October 25, 2014
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Warwick club is a blast from the past

I missed the glory days of baseball in Warwick. My time at the Beacon has coincided with high-school sports struggles and Little League enrollment dips.

I hope they’re not my fault.

They do make me wish I worked at the Beacon back then, though. I love a good underdog – a scrappy team like the 2012 Pilgrim Patriots or the upstart Warwick National 12-year-old all-stars – but I would have loved to see the city in its heyday. Toll Gate, Pilgrim and Vets as high-school powerhouses. Little League championships. Babe Ruth titles.

I missed out on that.

Except that, almost every summer, I get a little taste. There’s usually a Little League all-star team or a Babe Ruth club that gets hot, but the best serving of the good old days comes from the American Legion ranks.

You could make a pretty good case that Warwick is still king.

Warwick teams have won two of the last three state championships, with Shields Post 43 winning the title in 2009 and New England Frozen Lemonade grabbing the crown in 2010. Going back to 1999, Warwick teams have won eight of 13 titles.

That sounds like a pretty good heyday in its own right.

And it might be getting better.

This year’s New England Frozen Lemonade/Shields Post 43 club is giving the city of Warwick its biggest helping of baseball dominance in years.

NEFL departed for its annual trip to the Coopers Cave Tournament in New York on Tuesday, and left with the best record in the state. NEFL has lost just one game – and it was by a single run to the defending state champions.

NEFL will get tested in New York, but when the team returns to Rhode Island, it’s going to be tough for anyone to catch up.

The club is proof that, despite declining numbers in the youth ranks and struggles at the high school level, the best baseball players in Warwick can still make a very good team.

A very, very good team.

NEFL and Shields Post 43 merged to create one legion team before last summer. I still don’t love what that means for baseball development. I think there are more than 18 players in the city capable of competing at the senior legion level.

But in terms of wins and losses, the merger has been great, especially this year. The best players from Pilgrim, Toll Gate and Vets have teamed up to create a powerhouse.

NEFL has dominant pitching. Ryan Morris and Shane Johnson throw as hard as anybody in the state, while Kyle Fitzsimmons, Kevin Hickey and Branden Hoxsie would all be aces on a lot of staffs.

The offense isn’t overly powerful, but NEFL just hits. Zach Blanchard, Teddy Dwyer and T.J. Boyajian have led the way for a team that’s batting .308.

And the defense is usually pretty flawless.

Essentially, it’s the perfect recipe, and the best ingredient is chemistry. A lot of the NEFL players grew up together. Manager Dave McGuirl even coached a lot of them at Warwick National.

Sometimes, legion teams lack something. It’s summer time – there’s work and the beach and late nights. Some legion teams don’t seem to care.

NEFL is not one of those teams. The players are into every game. They support their teammates so boisterously that I’ve considered bringing earplugs.

I still go back to the end of Pilgrim’s playoff run. NEFL held a practice right after the loss to South Kingstown. It was optional for the Pilgrim players on the NEFL team, but all of them stuck around. They wanted to get out there.

They’re out there now, and they just may be the best team Warwick has seen in years.

Glory days? Who needs ‘em?

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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