Relevance – The Ruffnecks Program

Relevance – The Ruffnecks Program

Program Enters 15th season!

“Baseball is Spoken Here”

“Baseball is Spoken Here”

Ruffnecks Banquet is a Glowing Hot Stove Event!

Fall Baseball: Simple & Measured

Fall Baseball: Simple & Measured

End of Fall Baseball - Just Enough

Relevance – The Ruffnecks Program

The Ruffnecks program begins its 15th season in 2018.  That is a long time for youth baseball organizations where “Daddy-Ball” teams come and go, and the landscape for competition ebbs and flows.  Indeed other organizations throughout the United States and in our New England Region have longer histories, and are equally committed.  The Ruffnecks have not cornered the market on instruction or the development of baseball players.  We do not get all things right.  The challenge is to maintain relevance in a world where player and parent expectations are expanding more rapidly than the ability to deliver outcomes.  We believe that relevance sits squarely in the old fashioned axiom that ball players play ball.  And baseball is a TEAM game.

The purest moments in the Ruffnecks program are on display during the workouts of our newest 13U class.  It is there that all the unbridled hope, passion, and understanding begins anew.  We do not attract, nor do we select, the most “finished” 13 year olds.  We do our best to build a team and a class of like-minded friends and ball players.

Information Overload

Social media, websites, and easy access to information pose challenges to the most discerning player and his family.  Daily, we are bombarded with appeals to subscribe to recruiting agencies, pitching and hitting links, prospect camps, showcases, along with product pitches, evaluation tools, and more.  These same appeals target the aspiring athlete and their families. They also target vulnerabilities.  It is not unique to baseball, but since we are about baseball, these are our concerns.

Several parents (many with players who have finished the Ruffnecks program) have shared their experiences surfing websites, player rankings, team rankings, and more.  Such activities provide an interesting and entertaining use of one’s downtime.  It can also confound the brain.  Even parents who have played the game at high levels (in another era) find the amount of information overwhelming.  So how do we deal with it?

First, it is important to understand that this trend is not going away.  The clutter will likely only get worse.   The challenge to wade through the clutter will become more difficult.  So there is no need to ignore it.  But there is a need to manage it.  And there is a need to filter the noise, noise, noise.  In the end, it is rare that a showcase or a recruiting agency delivers a desired outcome.  The player must play the game.  The Ruffnecks deliver the opportunity for players to be seen playing the game… at a high level.

The Noise

Noise makes it difficult to concentrate.  It stands to reason that noise accompanying idle chatter among parents, players, and evaluators, also makes it difficult to sort out reasonable expectations.

We always ask the following question of our players, even at the youngest age: “What are your goals and aspirations as a baseball player and student?”  The most common answer is, “I want to play Division I Baseball and I want to go to a school down South.”  Whew!

So when the attention begins to increase around our program, usually at 15U, the noise gets troubling when some Division I schools begin noticing and expressing interest in some players but not others.  It is human nature to wonder “Why him and not my son?”  But such energy is misdirected.  The energy is better focused on how each player can find his own path to the appropriate place to play at the next level.

Our mea culpa is simple.  The Ruffnecks program is NOT an exclusive club comprised of Division I prospects!  We do not wave that banner, and we have great pride in the accomplishments of many graduates who have matriculated to excellent Division III and mid-level Division I schools of high academic focus.  To be sure, the Ruffnecks have had many wonderful Division I players (and draft picks), but those successes are not quantifiable, and we do not engage in what many programs do, which is to stake a claim of development to ANY player who has ever pulled on the uniform!  And by the way… most of our players end up playing somewhere north of the Mason-Dixon line!

Instead, we strive each year to enhance our efforts to manage expectations while being advocates for our players.  And our reputation among college recruiters continues to rise with trust and integrity.  Our players play hard.  They play in the context of team-baseball.  They are seen and evaluated in that context.  And the most successful ones advocate for themselves.

Differentiation & Self Advocacy

So fifteen years into this experiment, we are still experimenting, while at the same time sticking to some tried and true fundamental principles.  First among those principles is that no one person, player, coach, is greater than the TEAM.  This message is underscored repeatedly.  At our Ruffnecks banquet in November, three speakers (none of whom had communicated with any others) spoke of the same values of teamwork and self-advocacy.  Mr. Stu Porter spoke at length with a marvelous illustration of self-advocacy and perseverance.  Dave Dombrowski spoke of team values and understanding.  While NY Yankees scout Matt Hyde also addressed why scouts and recruiters like watching the Ruffnecks… “Because this program plays team baseball.”

The second important principle is cultivating self-advocacy.  We encourage players to speak for themselves and to manage the journey for themselves.  This, of course, includes the greatest of parental support… trust… Trust in the player and trust in the process.  But the successful journey is conducted primarily by the player who possesses clear speaking skills, ownership of his academic record, and a willingness to face his own strengths and weaknesses.  Players know better than anyone else.  They know the pecking order on the field, and they understand the vagaries of “fairness” inherent in the game of baseball.

To be certain, we have players who leave the program for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes we simply cannot deliver the goods.  But what continues to differentiate the Ruffnecks is a fierce adherence to playing for each other, challenging ourselves against noble competition and having the players conduct the journey.

“Baseball is Spoken Here”

2017 Banquet - Seniors

On Monday, November 20th the Ruffnecks hosted the 10th Annual Ruffnecks Banquet at The Fours in Quincy.  Once again, it was a packed house with almost 175 people in attendance.  The evening featured four guest speakers.  Matt Hyde, a banquet “regular,” kicked off the evening by relating the “Stay at 17 Inches” speech by legendary coach John Scolinos.  Longtime Ruffnecks benefactor, Stu Porter, delivered the main address with a speech that spoke about the journey of baseball for parents, players, and family.  Mr. Porter’s speech spoke to the important themes of perspective, responsibility, and teammwork in the journey of athletes.  He used a dual platform of the Ruffnecks and his alma mater, the University of Michigan to weave a compelling talk.  Mike Gambino, Boston College baseball coach, entertained the gathering with several enjoyable anecdotes along with his passionate support of “Team-First” baseball.  Lastly, the Ruffnecks were surprised and graced by the attendance of Mr. David Dombrowski, President of Baseball Operations for the Boston Red Sox.  Mr. Dombrowski shared several wonderful baseball stories.  One was about the 2013 League Championship Series between the Detroit Tigers and the Boston Red Sox when he was GM of Detroit.  Another story focused specifically on the camaraderie between teammates David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia.  The evening celebrated the graduating class of 2018 “Seniors” with recognition, a video, distribution of the Ruffnecks Yearbook, and revelry among players and parents, gathering together.  The program thanks the staff of The Fours for another year of spectacular service!

Johnny Pesky Teammate Award Winners

Red Sox President, Dave Dombrowski, at 2017 Banquet

The true highlight of the Banquet is the awarding of the Johnny Pesky Teammate Awards at the very end of the evening.  No player can win the award twice in his career.  It is the only award and distinction the program recognizes.  We do not celebrate statistics, rankings, or all-tournament achievements… Only the Pesky Award.  The 2017 recipients of Pesky Award were:

  • 13U – Mark Henshon
  • 14U – Tommy Leimkuhler
  • 15U – Lucas Stowe
  • 16U – Danny Cooke
  • Seniors – Jamie Hauswirth

The evening was a warm celebration of the program.  11 of the newly selected 13U class also attended.  Returning players from 14U to Seniors took the opportunity to reunite, enjoy each other’s company, and to relive and exaggerate the feats of the past season.  The Annual Banquet is the most meaningful evening of the year for Ruffnecks players and families.  Fourteen of this year’s Seniors made the trip to The Fours, including many 5-year veterans.  The evening recognized 17 players who have played for the Ruffnecks for 4 or 5 years.

The Importance of Teammates (The following is reprinted)

The last of The Teammates has passed on…  Bobby Doerr, Red Sox #1 (retired on the facade of right field), Hall of Fame player, the oldest living MLB player at the time of his death, and one of four central figures in David Halberstam’s acclaimed book, The Teammates.

Doerr’s passing is a reminder that those of us who understand the history of baseball are obligated to keep memories and awareness alive and vibrant.  Our young players have sound bites, web gems, and video to teach them the game… not box scores, or the visualization of “seeing” the game on the radio.  This generation will write its own history of baseball, indeed.  We are challenged to maintain connections to understanding… through reminders of players like Doerr, Roberto Clemente, Jackie Robinson, or Johnny Pesky.

Back in August of 2012, when Johnny Pesky died, we posted a similar article on this website. A portion of that article is reprinted below:

The Teammates records the relationships forged over a lifetime among a group of players: Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Dominic DiMaggio, and Johnny Pesky.  Local TV personality Dick Flavin, who spoke at last year’s (2011) Ruffnecks banquet, is also an important figure in the non-fiction account of the final trip taken by the teammates to the bedside of Ted Williams in the Splinter’s final days.  The significance of The Teammates in the context of the Ruffnecks program is bound to the most fundamental principle of our core values: Baseball is a TEAM game.  The values of team play, teammates, and building lasting relationships that extend beyond the foul lines is crucial to the soul of a player and his team.

Pesky Award Winner - Jamie Hauswirth

Each year at the Ruffnecks banquet we give out ONE award for each team, and it is named after Johnny Pesky… the Johnny Pesky Teammate Award.  Each of the past five years Johnny has personally signed a copy of the The Teammates to our award winners.  Of course this year’s recipients will not enjoy that autograph on their award, but the meaning and the significance of the award will never diminish.  Johnny was a close personal friend.  He knowingly lent his name to our award, and he graciously signed the books each year.  Johnny Pesky was a great teammate who never wavered in his loyalty to his friends Ted, Dom, Bobby, and many others. We believe teammates truly matter.  They are the source of laughs, wonderment, joy, and bonding that endure when we no longer can hit or throw a baseball.  Those who play for themselves miss more than they will ever know.

It is with profound sadness that we now lose Bobby Doerr.  But we have our Ruffnecks award in his teammate, Johnny Pesky’s name, along with the book that tells their story.  Those who have won it, should cherish their books.  Future winners can remind themselves of all that really matters… Teammates.

The Johny Pesky Teammate Award

Given to the player who, by his actions, attitude, his daily work ethic, and his willingness to think less about himself than his team, provides an example for his teammates.  He is a player who finds a way to contribute whether he is in the line-up or not; whether he is 4 for 4, or had a bad day.  He is a “fox-hole” guy that coaches and fellow players appreciate.

Let’s face the fundamental truth about baseball… The game cannot be played without teammates.  Despite the allure of showcase teams, prospect lists, and the like, the exhilaration of success with teammates is the tie that binds us to the game.  It must never change.

Important Notices

(Updated Thursday, Jan. 18 at 9:00am)

Thursday, Jan 18
14U Ruffnecks
Team Hitting
6:30 to 8:00
at NEBC


Saturday, Jan. 20
OPEN Hitting

at NEBC
9:00 to Noon
All Ruffnecks

Sunday, Jan. 21
1st FULL Winter Workout
Harvard University
6:00 to 8:00am

Wednesday, Jan 24
13U Ruffnecks
Team Hitting
Cancelled
at NEBC

Thursday, Jan 25
14U Ruffnecks
Team Hitting
6:30 to 8:00
at NEBC


 

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