December 20, 2014
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In summer ball, home is where the heart is

Have glove, will travel. That may as well be the slogan for youth and high-school age baseball players these days.

They’re vagabonds.

Hockey might put more miles on mom’s car. Basketball might take dad to more AAU tournaments.

But nothing is as busy as a spring and summer for a baseball player on his way up the ranks. There’s a school team in the spring, and probably some AAU in the mix too. When the calendar turns to summer, the uniforms multiply. AAU again, Connie Mack, American Legion, Junior Legion, Babe Ruth, Little League All-Stars. Most play for multiple teams.

It’s a wonder kids don’t show up to field wearing the wrong uniforms. I don’t know how they keep it straight. Right or wrong, it’s the new normal, especially in New England, where baseball weather doesn’t last too long.

That’s why it’s refreshing when players come back to their roots.

I see it every summer, in every town we cover, most often with kids who are past Little League but not yet high school stars. At that point, they’ve started to spread their wings – different schools, different AAU teams – but the tug of playing alongside the kids they picked dandelions with in tee-ball remains.

In Johnston, kids play Junior and Senior Little League instead of Babe Ruth. Two years ago, the town’s Junior League all-stars made it to the World Series. They were the first Rhode Island team ever to do so.

Since then, players have gone on to big things. Gian Martellini was the starting catcher on Hendricken’s state championship team. Joe Bongiovanni and Korey Fijal played key roles for Johnston High School, which nearly upset the Hawks in the semifinals.

But still they come back. Those players are Senior League age now and the band is back together, even as players like Martellini and Bongiovanni juggle American Legion responsibilities. They still want to be part of it.

In Cranston, the Babe Ruth League’s 15-year-old all-stars are in a similar boat. They went to the 13-year-old World Series two years ago, but lost in a regional last year. With unfinished business, nearly everybody is back in the fold.

Some are high school varsity players who could hold their own in legion ball this summer, but even Cranston’s legion program didn’t want to pull the Babe Ruth stars apart. They’re sticking together.

And here in Warwick, it’s the PAL 14-year-old all-stars.

With a group of players who had been very good for the city’s Little Leagues, PAL won the 13-year-old state championship last year and qualified for the New England Regional.

A year later, spring saw those players moving in different directions – to Pilgrim, Toll Gate, Vets, La Salle, Moses Brown.

The gap between 13 and 14 is a big one. Paths are chosen, futures sketched out.

But it’s summer now, and they’re together again. Warwick started 2-0 in the 14-year-old state tournament and appears poised for a repeat championship.

If it happens, it’ll be something to savor. The tendency at this age is for kids – and their parents – to always have their eye on what’s next. Sometimes, sacrifices are made, teams are left behind.

But it’s important to enjoy the present. Playing sports isn’t all about getting a college scholarship or a pro contract; it’s about enjoying yourself along the way, wherever the sport takes you.

These summer teams are a shining example. Nothing’s better than playing next to the kids you grew up with, representing your hometown against the state’s best.

Have glove, will travel?

Home plate’s pretty good, too.

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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