The 2021 Rhode Island Connie Mack Baseball League is in the final stretch of playoff games to determine their State Champion. For the past week or so, 14 Rhode Island Connie Mack teams have competed in a series of best of 3 matchups throughout the state. The teams were ranked in order from 1 to 14 based on wins and losses in the 2021 season to determine the seeding for the playoffs. At game time yesterday afternoon, there were 3 teams remaining in the playoffs. Chariho, with their sweep of West Warwick, advanced to the finals series. And yesterday, Flood Ford Auto and Narragansett/South Kingstown faced off in Game 3 of their series to determine who would face Chariho in the finals. As I was off from work, I decided to take the drive up to Pepin Field on the campus of Bishop Hendricken High School to watch the game.
If you ask 5 different Rhode Islanders how to get to Bishop Hendricken High School, you will most likely get 5 different answers. My answer yesterday was the back roads through the town of East Greenwich, through Apponaug circle, left at the traffic light before the new Dave’s Market, passed Mickey Stevens and Thayer Arena (on my left), right on Warwick Ave, then follow the road to the left and then a right into the BHHS parking lot. I park in the back lot and walk on the golf cart path to come out to Pepin Field where the giant scoreboard is. The scoreboard with all of the Bishop Hendricken baseball titles proudly displayed on the lower half. From that elevated spot, you can see all of the athletic fields at Bishop Hendricken, including Pepin Baseball Field.
When I arrived just before game time, the heat and humidity were pushing the “feel like” temperatures to well over 1,000 degrees of uncomfortableness. Luckily for most fans, the shade was in effect for most of the bleachers on both sides of the fences. I took a spot on the first base line of bleachers, in the shade, and was thankful the sun wasn’t beating down on me. I wondered pre-game if the heat would be a factor in the game. It didn’t take long for that theory to become a reality.
Flood Ford Auto starter Connor Kennedy looked hot from the first warmup throws pre-game until the last batter he faced just about 9 batters later. Kennedy can really throw, I can see he has a lot of potential on the mound. Tall righthander with a nice zip on his fastball. Unfortunately, the sun and the heat and the humidity looked like it really did a number on him, as he was constantly taking off his hat, taking extra time in between pitches, and bending at the waist. After an early mound visit, Flood Ford did make the move to remove Kennedy and I watched as coaches grabbed bags of ice to help cool him down. On a side note, I watched Connor Kennedy pitch in a previous game well into the 3rd inning with tons of poise and strikeouts, so I am 100% sure his performance yesterday was heat related.
As for Narragansett/South Kingstown, their batters drew walks, got timely base hits, got hit by pitches to reach base, and at the end of the top of the 1st inning had built a solid 4-0 lead. Their players looked energized with each hit, each batter reaching base, each run scored. When it came time for their turn defensively, in the bottom half of the 1st inning, Narragansett/South Kingstown recorded two fantastic defensive plays in the outfield – one in left and one in right. Great defense would be a common theme throughout the game (for both teams) as it headed into the top of the 2nd inning.
I wanted to mention Narragansett/South Kingstown’s catcher Colin Masseur for a moment. Masseur hit a laser line drive over the centerfielder’s head for a double in the top of the 5th inning and was on base seemingly every at bat and every inning. But that’s not what impressed me most. After his team had scored 4 runs and was ahead in the game, with no one on base, Masseur blocked two baseballs in the dirt with perfect footwork and glovework. Why do I mention this? It is the little things that win games and championships. With no one on base, it would be easy to just let balls in the dirt go. No harm, no one on base. Masseur was showing me and others that he meant business behind the plate, he was giving his pitchers notice that they could throw any pitch, at any time, with a runner on third, 2 outs, tie ball game. He was going to block that baseball and save a run. Great job Catch and way to be a leader behind the plate!
Flood Ford Auto’s shortstop is one of the smoothest fielders I have seen in Rhode Island baseball over the past few years. Xavier Quezada can get to just about any baseball hit to him, then fire a rocket to first to get you out. His range is insane and he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. In yesterday’s game, Quezada was in position for a slow ground ball hit to his shortstop area. He charged the baseball, grabbed it barehanded, and off his right foot fired a strike to first base to record a very impressive out. It looked so effortless, so smooth, and Quezada was so poised in every phase of that above average degree of difficulty ground ball. I’ve seen Quezada play over the years with the Ocean State Bandits as well as Bishop Hendricken and he is one of the smoothest fielders around.
By the fifth inning, the sun was starting to set and the shadows starting creeping across the pitcher’s mound. Just the second base and right field areas were now completely in the sunshine. Most of the bleachers on the third base line were in the shade. Fans sat there and found spots out past the outfield fences in front of the BHHS gymnasium. On the field, Flood Ford was recording a lot of base hits but no runs. Narragansett/South Kingstown had build a 6-0 lead by the top of the 5th inning with some big time drives to center field and a few bloop singles to score runs.
Watching these players perform at such a high level, I have to say it is a joy watching Connie Mack baseball. Every player, with some exceptions of course because they are human, can make the routine play on the field. Every player gets a good at bat in. Pitchers throw strikes. Catchers block baseballs and throw runners out stealing. Base runners take that extra base on a line driver to left center field. Shortstops and second baseman work double plays. Outfielders make diving catches and catch baseballs over their shoulders. Every player can play the game and play it well. Sure, you have those that go above the normal and hit home runs and make barehanded grabs and strike out the side. But after watching these Connie Mack games the past few years, I have to say it is some of the best, well played baseball games that you can find here in Rhode Island.
In the end, it was Narragansett/South Kingstown moving on to face Chariho in the final series of the 2021 Connie Mack Baseball League season. This series will be played at West Warwick’s McCarthy Field, which you can get to several different ways, I know, I know. It should be an incredible finals series featuring two top Rhode Island baseball teams with a ton of baseball talent. Great fans too. Good luck to all the players, coaches, and families participating in this year’s Rhode Island Connie Mack Baseball finals series!!!