Phil Davidson doesn’t have any shortage of ties to the game of baseball. A former Toll Gate standout in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Davidson went on to pitch at North Carolina State, while also playing in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League.
It’s an impressive resume. Starting today, he’s adding to it.
Davidson, 30, is the head coach of Rhode Island’s newest amateur summer league baseball team, the Ocean State Waves, who will compete in the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL).
The NECBL is a nationally recognized league that features college players from all over the country. There is already a Rhode Island team – the Newport Gulls – but the league was happy to incorporate a brand new member as it expanded this season.
The Ocean State Wave are scheduled to play their first game today at Old Mountain Field in South Kingstown, which will serve as their home park, against the Keene Swamp Bats at 6:35 p.m.
”Its baseball at its truest form, its most innocent and fun time,” Davidson said on Tuesday. “When kids are in college, they’re still learning and still receptive to teaching. It’s fun. Everyone wants to play pro ball, but they don’t have anything in their pocket yet. They re all playing for that opportunity, to get that chance.”
Davidson starred for the Titans in high school, where he was a two-time All-Stater and earned Rhode Island Gatorade Player of the Year honors.
After that, he went on to pitch for the Wolfpack, play in the Cape Cod League and coach in the Cape Cod League. He founded the Bomb Squad Baseball Company, and serves as an associate scout for Ray Fagnant of the Boston Red Sox. He’s also the pitching coach for South Kingstown High School.
Yet, it wasn’t necessarily all of that history in baseball that inspired the creation of the Waves. It was the Rhode Island Rebels, an elite travel program for high schoolers in the area that Davidson founded five years ago, that paved the way for the NECBL team.
Davidson and the league had sent 95 kids to play in college through the Rebels. After a while, many of them wanted a place to play over the summer. That’s how the Waves were born, to provide an opportunity. Davidson is serving as the team’s manager.
“We helped them get to college, thought our job was done and then all of a sudden with the contacts from playing, coaching, the Cape League and the NECBL, we were constantly making calls to guys I’ve known and played against in baseball to help them out more,” Davidson said. “Last year, more and more guys really wanted to play.”
With the help of a number of people, Davidson set out to make it a reality. They checked out different venues and different leagues, before getting a call from Gulls’ general manager Chuck Paiva.
“Originally we were going to go into a different league and Chuck Paiva called me and asked if we would be interested in the NECBL,” Davidson said. “He said ‘It might be a good fit for you.’”
It took off from there. They settled on Old Mountain Field as the perfect place to host a new franchise. The team plays 44 games, and 22 of them will be at Old Mountain.
“We just said, ‘Why don’t we look right around the corner? We’ve got a pretty good field right here,’” Davidson said. “If you’ve ever been to a Cape game, this field reminds you a lot of the Cape. They’re community fields, they’re high school fields. They’re open, very accessible, very fan-friendly, you can sit wherever you want. That’s kind of how we got to Old Mountain.”
As far as roster building, the Waves were a little bit behind the eight-ball because of how quickly they ended up joining the league.
They did some solid recruiting of their own anyway, especially from team owner Jeff Sweenor, but then got a boost when Paiva helped out by sending some players whom the Gulls couldn’t use over to the Waves.
“Newport is really, in the league, one of the ideal places to go,” Davidson said. “He’s getting inundated with requests for kids to play, trying to place players. Really, once he was full or didn’t have a need at that position, he sent some guys to us and helped us with that.”
The Waves ended up with some solid talent, including Georgia State’s Caden Bailey, Northwestern’s Walker Moses and Arizona State’s Dalton DiNatale. They got some local players like URI’s Pat Quinn, Tyler Bowditch and Liam O’Sullivan, former Hendricken stars Tom Pannone and Reed Gamache, URI-bound North Kingstown native Mike Sherburne and Eckerd’s Jared Habershaw, also from North Kingstown.
“We really took an approach that we want solid players, guys that we know what we’re getting,” Davidson said. “We want a certain brand of ball player. A tough player. A hard-nosed player.”
The players live with host families from Westerly to North Kingstown, and have since arriving at the beginning of this week.
Tonight, they’ll finally get their season underway. Davidson is hoping the community comes out and supports the new venture, which should provide quality, college-level baseball all year long.
“Opening night, from what were hearing, it should be pretty good,” Davidson said. “We’re expecting a pretty decent crowd. Hopefully they come and see that there is some pretty decent baseball being played.”
Tickets are $4 for adults and $1 for kids 12-and-under. Tickets will be sold at games, and are also available for purchase at the Bomb Squad Baseball Company, located on Kingstown Road in Wakefield. In addition to baseball at the field, there will be a variety of other activities, including a mobile arts classroom, face painting and more.
It should be an experience to remember. The NECBL is recognized among the top summer collegiate programs in the country. Annually the league’s top players are scouted and selected in the Major League Baseball draft. More than 250 NECBL alumni are currently playing professionally, including MLB stars like Stephen Strasburg.
”You’re really going to see it four, five years from now, when some of these guys will hopefully be playing in the Major Leagues,” Davidson said. “And it will be like, ‘I remember seeing him at Old Mountain in 2013.’”
For more information visit: www.oceanstatewaves.com. Follow the Waves on Facebook and on Twitter @oceanstatewaves.