Warwick Continental and Warwick West Side Little Leagues started a combined 50/70 division this year to create an additional opportunity for the city’s youth baseball players.
Now, many of those players are getting an extra opportunity they didn’t even expect.
After a full season of play, league officials learned that they could put together a team to represent Rhode Island at Little League’s East Regional Tournament for the 50/70 division. The 12-player squad will begin play in the tournament on July 19.
“I think the kids are excited,” said Continental president Richard Petrarca. “Because we were the only league playing in Rhode Island, we decided to elect an all-star team just like we do for the 12-year-olds or the 10-year-olds and now we’re going to the regionals.”
League officials are now in the midst of a fast-paced fundraising effort to help defray the cost of travel expenses for players and their families. The tournament is in Commack, N.Y., on Long Island.
“We’re trying to keep it as cheap as possible for the families because it’s something they didn’t count on,” Petrarca said. “If you’re playing AAU, you know up front how much it’s going to cost. This was a little bit of a surprise, so we’re trying to do as much as we can in a short time.”
Anyone wishing to donate can mail a check to Warwick Continental LL, c/o 189 Bingham St., Warwick, R.I., 02886.
The regional will be an exciting capper on Warwick’s debut in the new division. Little League started the Intermediate 50/70 division as a pilot program in several states a few years ago.
It’s for players ages 11-13 and is designed to provide a step in between the Little League diamond and the big field that comes with Babe Ruth baseball or Junior and Senior Leagues.
The regular Little League diamond features a 46-foot distance from the pitcher’s mound to home and 60-foot basepaths. On the big field, it’s 60 feet, 6 inches for the pitching distance, and 90 feet for the basepaths.
It can be a difficult jump.
“Some kids are going to be ready for it,” Petrarca said. “Some aren’t. It’s a big jump.”
When 50/70 became an official division nationwide this year, Continental and West Side jumped on board. Initially, several other leagues from District 3 expressed an interest but ultimately didn’t field teams.
Petrarca and other Continental officials remained committed to the idea, along with West Side’s George Mantaian. They decided to give it a go, even though the two teams would be each other’s only opponents. They played 13 times.
“They got a little tired of playing each other, but overall I think it was a success,” Petrarca said.
Twenty-four players took part. Some did Warwick PAL Babe Ruth baseball as well, but others spent their springs exclusively on the 50/70 diamond.
If not for the opportunity, Petrarca thinks that group might have left baseball behind.
“By our way of thinking, we would have lost many of those kids,” Petrarca said. “Some of them were ready to play PAL. Others look at the big jump and say, ‘You know what? I think I’m done.’ They’re ready to quit baseball. This gives them an opportunity to make that transition and keep playing. We just thought it would be a good thing to get off the ground for the city.”
Continental made some minor conversions to its Major League field to allow for 50/70 baseball. There are two pitching rubbers on the mound, and one can be removed. The infield grass and dirt are set up to allow for the longer basepaths.
In Rhode Island, 50/70 baseball is a relatively new concept, at least for local leagues. AAU baseball has been using the larger dimensions for longer. Locally, Apponaug Babe Ruth League transitioned its Cal Ripken Major Division to a 50/70 field several years ago. CLCF in Cranston also has a 50/70 league for its major division.
For Little Leagues in the state, it’s completely new. Continental and West Side decided to limit participation to 13-year-olds and keep it as a transition opportunity. It could expand to include the full major division, and all of Little League may ultimately trend in that direction.
For now, it’s an important addition to the local baseball scene.
“I think it’s a better game on the bigger diamond,” Petrarca said. “And it’s a good opportunity for a lot of kids.”
The regional is an added bonus. Longtime Continental coach Al Mann will manage the team, with Mantaian and Bob Hazelwood serving as assistants. Members of the team are Brandon Bento, Dylan Bracken, Ryan Brady, Bobby DeCorpo, Aidan Estrella, John Fleming, Bobby Hazelwood, Ryan Mantaian, Ty Morgan, Isaiah Mylers, Steven Pham and Cory Vickers.
Also participating in the league in the regular season were Jeff Alves, Aaron Antczak, Scotty Campbell, Alex Christina, Jaymen Gilroy, Dresden Ingegneri, Ethan Martin, Sebastian Paolella, Jeff Perreault, Matt Perreault, Blake Roberge and Tyler Scotti.
Players, coaches and league officials are now turning their attention toward the fundraising effort, with raffles, car washes and canning in the works.
The hope is that the trip will be a good one. The baseball itself may be challenging. New York was one of the pilot states for the 50/70 program so teams there are more experienced and have played through district and state tournaments.
“We may hit some powerhouses, but it’ll be an experience,” Petrarca said.
And another opportunity to embrace.