My Pitch

A closer look at NEFL's loss

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The New England Frozen Lemonade American Legion baseball team fell in three games in the opening round of the state playoffs to Woonsocket’s Navigant Post last weekend.

Overall, I have mentioned this before, but this is a perfect example of the power of momentum in sports … it also highlights another issue surrounding the Warwick School Department.

NEFL had a streak of tough luck that was ended last year, as the club qualified for the postseason after some time out of the show. With many of the same players returning this season, NEFL looked poised for a deep run as it hovered atop the standings for the majority of the regular season.

NEFL had it all this season. It had arguably the best pitching staff in the league, got production at the plate throughout the lineup, and had an athletic, versatile fielding team that with the pitching, could stifle any team it faced. NEFL spent the majority of the regular season in the top four, which was what it expected heading into the season, and with good reason.

Things got shaky down the stretch of the regular season though, as the team fell in all four of its final games, and had to settle for the fifth seed in the playoffs. Navigant would then take two of three games to end NEFL’s season and advance to the state semifinals against top-seeded (and league favorite) Upper Deck.

Usually when I talk about the power of momentum in sports, it’s usually to the opposite effect. When teams catch fire and rattle off a few wins, I truly believe that this means a lot and can be the difference between winning a championship and not.

However, on the flip side, sometimes when a team drops a few games in a row and gets stuck in a rut, it can also make a huge difference in the results.

NEFL had a great team this season, and I believe that its success in the early going of the regular season was much more indicative of its ability versus the tough finish to the year. Like I said, NEFL really had all the pieces necessary to get it done.

Sometimes though, having the talent and experience just is not enough to overcome the downward momentum that teams sometimes face … ultimately, you just hope that any downward spiral happens early in the season when you still have plenty of time to curb it.

Unfortunately for NEFL, this rut came at the worst possible time.

American Legion baseball features some of the best high school players in the state and region. It’s highly competitive, and every team in the state has a loaded, well-rounded roster. I am not trying to say that NEFL’s fall was a fluke, because it wasn’t. NEFL simply ran into tough teams, but that is the point, every team in the league is tough.

Considering how competitive this league is and the immense amount of talent on each team, kids need every mental advantage that they can get … and unfortunately for NEFL, they hit a wall against another tough team at the wrong time.

Now onto the next point.

I delved into this in the season/playoff recap that I wrote, but apparently the field conditions at Warwick Vets and Mickey Stevens have reached a point where they must be thoroughly addressed.

NEFL manager Mike Fratus told me during an interview that he spent hours, literally hours, preparing the field at Vets prior to the start of this past weekend’s game against Navigant. When he arrived roughly four hours prior to the first pitch, the grass was ankle high, the lines where not drawn, the field was not raked.

Fratus took over from there, and would spend up until warmups cutting the grass and taking care of the landscaping, doing enough to make the field playable for the team’s biggest game of the season.

I know that I have been kind of piling it on the Warwick School Department this summer considering all of the issues with the budgets and whatnot. I really hate doing it, I do not like pointing fingers, making accusations (even if the evidence is substantial), I really do respect how tough of a job it is at the end of the day. But my job is to call what I see, and what I see here is just another example of the school department ignoring the needs of another one of its schools.

And I get it. It’s summer, people are away, those who are in town are spending time with their families and children who are on break, there are countless baseball games and leagues to keep up with, I genuinely, whole-heartedly understand why these field may not be maintained the way that they are during the regular school year.

But at the end of the day, the American Legion playoffs are a notable event every summer, and for these high school kids, it is sometimes the most important thing on their schedules. Even beyond just playing the game, American Legion can sometimes mean so much with recruiting and college preparation. To knowingly let the fields overgrow is nothing more than just a lack of effort.

This isn’t the first time that I have heard complaints about these complexes, and I have heard many others regarding the various other fields in the city. Field maintenance seems like it should be one of the more feasible tasks to execute, but at the end of the day, I am not involved, so I could be missing the mark.

Even if I am indeed underestimating the difficulty, I do think that the department and the city must work toward a solution to prevent this issue moving forward, and I feel sorry for those kids that had to push through it this weekend, as many of them also joined Fratus in cleaning things up, which shouldn’t be how they spend their summer.

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Marc Comtois

Not meant as sarcasm: was the school department aware that the fields were being used by NEFL? Did you call to ask them? Or was there an assumption that the fields would be kept up? If the School Department is going to let non-Warwick School entities utilize the facilities, they should, at least, have a point of contact available for quick action in cases such as this. I have experience with the city-side from my time helping to run a local soccer league. We had our issues too, but eventually things smoothed out once we established a stable line of communication between the league and the Parks and Rec dept.

It's also a bit unfair to write "I genuinely, whole-heartedly understand why these field may not be maintained the way that they are during the regular school year" given the budget issues and then offer the purely conjectural "what I see here is just another example of the school department ignoring the needs of another one of its schools."

Finally, regardless of these criticisms, thanks for writing in depth about these issues.

Friday, August 2