Optimism. Let’s play ball! Happy New Year! With hope on the horizon, we anticipate 2021 to be a new beginning with a return to the tournaments and activities Ruffnecks teams have enjoyed in the past. We look back with amazement at what was accomplished by the baseball community for young players in Massachusetts in 2020. We owe umpires, coaches, fellow programs, and especially the NEBC a ton of credit. Challenges remain, but we are in full planning mode. 2020 taught us about preparedness and the ability to pivot with purpose in the face of obstacles. Ruffnecks teams played as much baseball as anyone in our region once state regulations approved playing games. The efforts of the NEBC, along with the the devotion of coaches, players, and families, salvaged a 2020 fraught with hurdles. We have every reason to believe the lessons learned from 2020 have prepared us to deliver a positive baseball experience, despite obstacles.
Ruffnecks rosters for 2021 are ready to go, populated by an unprecedented rate of retention. Among the returning players are several “Seniors” who are pursuing post-graduate years a prep schools. Add several newcomers to that list. The Senior roster has admitted several talented new players who also plan to reclassify or to PG. The end result is that the Ruffnecks rosters populated by the 2022, 2023, and 2024 classes shape up to be older and more experienced, led by seasoned, veteran, ballplayers. At the younger level, the program experienced negligible attrition. Nonetheless, each roster features additions that improve Ruffnecks teams and bring a healthy does of “fresh blood” to the mix of players. The new 13U “class” is a bright, athletic group of 14 players chosen from a 13U Fall Baseball program that surprisingly attracted 45 participants, despite Covid concerns and the late decision in August of 2020 to run the Fall Program. In six weeks from September to the end of October the new 13U players got a sense of the developmental objectives and system inherent in the Ruffnecks program. We continue to nurture our newest Ruffnecks through group hitting sessions and team Zoom meetings during the winter months. We stand by our goal of opening our season the weekend of March 20-21 for our 13U and 14U Ruffnecks!
Actually… plans are for our first on-field Winter Workout at the NEBC on January 31st! Despite the past 14 years of indoor workouts at Harvard University and Boston College, Covid restrictions preclude our program from using those facilities in the winter of 2021. Instead, we will conduct our Winter Workouts outdoors at the NEBC as long as the weather and playing surface allow. On to 2021. Let’s maintain our optimism and hope for a return to warm weather and baseball.
An ordinary 13U Team Zoom meeting on Tuesday, December 15th became a special evening when Roger Clemens dropped into the 13U session. The evening began with a review of an assignment for players to research the history of Major League franchises.
13U Ruffnecks were asked to learn what players led specific franchises in hitting and pitching categories. Each player was assigned a single team. But all players were responsible for knowing the Red Sox records in addition to their own assignments. As the evening unfolded, comparative records became the subject of conversation, such as “who is the all-time strike out leader among pitchers?” Who is second on the list? Third, etc. Discussion turned to the all-time pitching leader in wins for the Boston Red Sox. Clearly, Cy Young was not available to “crash” the Zoom. But the man who shares that record (at 192 wins), was standing by in the “waiting room” of our Zoom conference. Surprise (and disbelief) spread slowly among the young faces on the Zoom. Eventually surprise gave way to an exciting and spirited exchange with “The Rocket,” who answered questions and talked with the Ruffnecks for 45 minutes. The questions were terrific. Clemens answered questions about preparation, his youth coaches, his nerves before big games, and who were the best hitters he had to face. He spoke about “17 inches.” He shared his view on STRIKE ONE, what Ruffneck coach Ace Adams calls “the best pitch in baseball.” Most impressive was how the 13U Ruffnecks began to loosen up with great questions and eagerness to hear from one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history.
Team meetings, held remotely, are a new convenience. It is one of the few conveniences offered up by the Covid-19 crisis of 2020. But it is a convenience to be sure. While the program continues in-person hitting sessions and OPEN Hitting hours at the NEBC, the world of remote, virtual meetings brings opportunities. We can gather without getting into a car, fighting traffic, and we can save time by signing off from the comfort of our home. The College Seminar Zeries is an important initiative to which we have committed our energies during the winter of 2020-2021. The “Zeries” is conducted once every two weeks for Ruffnecks in the current high school graduation classes of 2022 thru 2024. Guest hosts range from active Division I and Division III coaches, to scouts, past college coaches, and guests who can provide context and information to the shifting landscape of college recruiting. Indeed, there is redundancy in some of the content. But the purpose is to provide Ruffnecks and their families with access to information and an opportunity to ask questions. It is an anxious time, but the more we can provide a forum for information, the process may become less daunting for players.
Stay tuned for Winter Zoom meetings. One never knows who may be joining our gatherings.
The 2020 season is in the books! When 85 Ruffnecks players returned to action on June 15th for “Spring Training” at the NEBC there were uncertainties related to Covid and summer baseball. It is difficult to describe the scope of what took place during the first three weeks of the summer on the fields at NEBC. Suffice it to say, we did not reinvent Spring Training. We had tremendous success! First of all, the program is fortunate to have access to three spectacular fields at the NEBC with full complements of screens and machines to execute intense practice plans. By practicing organizationally, players benefitted from exposure to a variety of coaches (over 20 instructors), all with instructional credentials and passion for the game. We simply followed the script used by professional organizations, particularly in the minors and Instructional League. This means each field had a purpose. Each player’s assignment for each day was scripted with a design toward preparation and development. For players in the classes of 2021, 2022, and 2023 it was a week in which players spent 5 out of 6 days on the field from 8:00am to 11:00. For the 13U and 14U Ruffnecks the week featured two 3 hour sessions. Several 14U players also participated in workouts with the older players. The effect of the hard work was visible, especially for the older ‘Necks. We continued in this manner for three weeks! Week after week players were shuffling gingerly to and from the parking lot… but happy to be playing baseball.
Summer ball does not naturally led itself to practice time and preparation for travel teams. For years Ruffnecks coaches have advocated for more preparation… more practice time… more teaching and development. The Covid-19 plan sprung from meetings during the shutdown that included a Coaches Task Force with current, active, college coaches contributing their counsel. Their input, along with the advocacy of veteran Ruffnecks coaches led to the concept of delivering the “Spring Training” experience to our players. “Preparation is key,” remarks Pitching Coach Ace Adams who joined the Ruffnecks with 35 experience in Division I coaching (University of Michigan) and professional baseball, where he worked with Boston, Detroit, St. Louis, and Houston. “These kids need this kind of preparation. Not knowing how this program has done it in the past, I can tell you these kids got a ton of work, in exactly the right way.” Coach Adams embraced the role of “Pitching Coordinator” in 2020, a role familiar to the veteran baseball man. We are thankful for Ace’s presence in the program. An entire field was dedicated to pitchers for throwing, PFP, side work, conditioning… and just conversations about pitching. The pace was reasonable, but the cumulative effect in both preparation and fatigue was significant.
Similarly, the work on Field 1 and Field 2 was specific, purposeful, and calibrated to get players ready to resume game speed actions. Field 1 was the hitting field. BP, hitting drills, base running, and the ever-present shagging dominated the activity. Hitters got plenty of reps. When it was their time to be in the field, position players found plenty of reps on the defensive end of skill work. Field 2 was dedicated to positional play. On Field 2, it was three hours of drill work, body movement, and mental prep for skills and situational drills. Infielders, catchers, outfielders, all found their way around Field 2.
Coaching was the key to the development and objectives of the Covid-19 Spring Training Plan. The program enjoys year to year consistency among its coaches, especially at the 15U, 16U, and 17U levels. The program made an informed decision to increase the coaching staff for spring training (and beyond). This means allocating financial resources to hiring coaches with college coaching experience, current minor league players who are out of work, professional scouts and instructors, and recent collegiate Ruffnecks Alums who returned to share their experience and to learn how to coach for themselves. Our current players were the beneficiaries of the influx of coaches and all the passion they bring to development.
Finally, we got to play games. At every level the program thrived through the Covid restrictions during the summer of 2020. We are thankful for the opportunity to play so many games, most being at the NEBC.
Uncertainties remain. It is a clouded future. But with faith we are planning to resume travel and a full tournament schedule at all levels. However, what we learned is the “Pivot.” We learned that we can deliver baseball in the face of challenges. Ruffnecks players got better during the summer of 2020. We must find a way to continue the instructive focus while applying the merits of travel and tournament play. We will monitor the decisions of the NCAA, high school and prep leagues, and the important work that unfolds to address the pandemic we are in. With good coaching, committed players, and the ability to pivot as needed, we are optimistic for 2021.
The Ruffnecks program is taking advantage of Zoom to conduct college recruiting seminars in one hour increments during the off-season. On Thursday, November 19th, the program conducted its first session. 45 players and families attended the seminar. Babson Head Baseball Coach, Matt Noone, led the session with a fine presentation. His insight and visual slides presented statistics, rule clarifications, and general advice for aspiring college players. Coach Noone spoke directly to the changing landscape as a result of the impact of Covid-19 and the NCAA decision to grant an extra year to current players on college rosters.
Over the course of the winter, the program plans to conduct approximately two College Recruiting Zeries sessions each month. Guest will include current college coaches, scouts, and former college recruiters with a perspective on the process. In some instances the sessions may be limited to 2022 high school grads.
Tuesday, Jan. 19
13U Team Zoom Meeting
6:30 to 7:30pm
Thursday, Jan. 21
College Recruiting Zeries #5
2022 & 2023 Grads
6:30 to 7:30pm
(Link sent Day of event)
Saturday, Jan. 23
OPEN Hitting at NEBC
13U Team Hitting
8:00am to 9:30am
14U Team Hitting
9:030am to 10:30am
10:30 to 1:00pm
COVID ATTESTATION FORM
(Players MUST bring this form)