The 5 Things I Will Be Watching Today For MLB’s Opening Day, 2019

After months of swing training, Florida sunshine, Arizona cacti, and everything Grapefruit and Cactus League, Major League Baseball teams will now embark on their 2019 regular season. 15 games will be played today from New York to Seattle, from Texas to Minnesota, and the buzz of the new season is electric. Every team has a shot as of today. Well, if you consider that every team is 0-0 right now, that would qualify every team has a shot this season. On paper, things look a little different but ultimately, the play on the field will determine the wins and losses of a team, not their lineup on a scorecard. Here are 5 things I will be watching today, Opening Day, 2019:

  1. How long will fans embrace Bryce Harper in Philadelphia if he gets off to a slow start? Harper signed a massive contract to be a Phillie for pretty much the rest of his career. He has had a few up and down seasons since winning the NL MVP. Philadelphia, like Boston and New York, cheers loudly for their heroes and boos every louder for their underachieving players.
  2. Can the Boston Red Sox win without Craig Kimbrel closing? Kimbrel did not resign with the Red Sox, leaving a huge hole at the end of the Red Sox bullpen. A host of relievers will fill that role for now. How long will management go with this closer by committee situation if Sale, Price, and Rodriguez are winning games, only to have the end of the bullpen blow saves and lose games? In my opinion, not too long.
  3. Will the real Chicago Cubs stand up? There is so much talent on the Cubs – Bryant, Baez, Rizzo, Russell, Heyward – the list goes on and on. A few years ago, they made Chicago fans so happy by winning the World Series. Then, a few years of blah baseball and now there are rumors that Joe Maddon may not manage past this season. A baseball dynasty was crowned way too early for the Cubbies. They need to play to their abilities and talent level. If they do, I don’t see anyone beating them in the National League.
  4. What impact did losing the World Series have on the Los Angeles Dodgers? Another loaded team who cast off some players who gave minimal effort and were headaches off the field, and kept their stars – Bellinger, Seager, Turner – to go after the title again. Kershaw was up and down this spring after re-signing with the Dodgers. Their pitching is solid top to bottom and they should contend for the NL crown again. But will there be a World Series hangover for this season?
  5. Can Shohei Ohtani hit 60 home runs as the full time DH? Ohtani was incredible in a part time role as DH in 2018. I think if he plays/bats in the majority of Angel’s games, he can hit 60 home runs in a season. He has the power to all fields. His smooth swing can hit the ball out of any park. I will be watching that story as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

Good luck to whoever you follow this season. My best friend roots for the Yankees. My buddy in Texas loves the Astros. My family is all Red Sox, all the time. Every team is in it as of today. Enjoy Opening Day, 2019.

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The RIBBE Celebrates Great Achievements in Baseball For February’s Black History Month

Since the 1970’s, The United States has celebrated Black History Month in February. Other countries (Canada, The United Kingdom, Ireland, and The Netherlands) also celebrate the history, people, and events which helped shape history, for all races, not just those of African American descent. According to the book “The Origins of Black History Month” by Daryl Michael Scott, “The precursor to Black History Month was created in 1926 in the United States, when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be “Negro History Week”. This week was chosen because it coincided with the birthday of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and of Frederick Douglass on February 14, both of which dates black communities had celebrated together since the late 19th century.

Here are a few acknowledgements that I would like to share to help celebrate Black History Month via a baseball themed blog.

The first black player to play for the Boston Red Sox was Elijah “Pumpsie” Green. Green made his professional debut with the Sox on the road in Chicago on July 21, 1959. In that game, Green was inserted as a pinch runner and finished the game in the field. Green would get his first professional hit several days later, July 28th, a single against the Cleveland Indians. His first home game as a member of the Boston Red Sox was August 4 of 1959. It was the first time a black player was in the starting lineup at Fenway park, and in that first game Pumpsie Green led off the batting order for the hometown Red Sox. And in his first at-bat, Green smacked a triple and later scored the game’s first run. There is an incredible account of his life in the Society of American Baseball Research archives online written by baseball historian Bill Nowlin. Go to www.sabr.org/bioproj/person/f9472d8a to learn more about Pumpsie Green. You won’t be disappointed.

Also in 1959, Earl Wilson joined the pitching staff of the Boston Red Sox. Wilson had a few up and down years with the Red Sox before making his mark in the 1962 season. On June 26th, 1962 at Fenway Park, Earl Wilson pitched himself into the record books by becoming the first African American pitcher to throw a no-hitter. He also helped his own cause by hitting a home run in the game. Here is more on Earl Wilson, once again from the SABR online archives www.sabr.org/bioproj/person/9e0a9624. The extra hard work, the racism they had to endure, the struggle to be accepted as professional baseball players, like their white teammates, in the 1950’s makes the stories of Pumpsie Green and Earl Wilson so incredibly important to read. In 2018, the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame recognized Green’s achievement. According to www.redsox.com “the major league debut of Pumpsie Green, who became the first African American player in Red Sox history on July 21, 1959, has been selected as the “Memorable Red Sox Moment,” a moment in Red Sox history that is regarded for its special significance.”

Photo from “Images of Modern American, Fenway Park” by Raymond Sinibaldi

One of the most respected volunteers in Rhode Island baseball is Richard Hemphill of Olneyville at Silver Lake Little League. Richard does a great job in the Providence community being a positive voice of encouragement for youth athletes. His posts online are about sportmanship and loyalty and leadership and I look forward to our conversations about baseball and community involvement. I asked Richard to give me his thoughts on race in America today, as it pertains to sports. Here are his remarks: “I greatly appreciate your articles on Blacks contributions to baseball. Some may ask, Why are we focusing on this topic? Well, imagine being denied opportunity because of the color of your skin. Or your ethnicity. Imagine being considered less than human. Or being considered property. This is the Black Experience in America. These guys pioneered Blacks opportunity and equality. Its why I love sports. Sports brings people together. Makes us realize we are all the same. The differences exists only in ones mindset. Sports gives people the opportunity to get to know and respect others. Regardless of Race or Ethnicity. Unfortunately, there are still those who have certain attitudes and prejudices that may or may not be of their own making. Some are born into it. Some are raised into it. And some are influenced into it. Unfortunately, there are those who feel the need or desire to express their views or disdain towards others simply based on their Ethnicity. That’s too bad. We should all have a mutual respect for each other. Baseball is considered Americas Sport. And rightly so. And as Americans, we should all represent the sport in the best light. We breathe the same air, we live in the same country. We love the same game.”

Richard Hemphill at Olneyville Silver Lake Little League baseball field

Last fall, my wife and I attended an amazing exhibit at the Bristol Art Museum. A lecture “Only A Game” about Rhode Island’s connection to black baseball was given. Historical books, artwork, postcards, and paintings were on display for visitors to observe. It was an incredible afternoon of realism and sadness to learn how these baseball men and women of color were treated, and sadly not too long ago. Here are some images of that exhibit. You can more about my visit by clicking this link – Only A Game.

Baseball has certainly acknowledged the accomplishments of pioneers such as Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, and Frank Robinson as well as others such as Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson with commemorative days, Hall of Fame enshrinement, and much more . Hollywood movies have helped shed light on the stages leading up to the professional debuts of the likes of Jackie Robinson (“42”). SABR has an incredible archive online of stories, games, and baseball events in Black History. In recent years, the Boston Red Sox, who were the last professional baseball team to have an African American player on their roster, included Pumpsie Green’s professional debut as a “Memorable Red Sox Moment” in their Hall of Fame. Green threw out the first pitch on Jackie Robinson Day in 2012. All great points and we as a Rhode Island community must continue to strive for positivity and diversity and encourage the dialogue about race in our baseball leagues and organizations.

For more information SABR, the Society of American Baseball Research, visit their website at www.sabr.org.

Thanks again to Richard Hemphill for his commentary on sports today. For more information on Olneyville at Silver Lake Little League, visit their Facebook page – Olneyville Silver Lake

5 Fun Activities To Increase Your Child’s Love of Baseball

It is no secret that the popularity of baseball has come into question at the youth sports level nationwide. Many youth recreational baseball organizations are struggling to make their numbers and some are even merging with neighboring towns to survive. Good players are leaving baseball completely to take up other activities, other sports, or just quit sports altogether. Here in RI alone, I have witnessed at least 8 local leagues that have merged or disbanded in the last few years. Is it a player shortage? Is it field shortage? Is it a volunteer shortage? Or is it that kids these days are just not that into baseball? Maybe, a combination of these factors and more…

So how do we as parents, as league administrators, as coaches increase the love of baseball in our players, our kids, our communities? It starts at an early age and needs be nurtured throughout their development in youth baseball through their teens and into high school and beyond. Tee Ball is a wonderful program with a lot of cheering and high fives and laughter. Coach Pitch is exciting because you have kids playing the field, catching, hitting live pitching (from a machine or coach), and the game is beginning to evolve for these young players. Once the kids start pitching to each other, the game becomes a lot more than just hitting, pitching, and fielding. There is strategy and checking the runners and cut-offs and squeeze plays and so much more. The kids, just a few years removed from Tee Ball time, are now playing the same game, with a few exceptions, as the professionals.

So besides the games on Wednesdays and Saturdays and the practices on Mondays, how else can we increase the love and enjoyment of our players. Here are a number of great events and programs that your league can promote, sponsor or host to engage your players to be the best they can be, to cultivate their knowledge of the game, and to become bigger fans of the game of baseball.

  1. Host a Pitch, Hit, and Run event in your town. As of today, 8 local baseball organizations from Apponaug to Cumberland to Darlington have registered to host an event. These are fun events which encourage participation at all skill levels and are sanctioned by Major League Baseball. For more information, go to www.mlb.com/pitch-hit-run
  2. Host a Jr Home Run Derby event in your town. There are 5 events already scheduled for this spring here in RI. Coventry, Darlington, Olneyville, Pineview, and the Boys & Girls Club already have events scheduled with dates to be determined. For more information, go to www.mlb.com/junior-home-run-derby

3. Sponsor a Hit-A-Thon Event via 99Pledges. I spoke to a representative at www.99Pledges.com today and they have a really cool fundraiser program. You can register a hitter, attach a charity or donation page, and set up an event to help raise money. All while hitting batting practice, home run derby, or at a league wide event.

4. Encourage your player to get involved with MLB’s Kids programs online. The Boston Red Sox have a fantastic website and informational portal called Red Sox Kid Nation. You can get awesome Red Sox gear, discounts on merchandise, game ticket deals, and more. For more information go to www.mlb.com/redsox/fans/kid-nation.

5. Take your players as a team to a Rhode Island collegiate baseball game, or a New England Collegiate Baseball League game, and/or a Pawtucket Red Sox game. Go as an organization – players, coaches, and managers. Sit with the kids and show them how the players prepare and how they field, hit, pitch, run, etc. Show them that they are playing the same game as every single player in your youth organization. Create a positive image for your players to understand that in just a few years, they could be playing at Cardines or Old Mountain Field or McCoy Stadium. After all, most if not all of the players you would be watching started playing youth baseball!!!

These fun baseball events and websites sponsored by Major League Baseball are a great way to engage the players, the families, and the local Rhode Island youth baseball leagues. Fundraisers such as the Hit-A-Thon can help bring in sponsorship money for your league or help raise money for a local charity. Taking the kids, as a league, to a collegiate, amateur, and/or professional game and using it as a teachable moment benefits young players in so many ways. These events take effort and coordination by your league. My hope with this information is to continue to cultivate fans of baseball so it will grow as a sport for years to come.

The RIBBE Visits Old Mountain Field for Waves vs. Gulls

This is an exciting time of year for baseball here in Rhode Island. Little League® teams are preparing for playoffs, then district and friendship tournaments, perhaps a shot at playing in the Little League® World Series in Williamsport, PA. Rhode Island Middle and High Schools are just about finished with their seasons and RI State Champions will soon be crowned in a number of divisions. And the weather is finally cooperating so that fans of all ages can flock to our iconic baseball fields to enjoy games played from Tee Ball to the Pawtucket Red Sox.

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The New England College Baseball League has two organizations based in Rhode Island – The Ocean State Waves (Old Mountain Field, Wakefield) and the Newport Gulls(Cardines Field, Newport). These local summer baseball league teams have some of the best collegiate baseball talent in the country playing for them. And last night, the Newport Gulls traveled to iconic Old Mountain Field to face their in state rival the Ocean State Waves. It was a gorgeous night weather wise to see a game, plus my son Harrison’s birthday was this past week, so we took the drive down Route 1 to Wakefield to take in the game.

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First off, parking was a breeze. We found a spot in the parking lot next to the tennis courts about 20 minutes before game time. The lot did fill up as the game went on but this was such a great way to start the night. Second, admission to the game was $11 for myself and my two sons. What a bargain! There are few ticket stands located at Old Mountain Field so depending on where you park, you can access these ticket stands with ease. Third, a local sponsor – Lennon Insurance Agency – was Saturday’s featured game sponsor. Sean Lennon accompanied his son who threw out the first pitch. Fourth, a local South Kingstown Little League team accompanied the Waves players out to their positions on the field. Truly, a great memory for these kids to run out to the field with a potential Major League baseball prospect. And last, President and General Manager Matt Finlayson of the Ocean State Waves set up an on the field meet and greet with the starting pitcher for my son Harrison’s birthday. Harrison got to deliver the game ball to the starting pitcher for the Waves, Camrin Opp, who was nice enough to sign the ball as well. These subtle yet incredibly comforting aspects of an NECBL game are just a few reasons why this summer baseball league is so very special. Ease of parking, inexpensive night out for a family, recognizing and supporting local businesses, those personal touches that make baseball memories – and that is all before the first pitch is thrown.

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The kids and I took a seat in the bleachers right behind home plate. After watching Little League®, Middle School, and High School games all season, it was incredible to see collegiate baseball players in action. The two starting pitchers – Camrin Opp of the Waves and David Stiehl of the Gulls – had electric fastballs, sharp breaking balls, and full command of the strike zone. The catchers – Michael Turner of the Waves and John Mazza of the Gulls – were brilliant behind the plate, blocking tough pitches in the dirt, throwing out would-be-basestealers, and communicating instructions to the defense. The NECBL is a wooden bat league and it was awesome to hear the CRACK of the bat, especially from right behind home plate. I love that sound. Fan friendly activities took place during each 1/2 inning break. And it was great to see President and GM Matt Finlayson walking around, greeting fans, greeting sponsors, talking to parents and kids. Again, these subtle yet impactful aspects of a summer baseball league game along with the incredible baseball players on the field make the NECBL so special and truly a must see event for any baseball fan here in Rhode Island. In the end, the Newport Gulls defeated the Ocean State Waves by a score of 5-1.

Special thanks to Matt Finlayson and the staff of the Ocean State Waves for the birthday shout-out and first game ball opportunity. Great job by the concession stands, the game announcer (this foul ball is sponsored by Lennon Insurance Agency, that was hilarious), the Waves staff on and off the field, and of course the players. Best of luck for your summer baseball league games both home (Old Mountain Field, Cardines Field) and on the road. I know my son will always remember where he was on his 13th birthday. At home, at a baseball field, being a part of an amazing baseball experience.

Ocean State Waves – www.oceanstatewaves.com

Newport Gulls – www.newportgulls.com

Lennon Insurance Agency – https://agency.nationwide.com/…

Volunteers To Be Commended For Helping Youth Sports

All across the world and certainly here in the United States and in Rhode Island, Little League and Cal Ripkin baseball organizations are run by volunteers.  Volunteers who have children in the league and some whose children have moved on to high school, college, even professional baseball.  These unselfish individuals all wear many hats and put in hours and weekends of work to put a safe and quality organization together.  Here are a few posts I have received recently about volunteers, as they help prepare their leagues for Opening Day and the 2018 Spring Season.

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Coach Tom Pacia of North Kingstown High School and his NKHS baseball team held a free 2 hour clinic for divisions T-Ball to the Majors after North Kingstown Wickford’s Opening Day Ceremonies.

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At Westerly National Little League, Fathers and Sons, Fathers and Daughter got to try out the new bullpen and cages after a very successful Field Day Cleanup.

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West Warwick Baseball Field Day was a huge success, as volunteers cleaned out storage containers, dugouts, outfield fences, batting cages, and more.

And these are just some of the examples sent in to me on my Facebook page, The Rhode Island Baseball Experience.  Congrats to all the volunteers for helping their towns and league’s get ready for the Spring Season.  And Thank You!!!

If you would like to showcase a volunteer or volunteer group, send me photos and a description and I will post for all to see.

Thank You North Kingstown High School Seniors For Being You

On a well above average temperature evening, I had a well above average experience at my Alma Mater, North Kingstown High School.  I had the distinct honor of judging a group of North Kingstown High School senior project presentations.  Myself and three other judges were one group of many who had the privilege of being chosen for this very important night.  These senior projects are a required assignment for these seniors to graduate.  Most spend the entire year preparing documents, digital files, and other materials to complete their project and ultimately, graduate with their class.

 

6 wonderful and talented and aspiring North Kingstown High School seniors presented to our group.  Each student was well dressed and met the group with a smile, a handshake, and a ton of class.  The parents of these students must be incredibly proud of their sons and daughters.  They presented their senior projects with dignity, some with a humble story about a misstep or two along the way, and with a confidence that many adults twice their age would love to have.  Their projects varied from designing skateboards and greenhouses to organizing their peers in a common goal to helping the special needs population of North Kingstown.  Each student took their time, some read notes, while others had their speech memorized.  In the end, the group of judges were so impressed with the knowledge and poise of these fine students.

Congratulations to the graduating Class of 2017 at North Kingstown High School.  It has been an honor writing about your projects and it was an honor being a judge for the Senior Project Presentations.  Best wishes to you and good luck with the next phase of your lives.

Local Musicians Play Season’s First Wickford Harbor Lights

“The Anchor” in Wickford Village was the scene last night for another great North Kingstown Teen Open Mic Night event.  I was so thrilled to have the event coincide with the season’s first “Wickford Harbor Lights – Mother’s Day Event.”  This was our third benefit show to date, with the proceeds of this Wickford Harbor Lights show going to Let’s Read RI.  Coordinator Joellen Wunner, proud founder of Wickford Harbor Lights, invited the teens to play at the event.  Wickford Harbor Lights brings local residents as well as others from throughout the state of RI to Wickford Village to eat, shop, and just enjoy the beautiful scenery of a small New England Village.  I congratulate the committee, especially Joellen, for their dedication to bringing new business and new ideas to the town of North Kingstown.

“The Anchor” proved to be a perfect setting for our third benefit show.  With the backdrop of Wickford Harbor and the gorgeous view of Wickford Village, the horse drawn carriage rides, and the many people in town, the teen musicians and their friends gathered.  A few small amps, a microphone stand, a comfortable chair were all we needed for equipment.  The teens did the rest.  One by one, singers, guitar players came up to our mock stage and performed.  Their friends and a small crowd gathered on the adjacent sidewalk and in front of the stage and on park benches near the water’s edge.  Each performer sounded absolutely amazing, the acoustics were incredible, and the crowd encouraged and cheered for everyone.

I was thrilled to have Jordan Becker in attendance.  Jordan is the founder of Let’s Read RI, which is “a local RI nonprofit organization that encourages students K-5 to read, by supporting them in and out of school.”  Jordan handed out some brochures and mingled with the parents and teen musicians as well.  His program is just incredible and I encourage teachers and faculty throughout the state to visit Let’s Read RI at www.letsreadri.org.  All proceeds from last night’s benefit show will go to Let’s Read RI on behalf of the NK Teen Musicians.

There were quite a few videos and photos taken from last night.  The fans and parents of the performers were snapping photos and uploading videos to social media throughout the show.  I have included a few in this blog article.  If you click the photo below, it will take you to a live video of two of the performers, Spencer and Griffin.  Side note, my son Griffin got to meet the musician Griffin pictured below, which was a pretty cool moment for both.

Even as the temperature dropped, the spirits of the crowd and the musicians never wavered.  In fact, it got more lively as day became night.  Kids were huddled together and the parents returned from their cars with hats and gloves and sweatshirts.  After nearly 2 hours of great live music, we said good night and good bye from the season opening Wickford Harbor Lights event, live from “The Anchor” in Wickford Village. Once again, thank you to Joellen Wunner, the Wickford Harbor Lights committee, Jordan Becker and Let’s Read RI, and the many talented musicians of North Kingstown.  And thank you to the families of these musicians for supporting the arts and music with your children.  It was an incredible night to be in Wickford and I was so honored to be a part of it.