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.
Most lead articles on this website and others tout tournament successes, winning, and individual accolades. This is not one of them. The 15U Ruffnecks’ Summer of 2022 is a different story. Why? Because it is a story of a team that has struggled. The 15U roster is comprised primarily of 2025 grads, a few 2024’s, and a few 2026’s. It is the class that entered the Ruffnecks program in the 2020 Covid year of shutdowns and no baseball. This Ruffnecks class lost out on what is, perhaps, the most formative and meaningful part of the Ruffnecks journey. They lost most of their 13U season. They practiced on March 12, 2020, and then the world went dark. No month of March. No April. No May. A little bit of June, and a little July. No travel. No Tournaments. We did our best. And so did the players.
The 15U season in the Ruffnecks journey is a challenging one. We rarely play in 15U-specific events. Rather, we put our 15U players against older, more physically mature competition. For instance, the team traveled to Marietta, Georgia July 15-21 to compete in the 16U Perfect Game WWBA. The Ruffnecks tied their first game (a game they feel they should have won), and then lost remainder of their pool play games. Yet they never got knocked out. They never suffered a “mercy rule” decision. And always came out scrapping.
Through it all, the team has built an identity and a bond. They have learned to adopt the non-negotiable principles insisted upon by their head coach KG. It is no wonder that KG is an often selected New England High School Coach of the Year. Coaching a team that is slightly behind in the race to physical maturity challenges the best of coaches. It challenges coaches who are accustomed to success with talented players. Yet, the challenge has been met. This team has never ceased to get better. The players are coached with immediate, corrective, supportive, and instructive feedback. And they embrace the opportunity. They relish the investment in their progress as ball players. Whether or not one buys into the running game, the two-strike approach, or the bunting game, one thing is certain: Players learn to think and execute. They are fun to watch.
Then there is the fun part. On the road, Mrs. Graber cooks the team meals. The squad eats healthy and well. All home cooking! We eat together, talk, have fun, and learn about each other. The bonds grow. Team meetings in the hotel peel back the barriers to personalities and encourage a laugh or two WITH each other. Never at each other. We talk about baseball. We challenge with trivia. We talk about ourselves. Coach Muenz and KG laugh at themselves. They build a team and they build better baseball players, not just by bunting or hit and runs, but by nurturing a mindset that is all about taking the field together and doing things as well as possible. Just watch the 15U Ruffnecks take the field between innings, sprinting out of the dugout… even when it is hot. Watch them support each other after a batter gets hit by a pitch or executes a SAC Bunt! There is always intent. At the Northeastern Team Camp, the contrast was stark. Several college coaches came to the Ruffnecks dugout to compliment their hustle on and off the field. During the skill day, Ruffnecks were diving for balls, communicating on fly balls and pop ups. Doing things the right way.
Yet the 15U Ruffnecks team has not won a lot of baseball games! They sometimes struggle to match up against good arms. But they are having fun. They come to the ballpark every day believing they are getting better and believing they have a chance to win today. They like each other and they like their coaches. Why not? They know the investment is in them and their future. They look their coach in the eye as active listeners, because they are asked to do so. The HABITS take time to build. Running every ball out. Throwing to the correct bases. Looking for extra 90’s and holding opponents to 90 feet less whenever we can. It will all eventually click. This is how a struggling team in a successful program defines the program itself. “Those who stay will be okay.”
The weekend of July 22-24 was hot as can be in New England with temperatures soaring to 100 degrees. The 17U Ruffnecks stayed equally hot as they swept through the PBR Summer Invitational in Lynn. The Ruffnecks were led by outstanding pitching from beginning to end. Utilizing the entire staff, the ‘Necks took their second tournament title of the summer. James Henshon delivered an outstanding pitching performance in the championship game, leading the squad to a 4-3 win. Aiden Barclay delivered a key hit. The defense continues to play well behind the pitching staff. The 17U Ruffnecks travel from “hot” to “hotter,” as they embark on a trip to the 17U Perfect Game World Series in Surprise, Arizona July 26-30. It is the second year the Ruffnecks have attended the exclusive event, which is populated largely by talented West Coast teams. The Arizona trip begins a two week stretch on the road. The team returns home briefly on July 30th and then heads to the Tournament of Champions in Cincinnati, Ohio August 2-7.
Both the 16U/2024’s and the 17U/2023’s have had strong showings during the summer of 2022. Both stood out at the Super17 in Flemington, New Jersey to start the summer. Both also excelled at the Firecracker July 4th Classic. On Monday, July 4th both the 16’s and the 17’s found themselves playing the American Pastime in the championship round. While the 16’s played gritty, determined baseball in an 8-7 semifinal loss, the 17’s took home the championship with a 5-0 win.
A deep pitching staff has led the 17U Ruffnecks to success. The final weeks of the season will present a challenge to the Ruffnecks in Arizona and Ohio. The offense, at times, has needed a spark, but several break-out games in the Firecracker July 4th Classic hinted at some. As mentioned, defense is this team’s strong suit. The team enjoys solid infield play from Jeffrey Valdez (3B), Dante D’Avanzo (SS), and Brennan Barlage (2B). Ryan Grundy and Trevor Grady share duties at 1B. The outfield is anchored by two 2024 grads in Benjamin Williams and Aiden Barclay. The third outfield spot has been shared by James Benestad, Huxley Holcombe, and Max Gomez. Catching duties are handled by Benestad, Will Fosberg, and Diego Taveras. On the mound, starters Dagen Darnell, Hagan Ward, and Huxley Holcombe have been very strong. Gabe Fitzgerald turned in a strong start in the Firecracker. There is a lot to look forward to for this “Senior” class.
In the Firecracker championship game Teo Spadaccini was the headline story. Spadaccini threw 5 scoreless innings, surrendering one hit and striking out 10 in a superlative outing. John Milewski threw two scoreless innings for an impressive save. The Ruffnecks broke a scoreless tie in the top of the 4th with a two-out double by Ryan Grundy. Jeffrey Valdez was hit by a pitch, and Trevor Grady walked to load the bases. Aiden Barclay lined a two-out single into right-center to score two runs. Tournament MVP Will Fosberg lined the first pitch he saw into right to drive in the third run. The ‘Necks add two more runs in the top of the 7th by virtue of a couple of hits and a SAC fly RBI by Barclay. Ben Williams contributed two hits in the leadoff spot and scored one of the runs in the 7th. It was an impressive championship weekend for the “Senior” Ruffnecks.
A talented 16u Ruffnecks traveled to Marietta, Georgia July 6-13 to compete in the Perfect Game 17U WWBA National Championship. The Ruffnecks won their pool behind and explosive offense, sound pitching, and solid defense. Isaac Lamson and Nolan Colby man the left side of the infield and hit in the top of the order. Their defense and their offensive output have been impressive. Max Dushney has done a solid job at catcher along with Lucas Messer and Eddie Morrissey. Nolan Bibbo contributes with his bat and at infield, outfield, and on the mound. The outfield has been steady with regulars Nick Andersen and Jeremy Auren. Sean Watts, Morrissey, Matthew DeBenedictis, and Ty Ciongoli have also contributed to the outfield. John Hegarty and Oren Liebenthal have platooned at 1B, with each contributing to the offense. The pitching staff is led by Oisin Lee, Lorcan Lee, John Hegarty, Matthew DeBenedictis and an array of relievers and contributors, including Auren, Watts, Ciongoli, Liebenthal, and Daniel MacLean. The team hopes to get James Dyalchand-Ericson back for the Tournament of Champions in Ohio, August 2-7.
The 15U Ruffnecks traveled to Marietta, Georgia July 15-21 to compete in the Perfect Game 16U WWBA National Championship. The team, made up largely of 2025 grads is focused on a highly challenging, competitive, and instructive summer. The 15U Ruffnecks have played a schedule comprised of a steady diet of older, more physical opponents. Their quality of play, and the way in which they play, deserve a ton of credit. This team plays hard. The final two weeks will continue to see the 15U team challenged and growing as they compete in the 17uU Summer Classic and then travel to the Tournament of Champions in Ohio August 2-7.
Week of Nov. 28 – Dec. 4
Open Hitting Daily
2:00pm to Close
Thursday, Dec. 1
17U Team Meeting (Zoom)
New Date TBA
Saturday, Dec. 3
14U Team Hitting
9:00 to 10:30
Sunday, Dec. 4
13U Team Hitting
9:00 to 10:30