The Rhode Island Baseball Experience got its start way, way back on the fields of Hamilton Elementary School in Wickford, RI in the mid 1970s. A young 5 to 6-ish boy with a glove and St. Bernard’s Saints hat ran out onto the open fields of Hamilton Elementary and played baseball in the Tee Ball program for Wickford Little League. From there, this baseball loving lad adapted his swing to his favorite player, whose name he couldn’t spell and used the popular short version (Yaz) to explain to people why he batted left handed. Many others in his Kindergarten class batted right, this lad wanted to bat left to be like Yaz. He played Little League with his older brother, Peter, whom he still claims to this day as one of the best players he ever saw on a baseball field. Peter never played past Majors and went on to become one of Rhode Island’s elite swimmers in high school. He played Little League, then Babe Ruth, then American Legion Post 39. He played for Al Southwick at Wickford Middle School, played for John Clark at North Kingstown High School. Played roughly 14 years of baseball in Rhode Island before moving on to Springfield College and other collegiate and amateur baseball leagues in Virginia. This baseball playing lad from North Kingstown is me – Noel P. Roby.
Throughout my playing days as a youth baseball player and into middle then high school then college and beyond into adult land, I have always been in love with the English language, reading, and writing. My mother enrolled me in creative writing classes in the summertime of my elementary school days at the North Kingstown Public Library. As a kid, I read about 10 books a day, until I got my driver’s license and then shortened it to 5 books a day. Joking of course, but I love to read, still do. My great-grandmother used to invite me into her room where she was bed-ridden from age (she was like 100) and invite me to do the NY Times Crosswords with her. I love to write short stories, poems, creative stuff like greeting cards for holiday times, and attempt to write screenplays for TV and movies. Along with a classmate, whom I call “Brother,” Larson Sutton, I helped write and produce a radio show (Laid Back on WKFD) for 2 years in high school and a TV show (Live from the Big House) for my senior year. I continued to write and take English and writing courses at Springfield College, despite the fact that my Major was Exercise Science. I helped many, many classmates with their writing assignments and was happy to barter a couple of beers for “help” on their book reviews. When my playing days were over at Springfield College after my sophomore year, my coach (Charlie Roys) asked me to be the beat writer for the baseball team. Regrets in life, I have few. This one I regret because I said no thank you.
So, we have the connection almost complete now – Rhode Island and Baseball. After moving back to North Kingstown around 2007, my oldest son, Spencer, got involved with Wickford Little League’s Tee Ball program. They practiced at Wickford Elementary School, not far from my beginnings at Hamilton Elementary School. I found out about volunteering my time with the league and joined up as a Tee Ball instructor. I had no coaching experience but I had a ton of baseball experience, so I gave it shot. I ended up coaching in Wickford, now North Kingstown Wickford Little League for almost 10 years from Tee Ball up to the Junior Division of NKW as well as several tournament teams as a head coach and as an assistant. Along the way, I was approached by some NKW League officials, one of them George Porter a former teammate of mine at NKHS, who knew I was writing baseball related articles in the North Kingstown Patch about Wickford Little League to be the Information Agent for the league. Around that time, Spencer asked me to sign him up for a fall instructional program being run by (RI Legendary baseball player, now coach) Mark Cahill his friends were enrolled in. I asked, “when does it start?” to which he replied “it started 2 weeks ago.” Hmmm, that’s odd I don’t recall any notices or mentions of it. My thought process was – I don’t want this to happen to another family here in North Kingstown if I become the information agent for this league.
Emmy winning, Sports Broadcaster extraordinaire, and RI Hall of Famer Don Coyne sat on the board of directors for Wickford Little League for several years. Don had set up a Facebook page for WLL and I took that over and implemented a media strategy for fan engagement. My goal was to grow the page organically through the simplest method possible – write and share and publish stories about Wickford Little League players, fields, tournaments, past players, parades, championship games, and whatever else I could creatively muster up. My audience was Wickford Little League parents, local sponsors, former players and the page and the engagement grew and grew year to year. I recommended a registration type website to the board of directors along with an email marketing campaign for fall, tournament, spring registrations and promotions of events like HR derby, end of the year cookouts, and fall cleanups. Fans were engaged at the games and then on social media all week until their next games. It was a joy and an honor to write about my home town team, Wickford Little League, whom I and then my 3 sons went on to play for.
Living in a small state, Rhode Islanders have the luxury of traveling to many, many great destinations. The Nightlife of Providence, the beaches of South County, the shopping centers in Cranston, the walking trails in Foster, the biking trails in Bristol – just to name a few. I had a brainstorm that if I could mirror my engagement idea for Wickford Little League with the other teams, schools, and leagues of Rhode Island – well I could have a pretty cool tool to engage Rhode Islanders about how awesome baseball was, is, and will be. I could travel to see games in Bristol and Woonsocket and Newport and Narragansett and Wickford and Cranston and Providence. I could photograph and document historic landmarks and fields. I could meet and greet players, past and present, about their baseball journey. I could share the amazing stories of Rhode Island Baseball and promote the great work of so many coaches, parents, volunteers, and players. And so, after leaving my position as information agent and passing the torch to a very capable Guilio Lugini, I decided to open up the virtual doors on social media and on WordPress to share my passion for baseball and the state of Rhode Island in the summer of 2017.
The name of the site and its accompanying social media pages – The Rhode Island Baseball Experience.
Stay tuned for more “Final Swing” as I wrap up the Rhode Island Baseball Experience journey featuring tributes to Rhode Island baseball players, coaches, field, teams, leagues, and more.