Memorial Day Weekend is upon us as the 13u and 14u Ruffnecks turn the corner into the summer season. By the first week of June the 15u, 16u, and 17u players begin their preparation for a busy summer season that is an “every day” baseball experience through August 6. Before long, all five Ruffnecks teams will be sprinting around the baseball fields of summer. The spring has been a good one for the 13’s and 14’s. Events in the 14u NEB Classic, the Select Border Battle, and the Firecracker Memorial Day Weekend Classic present the added incentives that come with tournament baseball. The intensity of playing in tournament competition adds to the experience for young players as they find their roles and experience team successes and disappointments together.
The Weekend of May 19-21 found the 13u and 14u Ruffnecks participating in the Select Border Battles against many of the regions top teams in age-specific competition. Both teams fared well. The 13’s played efficiently and well on their way to an impressivee 3-0 Bracket championship. The 14’s played well for the second straight weekend (this time without a combined roster), before falling short in extra innings in their Bracket championship. The enjoyment of tournament baseball was evident in the dugouts. With energy directed to execution, pitching, situational hitting, and running the bases with good instincts and intelligence, the level of play ticked upward for both squads.
The two rosters (13’s and 14’s) merged to play in the 14u NEB Classic May 13-14, which included Sunday, Mother’s Day. It turned out to be a long Mother’s Day with brunches canceled and dinner reservations delayed. The tournament began on Saturday, May 13th with two games, played entirely by the 13u roster. While the 13’s did not play their best baseball, they hung in there against the eventual finalist in an 8-6 first game loss. John MacLean pitched very well to give the Ruffnecks an opportunity to win. The second game featured a 5-5 tie, which gave the Ruffnecks an 0-1-1 record heading into Sunday morning. The roster on Sunday was comprised of a mix of 13’s and 14’s. It was assumed that the team would not qualify to advance. Indeed the 14’s and several 13’s were prepared to play ONE game… and on to Mother’s Day activities! Surprise! A resounding 13-3 win in the final Pool Play game propelled the Ruffnecks into the playoff round against the #1 seed.
The Ruffnecks turned in a well played, competitive performance against a worthy opponent in that Semifinal game. Nick O’Neil started on the mound and pitched three scoreless innings. Leo Sacerdote took over and pitched the 4th and the 5th, surrendering a single unearned run. Dowm 1-0 in the top of the 6th, 13u Nathan Bills led off with a single for the Ruffnecks. Matthew Howell reached on a fielder’s choice, when pinch runner Sam Carbeau was erased at second on an excellent defensive play by the opponents on a SAC bunt attempt. With two outs, 13u JT Taylor singled sharply to left, putting runners at 1st and 3rd. Devin Constantino then tripled to deep right-center to provide a stunning 2-1 lead heading into the bottom of the 6th. Josh Zifcak came into relief and pitched a 1-2-3 6th inning. The Ruffnecks added a third run in the top of the 7th when Alistair Cooper led off with a triple on a two-strike pitch. Zifcak gave himself the insurance run he hoped for by driving in Cooper for a 3-1 lead. In the bottom of the 7th Nathan Bills turned a beautiful 5-4-3 double play to halt a comeback threat before the final out settled into Matthew Howell’s glove in left field.
The championship game was a typical 3rd game of the day affair. Both teams had little wiggle room left with their pitching staffs. The Ruffnecks were well served by gutty efforts on the mound from Albin Valdez, Kaden McNeice, and Jackson Fulginite who closed out the victory in a gritty, determined, performance. Along the way, the offense matched the opponents in a slugfest to win 13-12. Alistair Cooper again provided several clutch hits. JT Taylor hit one off the wall in left. Sam Carbeau delivered a key two-out single RBI in the 5th. Andrew Palmer was on base the entire game and scored two runs, as was Valdez. The entire lineup produced an effort that led to the first tournament title of the 2023 season. Go ‘Necks!
April is quickly racing toward May. The 13u and 14u Ruffecks have completed one quarter of their seasons. One full month down; Three to go! There is a lot to look forward to for the 13’s and 14’s as they head into some tournament action and the summer schedule for June and July.
The 13u Ruffnecks continue on a developmental path. The schedule is challenging. Among the first 13 games, the 13u Ruffnecks have played 9 games against 14u competition, prep freshmen or JV opponents. The experience has been invaluable. Success has not come easily, but skills and baseball instincts continue to improve. The pitching staff consists of 11 different pitchers who have contributed on the mound. Outings are closely managed, monitored, and distributed. The long-term objective is to build depth and to maintain arm health. Of course, all players play other positions. As the season progresses, tournament play, as well as additional opportunities against JV level competition in combined rosters with the 14’s provide opportunities to challenge, grow, and elevate their games.
The 14u Ruffnecks have enjoyed early season success. The roster is thin due to nine players in the 9th grade. This creates numerous opportunities for the 8th graders to play plenty during the spring. Games against JV opponents are a staple of the schedule and provide challenging competition to a squad eager to test themselves. The 14’s have led the way in successful outings against Roxbury Latin Freshmen and JV, St. Mark’s JV, Winchendon JV, and Dexter JV. They get a taste of tournament activity in late April and again in May.
As the 14’s make their way toward summer, the team will be bolstered by several players who are now experiencing success at the high school varsity and JV level. The depth will make a difference during June and July when the 14’s experience competition against older teams in 15u and 16u tournament events.
The 13u and 14u Ruffnecks journeyed to Diamond Nation in New Jersey to open their seasons the weekend of March 18-19. Both teams played in the 14U Division of the Spring Invitational. The wether was outstanding on Saturday, May 18th for both teams to play doubleheaders. The 13u Ruffnecks opened with a predictable “schedule loss” that nonetheless featured some good moments and acheived the objectives for the game. The 13’s nearly won their second game falling 9-7 in the late innings. The 14U Ruffnecks proved that they can score a lot of runs. Unfortunately they went 1-2 on the weekend with all three of their games winnable outings. The 14’s also met the objectives for the weekend. Pitching outings were strictly limited, while defensive roles were a work in progress. The 14u defense will improve as the spring moves forward.
The trip to New Jersey meets both on-field and off-field objectives. For the 13u team it is a time to introduce players and families to the Ruffnecks travel model. For both teams, the bonds of a four month season take hold and players get to know each other. Dinner at the hotel, roommate combinations, and transportation as a TEAM are all parts of the experience that we hope brings the team together. Team meetings offer an opportunity to gather thoughts, have some fun, and talk baseball.
The 13u and 14u Ruffnecks are now well under way for the 2023 season. Outdoor Practices move to regular dates on the calendar. Easy access to the Facility for team hitting sessions or individual work is part of the culture. It seems a short time ago that everyone in the Ruffnecks program gathered for the Banquet to celebrate the 2022 season. Spring seemed so far away that cold December night. Now we have begun 2023!
Despite variations in the winter weather, Ruffnecks of all ages got to experience indoor workouts at Boston College, Team hitting sessions, and pro scout clinics as part of their winter work.The youngest two Ruffnecks teams, the 13’s and 14’s, made their way outside for on field work and playing a 6 inning intrasquad on March 5th. A winter backdrop at the NEBC provided a stark reminder that we Ruffnecks may have to battle through some tough conditions for the first month of our season. Since the beginning of 2023 their preparation has been defined by regular team sessions, including “classroom” work with video and small group instruction. The 13’s and 14’s also joined the older teams in the Winter Workouts at BC.
We wish all our high school aged players success and health during their spring seasons for school teams. We continue to develop the 13u and 14u teams operating through March, April, and May. We look forward to June and the start to a busy summer for all five Ruffnecks teams.
Spring Training begins in February. Right? Yes, for Ruffnecks too. At 6:00am on Sunday morning, February 5th, with temperatures slowly rising from record setting minus zero temperatures, over 80 Ruffnecks entered the relative warmth of the Boston College indoor “Bubble” o begin preparation for the 2023 season. Indoor Winter Workouts are carefully scripted to take advantage of the time and space for positional repetitions and skill work (we leave the hitting tasks to the Ruffnecks Facility. Stations are designed for players to work their primary positions in groups. We put some of the pieces together, such as short infield throws, transfers, and PFPs, but the emphasis is on skill work. The Winter Workouts are quite simply an opportunity to “kick off the cobwebs” and to get into baseball movements. Most significantly, the sessions are staffed by 12-15 coaches, professional scouts, and on Sunday, February 5th, Rich Gedman of the Boston Red Sox worked with the catchers. Geddy is always a welcome presence. The two time MLB All-Star and Red Sox Hall of Fame player is a wealth of knowledge for all who have open ears and are willing to listen.
2023 has arrived and the Ruffnecks Facility percolates with activity. Several alums in college made good use of the cages over the holiday break and during the early weeks of January. 13u and 14u Team hitting sessions continue. During the week, many Ruffnecks make their way into the Facility to conduct their hitting routines on their own or with teammates. The calendar is moving swiftly. Many Ruffnecks play winter sports, which we heartily encourage! Prep and high school seasons are less than six weeks away.
The Ruffnecks “Open Hitting” system permits players to make extensive use of the Facility during the week on their own timetables and with few constraints. Weekly team sessions for the 13u and 14u Ruffnecks combine hitting work, classroom work, and bite-size instructive moments for anything we can accomplish in the confines of our Facility, such as baserunning. We make good use of the space and the time.
On Sunday, January 22nd, several professional scouts led the Team Sessions for the 16u/2025 position players and the 17u/2024 position players. The scouts worked with Ruffnecks coaches. Energy, clear, specific, informative, instruction was the order of the day. Each of the oldest two Ruffnecks rosters had an opportunity to get together as a team, while under the watchful eyes of professional scouts. It is difficult to communicate the level and quality of these sessions. But they were impressive.
Pitchers met with Ace Adams in the classroom to talk, listen, and laugh a little. Most importantly, the pitchers received conservative and meaningful guidance for throwing and preparing for the next 6 to 8 weeks. “Less is more” was the message. Ace knows… and his experience is difficult to match!
Ruffnecks conduct a moderate, yet purposeful period of winter workouts. Not too much, but enough to be confident in our preparation. 2023 is here. The first pitches and swings of the new season are closer on the calendar than the time that has passed since that final Ruffnecks swing last August 7th. Getting ready for our 20th year!
Well over 200 players, families, and guests packed the Needham VFW Hall on Monday, December 19th to celebrate Ruffnecks Baseball and the 2022 season. The Banquet has been an annual “Hot Stove” since 2008, though dormant for the past two years. The tradition resumed in fine fashion for the 13th time. Attendance was at an all-time high. The evening celebrates teammates, friendships, and memories. It is a time to pay tribute to our graduating “Seniors,” the 2022 17u team. It is also an opportunity to welcome the new 13u Ruffnecks, our 20th Ruffnecks class! It is about all that baseball is supposed to be. Fun, passion, chatter, playing together. The evening culminates with the recognition of the Johnny Pesky Teammate Award winners. The only awards the program prefers to recognize. The evening kicked off with some impromptu, heart-felt remarks by veteran pro scout and Ruffnecks coach, John Brickley.
Milton resident and current MLB pitcher Rich Hill was the special guest. Mr. Hill is an 18 year MLB veteran, including several stints with the Red Sox and a memorable World Series with the Dodgers. His message was clear, to the point, and with true humility. Process vs. Outcome. With purposeful process, routines, and mental preparation, he outlasted many players who have more talent. Not a few… Many. In a lifetime of baseball, playing locally, being recruited by Matt Hyde and Ace Adams to pitch at the University of Michigan, and working through the minor leagues, Rich Hill candidly acknowledged that many, many, players simply did not, could not, or wasted the opportunity to get better. Natural, physical, gifts need to be honed by consistent work and a clear mind. It sounds cliche, but it is a fundamental truth. He recommended reading books!
Ace introduced Rich Hill with an entertaining ramble that had kids and guests laughing and smiling. A baseball “Lifer,” Ace shared a few of his own eye-opening observations of life in Ruffnecks Baseball after 35 years in professional baseball. “I never met a parent in pro ball… never saw one! Didn’t know they had them!” Ace went on to say he actually loves talking to parents, asking them what they do, where they went to school, and more. He also shared some comedic insights about his own college experience as a player and as a coach at Michigan. “English Department at Michigan? Didn’t know they had one and didn’t know where it was! Kid wanted to see the English Department?” That recruit was Matt Hyde! But Ace’s ability to connect with Ruffnecks players and parents is obvious and priceless. The players were rolling with laughter. At the same time, they all can’t wait to be around him again in the dugout and on the field. It is difficult to imagine a pitcher (or position player for that matter) not having a richer baseball experience by having Ace in his life.
The program featured three short videos. The first captured the winter work at the Facility and the Spring/Summer seasons of the 13u and 14u Ruffnecks. The second was a video tribute to the 2022 Senior Class, which is one of the most successful and tightly bound classes in our 20 year history. Coach Kevin Casey introduced this portion of the program by sharing his joy in coaching this past year’s squad. 11 of the original 14 players selected for the 2018 13u team were among those in attendance and honored in the video tribute. The final video was a 7 minute glimpse into the summer season for the 15u, 16u, and 17u Ruffnecks. The long-time Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame radio voice of Red Sox baseball, Joe Castiglione, did the voiceover for the dramatic walk-off home run by Noah Jordi vaulting the 15u Ruffnecks to a championship in a 16u event in Ohio on the final day of the 2022 season.
The evening concluded with the Johnny Pesky Teammate Awards. The 13u award went to Alistair Cooper. The 14u award went to Owen Callahan. The 15u award went to Drew Reagan. The 16u award went to Isaac Lamson. Two awards were handed to Seniors: Brennan Barlage and Diego Taveras. Finally, the program honored long-time Coach “KG” Kevin Graber who guided 15u baseball for over a decade. It was a recognition of all that is right and good about coaching. KG sent a warm text greeting to the players on the 15u team from his new position at the Chicago Cubs spring training facility in Arizona. His wife Tina, and daughter Kelly Graber were on hand to accept one more Pesky Award. It was an autographed copy of “The Teammates” by David Halberstam that Johnny Pesky signed prior to his passing in 2012. We thank KG for his work, humor, and passion. He will make a difference for the Chicago Cubs and professional baseball, as he has in the Ruffnecks program.
What a night!
Sunday, June 4
13U & 14U PG Super 25
Both Teams Play at NEBC
Facility Open Hitting
10:00 to Close
Week of June 5 thru 9
15u, 16u, 17u Ruffnecks
8:30 to 11:00 Daily