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11th Banquet Record Turnout!

Teammates Statue - Fenway Park

It is hard to explain what the Ruffnecks Banquet is all about.  We endure miserable traffic on the Monday prior to Thanksgiving.  But we still gravitate to The Fours in Quincy, where the generosity and hospitality of the Colton family and the waitstaff continue draw us back.  We can only hope that we have not outgrown the place.  On Monday, November 19th, an estimated 190 folks gathered, ate, laughed, and listened.  The new ‘Necks (new 13U class) sat bug eyed just like those who have sat along the side wall in past years.  We can’t explain…  We just can’t explain the feeling, the sense of purpose and accomplishment, the air of humility and respect for the game, the “little things,” whatever those words define.   But the message remains the same… TEAM.  And thankfully, and consistently, the message is delivered by way of wonderful guest speakers who believe in the message themselves.  365 days ago, Red Sox President of Baseball, Dave Dombrowski, shared the message at last November’s Ruffnecks Banquet.  While he made no predictions, it is no surprise that the 2018 Red Sox delivered a title in the context of that message of TEAM.  We were fortunate to hear the same message, validated, and underscored, by several speakers at this year’s Ruffnecks Banquet.

Hot Stove Chatter

“Hot Stove” gatherings are a tradition in New England during the baseball off season.  For some old timers, the Ruffnecks Banquet hearkens back to the purest, most essential, original hot stove events not often experienced anymore.  It is appropriate that our tradition holds the event on the Monday at the beginning of Thanksgiving week.  It is good food!  But it is a night of thanks as well.  What makes those of us who love the Ruffnecks, actually love the Ruffnecks, is the sight of players seeing each other again, crowding (literally) together around tables, standing, talking, laughing.  They pore through the Yearbook and enjoy the video presentation.  Players and families anticipate the presentation of the Johnny Pesky Teammate Award, and they actually listen to what the speakers have to say!  This is pure Hot Stove.  No media.  We do not bring attention to ourselves.  No boasting.  Just celebrating the TEAM, and playing the game of baseball.  Sounds trite, corny, anachronistic.  Perhaps.  But not for those who come to the Banquet.

Speakers Share the Message

Lt. Commander U.S. Navy (Ret.) Adam La Reau

There is a reason Matt Hyde speaks every year.  And it is not for pay!  He speaks to an audience that willfully listens.  And his message and tale about a local, big league player, and his story of adversity and perseverance was right on point.  Rich Gedman, whose contributions to baseball, particularly to Red Sox baseball and youth baseball, fall so far beneath the radar of self-promotion or personal gain that his tremendous talent as an MLB All-star (and his spot in baseball history) go almost unnoticed.  But Geddy was spot on too!  He had an integral part in the success of the 2018 Red Sox World Champions, as hitting instructor for much of the lineup during their minor league days, and in the capacity of post-season coach this October.  And what was Geddy’s heartfelt message?  TEAM.  Not just the 2018 Sox, but he communicated how much it meant to lose the World Series in 1986 with the same kind of TEAM.  You see, players cannot always expect to be in the lineup, or to be on a list of top prospects.  They certainly can not expect to be champions! And they can’t do it alone.  Moments of individual success and heroics emanate from TEAM.  And sometimes, even failure leads to success… someone takes it for the team… as Geddy made very clear.

Lieutenant Commander U.S. Navy and Navy SEAL Adam La Reau shared the same message.  BUDS is not Spring Training.  And neither is Ruffnecks Baseball anything close to BUDS.  But the fundamentals are the same.  Successful people fail, as do teams.  But the effort, shared passion, and reasons for being in the “game” are all about those around you and those with whom you choose to be around.  The evening was capped nicely in the poetry and smile of the only living person in the acclaimed book The Teammates, Dick Flavin.  Mr. Flavin regaled the banquet gathering with several poems, including the poem he said at Ted Williams’ death bed, which was memorialized in the account of the visit to “The Kid” with Johnny Pesky and Dominic DiMaggio.  The book itself is memorialized in the bronze statue at Fenway Park.

Yes, it is difficult to explain to those who have never been to a pure, grass roots, Hot Stove dinner.  As Geddy said at the end of the evening, “Baseball is spoken here.  I love this event.”

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Recruiting Timetable – What to Do

Questions & Answers?

Players and parents often ask “What is the recruiting timetable?”  The answer: There isn’t one!  Ok, perhaps that sounds like a cavalier, unhelpful response.  So how is the question addressed? And what is the truth?  How do players plan, get recruited, and what should they expect?

Play the Game; Make Yourself Better

The first fundamental truth is that good baseball players, players who aspire to play in college, play baseball during the summer.  They play the game, and they play lots of games.  They learn situational hitting, the importance of moving a runner along, taking extra bases.  Players need to compete.  As Boston College coach, Mike Gambino, told Ruffnecks players, the most important thing is to earn their spot in a lineup, confront competition from teammates who may be better than those you play with on your high school team.  Compete in sticky situations where the outcome of a game is in the balance.  Make a play that is special… or simply respond to failure in a manner that attracts the attention of the most scrutinizing of college recruiters.

The late, great Red Sox scout, Bill Enos, often remarked, “I learn as much watching a kid strike out with the bases loaded when he walks back to the dugout, as I do when he hits a grand slam.  It is easy to look good trotting the bases after a big hit.  I want to see how the kid deals with the other side of baseball.”

In the Ruffnecks program, players play a ton of baseball.  With a 17 year history, experience, and reputation, the Ruffnecks schedule delivers opportunity, not promises.  Our schedule puts players in games, tournaments, and in geographic locations where the blanket of exposure is significant.  Our players are seen… unless they are hiding.

And by the way, does anyone believe that when a college recruiter is watching a game, even to see a specific player, that the recruiter’s eyes are closed to everyone else, and everything else that is going on?  Ridiculous.

Here is a concrete recommendation: Run out every pop up as if you intend to get to second base, in case the infielder drops it.  That will catch coaches’ eyes!  So will the casual jog and pouty, slow, arrival at 1B when the ball is dropped.  Everyone notices both.  No one likes the latter guy; coaches love the former.

The Early Commitment

By definition, an early commitment is… early. So why does everyone get worked up about early commitments?  First, let’s be honest with ourselves.  Status. It is cool to get an early commitment, and even early attention.  It validates a player’s self-worth.  Envy. It is human nature to question, “Why him, and not me?”  If a teammate is getting some love from a Division I school, why am I not getting the same?  Anxiety. The entire process makes players and parents anxious.  An early commitment means I am done with the pressure.  I can relax.  My parents’ aspirations are met!

Well, the realities are quite different.  Early commitments are an anomaly, not the ordinary.  Sure, many top Division I schools are caught in the maelstrom of recruiting and committing prior to the summer before a player’s senior year in high school.  But the colleges don’t love it.  And the NCAA exercises cowardice in policing the practice.  Yet even the most successful D-I powerhouses find room for talented players at ALL times in the recruiting cycle.  One example is Ruffnecks alumnus Will Toffey.  Toffey is currently playing professional baseball for the NY Mets.  He played college ball at Vanderbilt.  Yet, he did not receive an offer from Vandy until September of his senior year in high school.  He was not seen by Vandy until June of that summer, when he played with the Ruffnecks in Nashville.  And he ws not the player that the Vanderbilt coaching staff came to see!  They saw him incidentally to their other recruiting priorities.  Will is not the exception… Will was recruited on an ordinary timetable.

And while most Division I schools commit some players “early,” these are contingent deals, predicated on everyone’s best intentions, maintaining academic standing, and performance on the ballfield.  Yes, there are many re-negs in both directions of the process… players who bail on their commitment, and schools that for one reason or another don’t get the recruit admitted. And there is always a reason… sometimes an excuse.

The Division I “Dude” is Easy!

Travel programs boast their list of Division I commits.  Some bandy the news on their websites, and tout players over the TEAM.  Many of these programs use disingenuous claims, such as “so-and-so” is a D-I commit, even though the player may have worn that team’s jersey only once, pitched or played in a single tournament, or had a pre-existing commitment elsewhere… but that does not matter.  Furthermore, some programs focus all their efforts ONLY on the Division I prospects.  But there are many good ball players out there who are not Dudes.  Many of these players are perfectly capable of playing at Division I, II, or III schools.

Sure-shot Division I players are rarely missed in the recruiting process.  That does not mean Division I players are not missed… but the top guys are obvious.  Prospective players should be encouraged by the fact that many, many, Division I players find their ways onto college rosters late in the process.  Building a solid Division I program takes work.  College coaches build a TEAM… a group of guys who can play together, travel together, and learn together.  Colleges do not have the luxury of flying in mercenary pitchers for a weekend series, like some travel programs.

There is also texture to the Division I canvas.  Mid-level D-I programs are later in the commitment cycle than ACC or SEC programs.  IVYs and Patriot League are on different timetables as well.  It is a nuanced process that creates its own “domino effect.”  And by the way, playing Division III college baseball is no easy accomplishment.

The Truths: And What to Do

Back to the beginning.  What is the timetable?  Generally, the following is a guide to the timetable that, by definition, is inconsistent at best.

  • Everyone’s timetable is not the same.
  • Finding the match can be difficult.  Schools may, or may not, be looking for players who play your position in your class.  Catcher is an obvious example.
  • Pitching trumps most recruiting decisions.  Left handed pitchers have an advantage.
  • “Eye Candy” matters.  Players who “look the part” attract recruiters’ eyes.  Players are the masters of their physical preparation and conditioning, but players cannot make themselves 6’3” and 200 pounds.
  • The five tools matter. Work to develop at least one or two outstanding tools.
  • Your academic profile really matters, and opens doors.  The more an athlete pays attention to the details of academic performance, the more doors open.

What to Do

  • Get honest, regular, appraisals from your coaches.  We are your advocates, but we have to be honest in two-way conversations: With the athlete and with the college.
  • Again… Build a strong academic profile.  Yes, get good grades.  Get rid of “Cs” and make school a priority. Take challenging courses.
  • Communicate your interests to your coaches.  If you have a high school coach who is well connected with college coaches, be sure to cultivate a relationship.  Encourage your high school coach to connect with us as your summer program.
  • Research college programs realistically.  Go to their websites.  Check the bios of the coaches.  Are there any connections to your region?  Scrutinize the roster.  Where is the school getting most of their players?  Read some bios on players.  Check to see how many are graduating in the cycle of classes that affect you.
  • Summer after-freshman year in HS: Play ball!  Don’t worry about who is watching.  Just play and get better.  As a Ruffneck, you will be seen.  If you did not play REGULARLY, as a high school varsity starter, do not expect too much attention.  Just play and develop.  You will get on some radars.  Ride the coattails of your teammates who may be attracting attention, but don’t be envious.
  • Sophomore season and summer following: If you are not a regular high school starter as a sophomore, do not expect too much.  But you are not behind.  Just earn your time, and make good on opportunities.
  • Begin to consider what kinds of schools you might like to attend during your sophomore year in high school.  Communicate with your coaches about visiting schools and attending prospect camps and showcases.
  • Coaches can serve two purposes: First, we can be advocates, and help get you on a school’s radar. Second, if you have been seen by a school (at a prospect camp or showcase), we can get candid feedback regarding where you sit on their radar.  It may not always be what you want to hear, but it will help you focus on the right places.
  • Junior Year.  Follow up, beginning in August prior to your Junior year in high school with schools that have shown interest.  Plan “unofficial” visits.  Try to meet with coaches, but it is not necessary.  Plan a trip, use the month of August to visit schools.
  • If you have little interest or mild interest prior to September of your junior year, you are still NOT behind.  Just focus on school, play your other sports, get stronger, and prepare for the best possible junior season and summer possible.
  • Play hard junior year, and plan to have a productive, focused summer between junior and senior years.  This is the normal timetable for things to come together.
  • Develop an “A” list, but be sure you have a “Plan B.”  There is a place most Ruffnecks players can play.  It just may not be South Carolina!  If you want to play college baseball, keep an open mind.
  • Remember, not everyone is going to get a baseball scholarship.  In fact, most college baseball players participate without a scholarship.
  • Remember to communicate, and advocate for yourself.  College coaches do not want to hear from your parents about your statistics and your accomplishments.
  • Finally, trust that you will be seen in the context of the Ruffnecks program.  Communicate with your coaches.  Do not just expect to get calls and emails from recruiters, but when you get one, follow up if you sense it is real.

Compete.  Don’t expect to play every day.  Earn your opportunities, and remember, your teammates have the same aspirations you do…To play in college.  Eventually, the playing days end for everyone.  Enjoy playing while you can.  Enjoy!

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Fall Baseball Notices

(Updated Sunday, Dec. 9 at 7:00am)

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Wednesday, Dec.12
14U TEAM Hitting
7:00 - 8:30
NEBC Cages

Thursday, Dec. 13
OPEN Hitting

6:30 - 8:00
All Ruffnecks Welcome
NEBC Cages

Saturday, Dec. 15
13U TEAM Hitting
8:30 Report
9:00 to 10:00 Team Hitting
NEBC Cages

Saturday, Dec. 15
OPEN Hitting
10:00 to Noon
All Ruffnecks Welcome
NEBC Cages

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