The 2021 Spring season is almost back to normal! Masks continue to cover faces, but we are playing baseball. This is most evident among the 13U and 14U Ruffnecks rosters where both teams have played a robust schedule through April. As the weather warms in May, both teams should log as many as 35 to 40 games before the start of summer! This is a hopeful trend. There is nothing quite like game experience for development of baseball knowledge and skills. We are grateful to see Ruffnecks enjoying themselves and playing ball.
The 13U Ruffnecks feature a 14-man roster. This 13U squad is benefitting from the “full experience” of the Ruffnecks spring season. It is marked by participation in the NEBA League, a confederation of 5 programs focused on competitive weekend series. In 2021 all the games are held at the New England Baseball Complex. This provides a high degree of certainty, flexibility, and confidence that a field is always ready and playable. So far, the newest ‘Necks show good athleticism and talent. The mix of versatile players and depth in pitching is valuable for the overall development of the individuals and the team.
The 14U Ruffnecks are playing catch up. They missed the formative experience in 2020 that the 13s currently benefit from. Part of the catch up plan is a challenging spring schedule that includes competition against school JV teams and opponents with rosters comprised of 14, 15, and some 16 year old players. The 14’s also play several NEBA opponents and in 14U “round robin” events in April and May that replicate the feel of tournament play (tournaments are not approved in Massachusetts). The 14U roster benefits from a coaching staff led by Jon Beverly and includes pitching coach Ace Adams who serves as the 17U pitching coach during the summer. Ace’s experience includes 30 years in professional baseball as a pitching instructor with several MLB franchises. Other members of the Ruffnecks coaching staff also contribute based on their availability, including catching coach Matt Milano. The squad is a tightly knit group that continues to get better. It features a solid pitching staff that has depth. It will be interesting to follow the development of this group of 14s.
Who could not enjoy this moment? The last time spring baseball was played took place in 2019. That thought numbs us. But on Wednesday, March 24, a high school level baseball game took place in New England as the Dexter-Southfield varsity hosted a combined roster of high school Ruffnecks in a 9 inning game. This was not an “off the radar” event. Indeed there were plenty of radars at the game in the hands of nearly 40 MLB scouts and associates who came to see an outstanding prospect from Dexter, Josh Baez. Whether or not the game was an unofficial “first” high school game in our region is of little importance. There was no media. No evening news reports. What is important is that the Dexter-Southfield team is a first-class baseball program, and that the game was surprisingly competitive, close, and well played. It featured sharp and generally good pitching, competitive at-bats, and error free defense. Of course players like Josh Baez attract attention, and deservedly so. But Major League scouts do not hang around for nine innings of baseball in the middle of March after they have seen their prospect UNLESS the quality of play piques their interest. This game kept most around for the entire day!
Ruffnecks coaches Ace Adams and John Brickley both have decades of experience in Major League Baseball. Ace, as a pitching coach for multiple organizations; Brick as a scout for the Cincinnati Reds and Toronto Blue Jays. So it is no surprise that they happily enjoyed some baseball banter with old friends and counterparts from professional baseball. For the current scouts, Ace and Brick added an unexpected legitimacy to the day. This was evidenced by the regular visits to the side of the Ruffnecks dugout to inquire about a young Ruffneck or a lanky pitcher with good arm action… Or simply to share an observation, insight, or comparison about a player from either dugout. It was baseball in New England with excitement, adrenaline, and an intangible intensity not to be expected from a high school game in late March… especially in New England with Covid still lingering.
The Ruffnecks roster was populated by just 11 position players, including three catchers: Malcolm Whitfield, Diego Taveras, and James Benestad. All three worked pens and cycled into the game for 3 innings each. They hit in the lineup the entire time. The infield was built around two freshmen, Nolan Colby and James Henshon (at 3B and 2B), and cemented by 2022 Mark Henshon (SS). They played sharply. Newcomer, Caleb Kirkpatrick anchored 1B. The outfield featured two other freshmen, Sean Watts (RF) and Jeremy Auren (CF). They were tested regularly by well hit balls off the bats of a powerful Dexter lineup. Left field was platooned by two Ruffnecks vets, John Tully and Scooter Beverly (both 2022’s). Both Tully and Beverly also pitched.
Nine pitchers threw one inning each (for each team). And while nothing could match the dominance of Josh Baez in the top of the first inning (FB=96 mph), the pitching was surprisingly crisp and effective on both sides. Beverly threw the first for the Ruffnecks, kicking off the dust after a year away from the mound. He was competitive. Danny Collins pitched a sharp 2nd inning, exhibiting a strong, controlled delivery. Jack McLaughlin pitched the 3rd. He is bouncing back from 2020 arm troubles, but showed that he will be ready to go this spring and summer. Dagen Darnell threw the 4th and controlled the game. Oisin Lee showed strength in pitching a sharp 5th with 3 K’s. John Tully pitched the 6th and looked ready and prepared to have a terrific 2021. Ryan Bendremer competed well in the 7th, giving up no runs. Matthew DeBenedictis threw a clean 8th with only 10 pitches. Oren Liebenthal pitched the 9th, and although he was hit around by a strong lineup, he gained invaluable experience. Dexter’s Roster included two Ruffnecks: Ryan Grundy and Eddie Morrissey.
The offense was surprisingly effective. The Ruffnecks got production from all parts of the lineup. Henshon, Whitfield, and Caleb Kirkpatrick earned the privilege of facing Baez in the top of the 1st. They all showed aggressive, bold swings, but understandably, fell to the highly touted prospect from Dexter. Nolan Colby tripled. Tully got a hit. Beverly hit the ball hard. Watts got a hit. James Henshon got a hit. Mark Henshon hit several balls very hard. Auren swung the bat well. Kirkpatrick hit the ball hard and had a hit. Overall, the ‘Necks were on the bases, put the ball in play, and played a solid game. Those who participated and those who watched enjoyed a great first baseball day of spring. It was start to a hopeful 2021 baseball season.
Ruffnecks, 80 plus of them, finally got going on the final day of February 2021. And they did it again on Sunday, March 7. The backdrop is the amazing facility of the New England Baseball Complex (NEBC). While most baseball fans are accustomed to images of Spring Training punctuated by palm trees in the background, ours features a glacial pile of snow, diligently removed by the devoted staff at the NEBC. “Real” winter gripped the New England region and landscape since January. Four of the planned Ruffnecks workouts were canceled due to frigid temps, snow, and ice. In non-Covid winters the Ruffnecks enjoy the confines of the indoor bubbles at Harvard and Boston College to conduct Winter Workouts… our equivalent of Spring Training. But obvious restrictions forbade going inside at those facilities. Covid has changed plenty, including our Winter Workouts. Outside we went!!! No palm trees. No smells of orange blossoms. No sunscreen necessary (dermatologists will argue that assertion)!
Finally, the weather cooperated. And yes, 80 players, with a hop in their steps and no standing around, took positional reps in the outfield, infield, catcher drills, pitchers… on two full fields of activity with 17 different coaches banging fungos, instructing, and putting players through the paces of spring training as it is supposed to be. Piles of snow in the background were only a mild distraction. But the pace… the action… the skill work, and the attention to detail was invigorating.
Young players, 13U, experiencing their first season on the big diamond mix in with high school seniors. No slowing down! No changing the speed. Next ball coming!!! And the older players show respect, admiration, and patience with their young mates. They talk it up. Veteran Ruffnecks have all been in that spot, trying to pick up the pace and learning on the go. It is a special dynamic that has no boundaries of age or ability. The mindset is simple: make good on the next rep coming your way. Watch the guy in front of you and keep your head up. The drill work is efficient. Fungo masters such as Coach John Brickley just keep the balls in play. Skill work is scrutinized. Players benefit from instruction in patient sidebars from coaches who are right there with the athletes in the drill. Repetition, repetition… with the goal of making routine plays look routine.
And the pitchers!!! Who cannot appreciate working with a pitching coach such as Ace Adams? The pitchers throw, talk, go over body movements, PFP’s, and more. Laughs and focus pepper the pitching station in purposeful, instructive segments of 45 minutes. Less is more! Ace has the pitchers throwing, but the side sessions, bullpens, and trying to light up a radar gun are not the focus. Again Covid has changed a ton for players in our region, and pitchers are affected more than any other position. With varying start dates for high school and prep baseball on the horizon, Ace has designed the Ruffnecks spring training sessions to put pitchers on a path to arm health, maintenance, and a readiness for a short school season and then the summer! Some pitcher lengthen out their long toss programs. Some just do mechanical work. Coach Adams brings 30 professional spring training years to the Ruffnecks experience. Why not trust the process?! The bottom line is that the Ruffnecks have not reinvented the wheel. We are just grateful to be rolling.
There is something to celebrate for Ruffnecks players and families after 11 months of Covid Fatigue! College Baseball pulled off Opening Weekend… On time, and with some great baseball from Division I schools in the Northeast. Ruffnecks alums made some big contributions too. For young Ruffnecks who aspire to play college baseball, we recommend tuning into the games over the next several weeks. There is hope! And college baseball is happening. These guys were in your shoes… and jerseys!
Congratulations first go to Boston College. The Eagles opened their season with a convincing 3 game sweep of Charleston Southern. Former Ruffnecks figured prominently in the action and success. Chris Galland (Ruffnecks 2011-2016), is currently a senior at BC. Galland bats in the leadoff spot and hit .417 in the series. He was also 3-3 in stolen base attempts. Chris Galland played for Coach Kirk Fredericks at Lincoln-Sudbury HS and then did a post graduate year at prep school where Coach John Toffey mentored the Boston College “walk-on” turned ACC star. The common thread… both coaches are stalwarts on the Ruffnecks coaching staff. Galland is widely considered a future draft pick. Former Ruffneks lefthander Joey Walsh contributed a 3 inning save for the Eagles. Walsh is a regular out of the bullpen for Boston College. He was a four-year Ruffnecks veteran.
For those who were watching, Northeastern University traveled to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to take on #17 Wake Forest in a 3-game series. The Huskies had a good chance to take the opening game of the series before falling short by a score of 8-6. They were shut out on Saturday. But on Sunday, former Ruffnecks Scott Hozwasser hit a grand slam in a comeback effort to propel Northeastern to an upset of the Demon Deacons, a significant feat considering how little on-field time Northeastern had to prepare compared to Wake Forest. Holzwasser is also a former LS player and 5-year Ruffnecks alum. He was a high school teammate of Chris Galland. One third of Northeastern’s current starting lineup is comprised of Ruffnecks alums. Holzwasser shares the middle infield duties with Spenser Smith (also a 5-year Ruffnecks alum). Both catchers are Ruffnecks, with Senior Teddy Beaudet and Freshman JP Olson (5 years) splitting duties. The Huskies also feature Coach Nick Puccio, who worked with our 13U and 14U hitters this winter.
Joe Simourian, another 5 year Ruffnecks alum, continues his career as a Midshipman at the United States Naval Academy. Joe and his brother John Simourian, who went on to play at Georgetown University, graduated from Phillips Andover, where they were coached by long time veteran Ruffnecks coach Kevin Graber. Simourian was 2 for 4, hitting in the lead off spot, as he led Navy’s offense in an opening win with 2 RBI. Unselfish, tough, and thoroughly committed, Joe Simourian chose to serve his country while pursuing a college baseball career. And we thank him for his service while we enjoy his successful run at Annapolis. Joe Simourian currently leads the country in triples for NCAA Division I schools with 3!
There is still one, amazing story to share. Seamus Barrett (Ruffnecks 2014-2019) had his first outing as a pitcher for the #5 ranked Louisville Cardinals. One of only two freshman pitchers to get action, he tossed 3 scoreless innings with 6 strikeouts, 1 hit, 1 walk, and a hit batter.
Barrett’s story is inspiring. He is a walk-on pitcher and a true freshman who pitched his way onto a formidable Louisville staff in the current Covid environment that gives way to extra years of eligibility and crowded rosters. Barrett remained uncommitted all the way to his final tournament in Alabama with the Ruffnecks. That day, in late July 2019, he threw 7 tough innings against a lineup that featured 7 SEC and ACC commits, including a player Lousiville had come to see. Following the game, the Louisville recruiting coordinator approached Ruffnecks coach John Brickley and asked where Seamus was committed. “Nowhere,” replied Coach Brickley. Shocked, Louisville initiated contact and offered Barrett an opportunity to “walk on” with no guarantees other than a full fall (this past fall, 2020). It should be noted that Seamus is an excellent student who graduated from Brooks School in the spring of 2020. He was a strong IVY League prospect academically and as a pitcher, but it did not work out. So it was convenient for Louisville to put together a good package of academic merit aid, and Seamus took his chances to chase his dream. Like other aspiring college players, Seamus lost his entire senior season of high school in 2020. There was no summer ball to speak of either. He went to Louisville early (during the summer) worked out, and got ready. His last competitive baseball was the outing in Alabama at the end of his Ruffnecks career in July of 2019!!! Following his successful debut on February 21st, his mom said, “This is something that Seamus really wanted to do. It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. But he wanted to do it, and he made it happen. We are so grateful to everyone who supported him.” The reality is Seamus Barrett EARNED it! And that is what we all need to read, hear, and remember. Congrats to Seamus and all the Ruffnecks alums who enjoyed playing baseball Opening Weekend 2021.
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.
Thursday, May 13
13U & 14U Joint Practice
5:30 at NEBC
Saturday, May 15
vs. CT Bombers
8:00am at NEBC
Important 14U Update
Weekend of May 15-16
at New Balance Border Battle
Saturday, May 15
10:00am at Rolfe Park
2:30pm at Rollins Park
Sunday, May 16