September 19, 2014
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Rhody baseball deserves some more love

A Hendricken player bound for Boston College squares off against a La Salle player who’s a Division I college prospect. Talent surrounds them at every position.

Must-see right?

If it was a football game with stars like that, fans would be packed into the bleachers like sardines. In basketball, they’d have to lock the doors to the gym.

Baseball doesn’t draw the same crowd.

Monday’s match-up between the Hawks and Rams brought out more than usual, but they still weren’t showing up in droves.

It got me thinking. The aforementioned scenario isn’t hypothetical – it’s exactly what was on display Monday. Hendricken ace Mike King will pitch for Boston College next year. La Salle ace Caleb Gardner is a solid prospect. Both teams have other players capable of pursuing a college career at some level.

But for whatever reason, high school baseball flies under the radar. 

In Rhode Island, it really shouldn’t. Baseball players are the state’s top athletic exports.

Just look at this year. King is headed for Boston College. North Kingstown standout Chris Hess has signed with URI. And Lincoln’s Nick Zammarelli will head for Elon – if the Major League draft doesn’t get him first.

This is nothing new.

Last year, Hendricken alone had five players bound for Division I baseball, with Tom Pannone getting a late-round draft nod. The draft also called on former Hawk Evan Marzilli, who won two College World Series championships at South Carolina.

The year before, Cranston West’s Jeff Diehl was drafted by the Mets, while college standouts Anthony Meo, Chris Costantino and Dan Gamache – all former RIIL stars – were drafted in early rounds. Meo had tremendous success at Coastal Carolina and Gamache starred at Auburn. They both frequently squared off against Ryan Westmoreland on Rhode Island fields. He was drafted right out of Portsmouth High School and was one of baseball’s top prospects before his battle with a brain condition forced early retirement.

Go back further and you can talk about Jay Rainville and Rocco Baldelli, who were both first-round picks out of Hendricken. Bill Almon, a Warwick Vets graduate, was the No. 1 overall pick out of Brown University in 1974.

The list is actually kind of amazing. The size of Rhode Island naturally limits the number of great athletes it produces. You wouldn’t know it in baseball. It’s a disproportionate number.

And it’s not just the top-level players. Every season, I put together a list of our local athletes who are playing college sports. We’ll get a good amount of soccer, some hockey, some track. Baseball blows them all out of the water. By my count, 42 players from Warwick and Cranston are playing college baseball this spring, and they hail from every school. 

Stack up all of this and it makes you wonder why more people don’t turn out to watch Rhode Island high school baseball. And that’s without considering the real clincher – the fact that other Rhode Island high school sports don’t hold a candle to the talent level in baseball. It’s almost impossible for a hockey player to go right from the Rhode Island Interscholastic League to the ranks of major college hockey. It’s a little more feasible for basketball stars, but more and more, they’re leaving well before graduation day, bound for hoops-factory prep schools.

And football? Eh. I really like football, and I really like covering football here, but Rhode Island produces a Division I football player about once a decade.   

But in the end, the statuses may never change. Baseball is huge in New England, but the high-school ranks just don’t have the cache of Friday night football, hot hoops on a cold night or a hockey battle between powerhouses.

Oh well. Just remember it the next time you have an afternoon off and the sun’s shining. Drive around and find a game.

Odds are you’ll see something special.

William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and williamg@rhodybeat.com.  


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