Tons of swings. Information flowing freely from professional scouts and instructors. Active Listening. Watching peer ballplayers with the same purpose go about their business of getting better. Honest engagement with breaking down and building up a hitter’s swing. All of this was on display as a Ruffnecks-Only two day Pro Scout hitting clinic commenced December 28-29 at the new Facility. Led by New York Yankees Area Scout Matt Hyde, twenty-eight Ruffnecks, in two sessions of 14 hitters each, participated in a “laboratory approach” to hitting. As former All-Star Red Sox catcher (and current Sox hitting instructor) Rich Gedman said, “This is special. Serious kids taking time with their swings in December.” Boston Red Sox Area Scout Ray Fagnant joined Geddy and Matt Hyde on the staff along with Ruffnecks coach John Brickley, Brian Muenzner, and Scott Holzwasser (Ruffnecks alum; Northeastern ’21; Currently in pro ball).
So what was so “special?” For one thing, the atmosphere was exciting. Young Ruffnecks mixed in groups with older Ruffnecks. In fact, groups were organized by left-handed and right-handed hitters as the primary consideration. So 13 year olds and 14 year old players found themselves hitting next to players who are a step away from college… some with the pro scouts’ eyes on them for Area Code or future considerations. And while no hitter in the building is close to being a “complete hitter,” as the coaches spoke about, everyone is putting in the time and effort. The sound in the building was exciting as well. Everyone hit with wood. At times, the sounds were explosive as balls jumped off some older players’ bats. One Ruffneck player summed up the excitement for himself. “The conversations with the coaches were ‘real’ and not just ‘good job kid.’ They talked to us like pros.” That alone is exciting to serious, aspiring hitters.
Since the Pro Scout Hitting is designed for and offered directly to Ruffnecks players, the bar for expectations is high. It is easy to manage for instructors and players. Everyone can see a little bit of themselves in other Ruffnecks… Either in a glimpse of where they once were, or where they want to get to. The encouragement, like the instruction, is real. The organization extends a sincere thank you to the very professional instructors. The engagement, information, and shared experiences were sincere and incomparable.
Exciting News!!! The new Ruffnecks hitting Facility is operational! Known as “The Facility” the space is a non-commercial undertaking designed for Ruffnecks only. Team hitting sessions, along with an abundance of Open Hitting hours, are available to Ruffnecks players for their development and camaraderie. On Saturday, December 11, the Facility opened with a crisp 13U Team hitting session. The new ‘Necks began their off-season work with big smiles. Although the building is “ready, but not finished,” station work provided plenty of repetitions.
The Facility is a clubhouse environment where hitters can hone their skills. It also has a 72 foot long tunnel with a mound for pitchers to work side sessions. Pitching Coordinator Ace Adams plans instruction out of the Facility during the winter months, making his accessibility greater than ever for pitchers. The return of a Ruffnecks-only hitting center harkens back to the years 2007-2013, prior to when the Ruffnecks leadership and benefactors designed and built the New England Baseball Complex (NEBC), the outdoor baseball complex that changed the landscape of youth baseball in New England. From 2007 to 2013 the Ruffnecks also operated a facility in the Needham area. The program recreates the culture of those six years.
The Facility features space that includes a small office area that offers Ruffnecks apparel and a Player’s Lounge on the second floor overlooking Tunnel #3. The Player’s Lounge is where players can socialize, study, relax, or wait to hit if the cages are crowded. The intent of the Facility is to create an environment that supports players and provides a place where hitting is the primary focus. The Facility is an ALL WOOD BAT facility. Only wood bats are permitted.
In addition to benefitting current Ruffnecks players, the new Facility creates opportunities for the program to conduct some outreach initiatives for local youth. More details are provided on the Winter 2021-2022 page of this website.
Ruffnecks Fall Baseball began the weekend after Labor Day with 140 players participating at three different levels: 40 new 13U players are participating in the 13U Fall Development program. Approximately 40 players participate in the High School Wood Bat program, including the rising 14U Ruffnecks players. An additional 60 players answer “roll call” each week to participate in the offerings for the College Prep program. The HS Wood and College Prep programs combine a variety of Red vs. Blue games, which are instructive and developmental intrasquad sessions, along with competition in the NEBC Fall Leagues.
Roger Clemens, in town for the Red Sox/Yankees series, an ESPN appearance, and some charity work, chose to attend the Saturday, September 25th Red v. Blue session. Clemens spent the better part of 2 full hours talking real baseball with the 24 Ruffnecks in attendance. This was not a simple autograph show or celebrity appearance. It was out of the goodness of his heart to share baseball insights with baseball players… Ruffnecks baseball players. The session was interactive. It was a lot of detailed, specific, information about hitters and pitchers, and how each work to beat the other. Of course, Clemens approaches the contest from the perspective of a pitcher. But he spoke to how many of the great hitters he faced, Pujols, Jeter, middle of the order guys, that he had to prepare for and work hard to beat. He spoke to grips on the baseball, to core strength, and to simple wrist and forearm exercises players can do while being in the house… without weights!
Eventually, “Rocket” did a demo off the mound. He threw to Ruffnecks catcher James Benestad while speaking to the group about balance, weight shift, but most interestingly, visualization and focus. At 59 years old, he threw 12-15 pitches with “firmness” (ask Benestad). 100 percent strikes!!! He spoke to control, passion, and keeping the game in perspective. Taking time off. Playing other sports. Appreciation for the gift of being able to play at all! The entire day was Clemens’ idea and initiative. He asked to come, and he delivered a fantastic experience. We appreciate his generosity. He has been and remains a true friend of the program. He has even sponsored Ruffnecks scholarships over the years.
The 13U Fall sessions continue on Sundays until the end of October. These are highly instructive, fast paced, workouts to teach the game on the big diamond… as it is supposed to be played. At the HS Wood and College Prep levels, Ruffnecks Fall baseball is more than just rolling the ball out and having fun. It is a time for returning Ruffnecks to take a measured approach to the work they wish to put into the game. Pitchers pitch only in small doses. New players mix in with returners as candidates or just to get a taste of the Ruffnecks program. We play games in the fall to experiment, try new things, get our work in, evaluate. The constants remain, and are what Roger Clemens spoke to: Running hard 90’s and compete to get better. Winning is a byproduct of preparation.
The 2021 season is over. The Ruffnecks program heads into its 19th season in 2022. This is a long time for a baseball program. We have evolved over the course of nearly two decades. The past two seasons presented challenges, but the program continues to learn, innovate, and consider what is best for its players and teams. Meeting those challenges has been an exercise familiar to farmers… Making fertilizer out of manure; The more genteel expression is “making lemonade out of lemons.”
One of our most effective innovations has been the summer “Pre-Season” for players on the 15U-17U rosters. These sessions are conducted in simple, spring training format. Pre-Season was instituted for three weeks during the summer of 2020 when Covid prohibited team activity. This past June (2021) we reprised the idea. Players and coaches arrived daily Monday-Friday at 8:00am and worked out until 11:00am. Three hours every day beginning the week of June 7th! Position players took full BP, worked out at their positions, and conducted drill work to sharpen positional skills. Pitchers conducted long toss, side sessions, PFP, and benefited from the mental approach instituted by Pitching Coach and Coordinator Ace Adams. He even brought the respected pitching coach of the Houston Astros, Brent Strom, to one of the sessions… and it was not for autographs! It was REAL information and work.
So what did we learn from this? Innovating is NOT reinventing the fundamental principles of baseball development. The tools are simple: Repetitions; Routines; Actions; Coaching. No magic potion, exit velocity, spin rate measurements, or recruiting service can replicate playing the game and conducting the routines that contribute to player development. What we also learned is that the New England Ruffnecks still do not do enough! Once we get going with the tournament schedule, we do not practice enough, and we do not get enough of the time-honored routines that keep players sharp, learning, on corrective paths, and on an upward trajectory. We learned we need to be better.
At the end of Pre-Season (Mid-June) the program conducted its own Scout Day for players in the classes of 2022, 2023, and 2024. This was the second year we did so. More than 25 college coaches attended. We had 5 pro scouts attend to conduct the evaluation of players. Yes, we paid the pro scouts. They are professional! They watched, rated, and wrote up our players with unflinching eyes. Theirs is not a “showcase” mindset to make a player feel good and come back for another purchase in another location. The Ruffnecks Scout Day provided an honest evaluation and a baseline for baseball players who are willing to listen. BP was thorough: 4 full, rounds (not just 10-12 swings). If you hit, you show bat control and hit well in BP. Positional work was closely watched by professional scouts who look for “actions” not just gun readings. Three Ruffnecks players were invited to Area Code workouts as a result of the day’s activities, not through backchannel recommendations. And other players earned “follow” status from the scouts. Those “follows” will serve the players well in the future.
Joy and relief defined a summer that was “back to normal.” What that means to the Ruffnecks program is that we traveled out of our region, and out of our comfort zone. Both are important. Each Ruffnecks team from 13U to 17U spent time on the road, experiencing the travel model, playing competitive baseball, and bonding as teammates. “Not always comfortable” means that sometimes the circumstances of competition on a national scale may not present what players and families wish to hear or experience. Sometimes a player finds himself NOT in the lineup for consecutive games. Sometimes pitchers do not get much of a chance, or worse, fail mightily in key situations. “We traveled all this way, and he barely got into the lineup,” is an uncomfortable truth that families may not enjoy. But these are fundamental realities. Ruffnecks coaches work to get everyone better. They work to get the team better. And sometimes players go into slumps, exacerbated by pacing, anxious, parents who cringe at each ground out or strike out. Yes, coaches observe those sideline mannerisms as well as the mannerisms of the players.
The 13U and 14U Ruffnecks traveled to Charleston, South Carolina. Both played in the 14U CABA World Series. For the 13U Ruffnecks, playing “up” on a national stage was new, though not overwhelming. The 13’s hung in there. They learned that speed, strength, and consistency are crucial. Making routine plays is important; not making the routine play leads to trouble. The 14U Ruffnecks learned they need to get better, play more consistently, pitch to pitch, and out to out. The 14’s showed flashes of brilliant play. They also learned that heat, fatigue, and depth play into success in tournament play. No one from New England understands the heat of the South until it becomes a daily factor.
The 15U Ruffnecks were a worthy group of competitive players. Most participated in the Pre-Season (referenced above). The 15’s demonstrated that they are an advanced 15U group by winning an early season (and competitive) 15U event at the NEBC. That event would be the only 15U competition the team would play in during the course of two months; not because there are not worthy 15U opponents, but because they sought and earned a challenging schedule. The team traveled to Georgia for the 16U WWBA and came out strong with two consecutive wins. Just as it looked like the Ruffnecks might actually have a chance to compete for their pool, the team hiccupped, and lost game in which they gave up what looked like a comfortable lead. Three days of rain washed out any further chance to play or make up for their mistakes. What we learned is that when talent faces talent a team must finish. Worthy opponents seek the same outcome… victory. We also sent the 15U team to the Tournament of Champions in Cincinnati, Ohio at the beginning of August. This also presented a challenge against 17U competition. Again, the 15U Ruffnecks learned that being “good” must also include being successful against ALL competition… individually and as a team. “Every day baseball” is a grind. It can also be unforgiving.
The 16U Ruffnecks got off to a strong start at home by advancing to the championship game in the PG 16U Super25 Regional in late June. However, when the team traveled to Georgia in early July for the 17U WWBA the “real” competition began. It was the start of growth and improvement. Georgia was a dose of reality and humility for the 16U Ruffnecks. All of a sudden, a team that had not traveled since their 14U season, was up against the top 17U competition in the country. The start of the tournament was a struggle, but the week-long journey taught the players that performance and opportunity are closely aligned. The team lost games at the beginning of the event; they won games as the week progressed. They returned to New England and played the remainder of the summer in the region, competing in both 16U and 17U tournaments. Coach Fredericks did his usual and masterful job of teaching the game at the same time players learn that performance is the measure by which they are judged. The 16’s performance reflected steady, purposeful, improvement and success.
Travel is the cornerstone of the 17U Ruffnecks experience. Unfortunately, the early season trip to Nashville for the Music City Classic was canceled due to the shift in the Massachusetts High School schedule. The 17’s did get an early travel experience at the Super17 in Flemington, New Jersey where they played well. But that too was tainted by an incomplete roster due to school playoffs. In 2021 the 17U Ruffnecks opted to stay in New England for the Boston Open. It rained the entire week. This had a significantly adverse effect on the lineup and the pitching. Nevertheless, the 17U Ruffnecks traveled to two of the most highly competitive events in the country: The 17U Perfect Game World Series in Surprise, Arizona; and the Tournament of Champions in Cincinnati, Ohio. The PG World Series in Arizona featured only 35 teams. Many were among the best of the West. Players aspire to play at the highest level. For most Ruffnecks, Division I is the goal. The competition in Arizona was unforgiving. And that is the greatest lesson taken from the experience. The Ruffnecks had leads in almost every game. However, the margin for error shrinks as the competition gets tougher. The team learned this in Arizona. 110 Degree heat can also test one’s will and stamina. The PG World Series was one of the best experiences our program has ever undertaken. The positive effect showed in Ohio. Once again, the competition was very good. And while it may have been less concentrated (over 100 teams instead of 35), the Ruffnecks found their rhythm, advancing to the top championship bracket. A 3-2 walk-off loss in the playoffs ended the run, but the team finished strong.
As we head into our 19th season, there is much to look forward to in 2022. We will return to being the national travel team we have always been. College coaches around the country follow us. The experience in Arizona opened the eyes of a new set of college coaches. Ohio underscored why we do what we do. We play as a team. Our goal is to keep the Ruffnecks a TEAM program.
Once the clouds parted during the week of July 18-23, the 16u Ruffnecks had a chance to put together an impressive run, all the way to the Championship of the 16U Underclass World Series. It has been 31 games in 34 days for this group of Ruffnecks… “Every Day Baseball is a challenge, and the 16’s have managed to get that much baseball played in a month where rain has dwarfed sunshine!
In the course of a long season, there are ebbs and flows to lineups, individual, and team performances. But teams do not succeed without contributions from everyone. And the 16’s have demonstrated this over the past two weeks. The 16’s returned from Georgia and the 17u Perfect Game WWBA on July 12. The level of competition at the WWBA served them well. Following an impressive 4 win Boston Invitational “tune up,” the 16u Ruffnecks withstood a challenge in the first game of the Underclass World Series, grinding out a 3-2 victory. They followed with three consecutive pool play wins to earn the #1 seed in the playoff round of 8 teams. On Friday, July 23, the team played three games on the way to a satisfying 7-3 Championship Game win. Pitching and defense is always important, and the contributions from everyone on the pitching staff are too numerous to mention. Of note, Teo Spadaccini performed well in the championship game, and earned the win. Jack Sokhos-Drude came in to close the quarterfinal game in a tight 6-4 win. The offense was steady with contributions up and down the lineup. Of particular note on defense was the outfield play of Daniel Sullivan and Max Gomez. They have been the glue in the outfield, regularly making hard plays look routine, and sprinkling in the “highlight” play when needed. These are difference makers, and are much appreciated by pitchers and teammates. Congrats to the 16’s on a successful run.
The 17U Ruffnecks hit the road for two successive, demanding, trips. They begin in Arizona July 26-31 at the 17U Perfect Game World Series, which is played at the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers spring training facilities. The event is an invite-only event for 35 teams, many from the West Coast, Texas, and Arizona. It is highly competitive. Follow the action on the Perfect Game link. The “Senior ‘Necks” return on July 31 and after a quick dose of home cooking, get right back on the road at the Tournament of Champions in Cincinnati, Ohio. It is a demanding 3 weeks for the 17’s
A last minute opportunity to get into the Tournament of Champions, provides a chance for the 15U Ruffnecks to join the 17U team in Ohio! A committed group of players and coaches, along with supportive parents, came together to pull this trip together in less than 24 hours! The 15’s were washed out of nearly half their games at the 16U Perfect Game WWBA in Georgia. They are itchy to get another chance to experience the road and competition in another part of the country. The Cincinnati trip provides just that chance. Indeed, the 15U Ruffnecks participate in ALL 17u and 18u events for the final three weeks of the season. It is a challenge, but the group is excited and ready.
Coming off their trip to South Carolina, the 13’s and 14’s are using a combined roster to play in several local events. Their season officially ends July 28. Pitchers Jeremy Krendel, Owen Ellsworth, and Brendan Norton are participating with the 15U and 16U teams through the end of of those seasons. All part of the Ruffnecks way!
Monday, January 17 (MLK Holiday)
9:00am to 6:00pm
Facility “officially” closes at 6pm
Hitter’s Boot Camp
6:30pm to Whenever
Saturday, January 22
14U Team Hitting
8:30 to 10:00am
10:30am to 6:00pm
Sunday, January 23
13U Team Hitting
8:30 to 10:00am
10:30am to 5:00pm