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 have resumed. 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! Many Prep players begin their seasons in early March, a matter of 6 weeks. Massachusetts public high schools begin official practices March 20th which is just two months 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!
We turn out attention to Spring Training workout in the indoor “Bubble” at Boston College February 5 and 12. An additional full field workout is scheduled at the NEBC on Sunday, February 26 (weather permitting). These workouts are designed with high repetition drill work for position players. Footwork, glovework, positional skill work and moderate throwing are the primary objectives to kick off the cobwebs of winter and to prepare for the spring and summer seasons. We are heading into 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. Happy New 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!
As we head into the busy holiday season, we pause with gratitude for what we do together as Ruffnecks. We are on the cusp of our 20th season as a program. It is worthwhile to consider how we got here. We could not have arrived at “20” without the partnership and generosity of our most devoted benefactors, Stu and Susan Porter. Since 2007, they operated in the shadows for many years (while their sons participated), exhibiting leadership without fanfare, careful to let their sons navigate baseball for themselves. Now it is appropriate to recognize the extent to which we are all the beneficiaries of their generosity. We thank the Porters. Every family makes sacrifices to provide their own, young, baseball player with an opportunity to chase dreams in the Ruffnecks program. We must be mindful that the Porters subsidize all of us! Whatever it costs, it costs less than the value of the program due to the Porter’s generosity and ongoing funding. We are thankful for their commitment!
The 2022 season was an exciting, invigorating, and inspirational return to normalcy for travel and competition. We thank our devoted, knowledgeable, and seasoned coaches who think beyond the ebbs and flows of baseball games and tournaments. Ruffnecks coaches are instructors, teachers, and mentors. Our coaches are generally older and experienced; They bring their experience and passion for baseball and teaching to the field each day. They come to the program because we have good kids… And for that we are also thankful. We have amazing coaches.
Ruffnecks kids come to play. It is not easy to be a Ruffneck. The only guarantees are that we believe that each player must conduct his own journey, compete, and learn self-advocacy. The payback is in smiling faces, gritty ballplayers, and the shared experiences in the dugout, on the field, on buses, planes, in hotels, at meals, and in the moments we spend together.
Our amazing players are terrific teammates. No prima donnas here. Veterans welcome new players, support old friends, and are more selfless on the field and in support of each other than even the most discerning spectator can observe. Their world is THEIR experience… The experience of being a Ruffneck is one we trust players are grateful for.
How is gratitude and thanksgiving shared with parents? The obvious answer is that each player owes a debt of gratitude for the support his parents provide. As an organization we are thankful for the parents who buy into a program with a distinctive “arm’s length” relationship between the program and parents. It takes trust to let go. We thank you. And for the parents themselves, we hope they are thankful for a program that strives to build more than baseball into the Ruffnecks experience. This past season makes us mindful of how fortunate we are to have each other in our lives. We look to the future with thankfulness and optimism. Thank You All!
Ruffnecks Fall Baseball started the weekend following Labor Day with an impressive turnout. Close to 100 new players registered for the three Ruffnecks Fall offerings: 13U Fall Development Program; the High School Wood Bat Program; the College Prep Program. Fall Baseball participation has returned to pre-pandemic levels with all three filled to capacity.
The 13U Fall Development program has long been an instructive effort attended by young players making the transition to the full sized diamond. Or staff covers many small details, spanning all aspects of the game. We break down the instruction in an understandable, yet active series of concepts and skill work. The entire Ruffnecks coaching staff, along with several adjunct instructors, and recent alums, devote Sunday mornings to work with eager players making this significant transition in baseball. Station work, repetitions, situations, comprise a plan that unfolds from week to week. Our goal is to cobble together an understanding and a comfort level for playing baseball on field with considerably more “real estate” than what players are accustomed to. All positions demand greater awareness, keener instincts, and the development of fundamental skills. We accomplish a lot (but never enough) in each session in almost three hours of work. The pace never wanes, which makes for a fun and energetic workout. The program utilizes two full fields to present creative drill work, and opportunities for situations and scrimmages. This year’s group of 50 rising 13 year olds is focused and enthusiastic. The talent is impressive. The time passes quickly each week. Most importantly, the progress shows!
The High School Wood Bat and College Prep programs provide opportunities for an additional 45 new players to enjoy mixing with returning Ruffnecks players in a combination of Red vs. Blue (intrasquad) sessions and some NEBC Select League games. The coaching staff favors the Red vs. Blue sessions where we can introduce or review concepts and teach while we play. Pitchers throw carefully measured outings that incorporate supervised bullpen warmups. Rosters change weekly, as we mix returners and new players. The League games provide opportunities to compete against other opponents in the beautiful fall weather. Including returning players, Ruffnecks Fall Baseball accommodates nearly 150 players in a relaxed atmosphere.
All three of the Ruffnecks oldest teams, traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio August 2-7 for the Tournament Of Champions. It is the first time the program has traveled three teams at the same time to a single location. The experience was a winner! 60 Players on the 17U/2023, 16U/2024, and 15U/2025 Ruffnecks settled into the same hotel to conduct our business in our unique travel model.
The week-long event is competitive and on good fields throughout the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area. Both the 15U and 16U Ruffnecks compete in the 16U Division of the TOC, while the 17U Ruffnecks play in the 17U Division. The tournament is well covered by college recruiters. Venues such as the University of Cincinnati, Xavier University, Miami of Ohio, a local professional Independent League stadium, and turfed fields ensure play and provide a solid backdrop for tournament baseball.
The Ruffnecks travel model is an “all in” experience for wannabe college baseball players. In Ohio the Club booked more than 30 rooms in the team hotel and housed all three teams together. Each team, while in its own orbit, circled with players and coaches from the other teams. They shared stories from the day, the experiences, played back-to-back on the same fields, and ate well prepared, healthy meals. Meal time is an important part of the experience. And it is not just the nourishment, but the time together. Michelle Miakos (Coach Brick’s spouse) prepared chicken parmesan, baked ziti, salads, vegetables, pulled pork, and other delights such as home made banana bread. Mrs. Graber (KG’s wife), prepped and served both the 15U and the 16U teams daily. And the meals were spectacular! Steak with vegetables, potatoes, corn and green beans. Amazing Mac and Cheese, chicken wings, and fruit salads prepared with fresh fruit. Mrs. Graber even had evening snacks (also deserts prepped by Kelly Graber, our erstwhile photographer). Players never go hungry on Ruffnecks road trips, and they eat well. Team meetings usually center around meal time. They are times to enjoy each other’s company and for coaches to cover the business of the day, review games, instruct, and talk baseball. Ohio was the backdrop for an amazing trip for our three top teams.
Of course, baseball games are what we travel to play. And we seek good, competitive, opponents and tournament formats. The Tournament of Champions (covered by PBR-Ohio) fits the bill. Any week-long tournament tests the stamina and depth of a team. It is a challenge to play “every day baseball” with energy, passion, team goals, and to deal with personal ups and downs. The 15U Ruffnecks made themselves into a pest for every opponent they faced. After losing the first three games in the pool by narrow margins, the 15’s knocked off the top seed in the final pool game. They continued their run with a playoff win on Saturday, August 6th to advance to the semifinals of the Bronze Bracket.
The 16U Ruffnecks played good baseball in pool play, but faltered in a one run defeat and a two run loss to the #1 overall seed. Bullpen depth hurt the 16U ‘Necks after a long and successful summer season. Nonetheless, the 16U Ruffnecks found the trip to Ohio an experience worthy of their efforts. Without a doubt, the 16’s were among the most talented teams in the 16U event. They attracted considerable attention from college recruiters.
The 17U Ruffnecks earned the #3 overall seed for the top playoff division with several stirring efforts and come from behind wins. An exciting extra inning, walk-off win and a 1-0 shutout propelled the 17U Ruffnecks to the semifinals in the top championship bracket on Sunday, August 7. In the semifinals, Gabe Fitzgerald pitched masterfully in a grueling pitchers duel. The Ruffnecks took a 1-0 lead, thanks to a solo home run from Jeffrey Valdez, into the bottom of the 7th inning. The ‘Necks were an out away from advancing to their third tournament championship final of the 2022 season. It was not to be as the opponents rallied with 2 runs to walk off 2-1 victors. Nonetheless, the 17U Ruffnecks achieved tremendous success over the course of a 40 game summer season.
Within two hours of the 17’s heartbreak, the 15U Ruffnecks found themselves to be the last ones standing. They advanced to the championship game of the Bronze Bracket by virtue of a walk-off 8th inning hit by Will Forman. The 2-1 win gave the 15U Ruffnecks a chance to finish the season with one more opportunity. The youngest ‘Necks in Ohio never led in the championship game until the final swing. They fell behind 3-0; tied the game in the 6th 3-3; and fell behind in the top of the 7th 5-3. In the bottom of the 7th the first two Ruffnecks were retired. With two outs and nobody on base, Yedan Diaz reached on an error. Matt Ulicny put on a terrific at-bat with a single up the middle. With runners on 1st and 2nd, and two outs, Noah Jordi stepped into the batter’s box to extend the game. He swung at a first pitch fastball and launched a mammoth home run into the trees over the right field fence for a walk-off 3 run home run! Not a bad ending to an amazing Ruffnecks season and summer of 2022.
Week of January 30 to February 5
Monday, January 30
Closes at 5:30
Needham Town Baseball
6:00pm to 9:00pm
Tuesday thru Friday
January 31 to February 3
Open Hitting Daily
1:30 to Close
Saturday, February 4
14U Team Hitting
9:00am to 10:30am
13U Team Hitting
11:00am to 12:30pm
Sunday, February 5
Full Winter Workout
Boston College Bubble
6:00am to 8:00am