballfields, and coaching advice from some of the top RI baseball minds will help promote the game of baseball here in RI to a whole new level.