People have questions. Each summer, between late June and August we field well over 200 new inquiries. Interest in the program and Ruffnecks Fall Baseball registrations are growing. Of course not all register and participate in order to become candidates, but folks want to know who we are and what we do. As the program continues to evolve and garners more attention, the task of defining ourselves for prospective players and families actually becomes easier. Why? We differentiate ourselves. We do so because we work tirelessly to refine what we do, and we deliver a quality and purposeful developmental path for serious baseball players. Still, some folks get wobbly. Some players become self-centered and less team-centered. First and foremost, we are a team-oriented baseball program. We are not for everyone. The Ruffnecks journey is not always an easy one.
What We Do
We coach and develop. We build teams that are part of a Program. After all, the PROGRAM is the TEAM of teams. Players in our program know the other players in the program regardless of age or level of play. They know them as Ruffnecks. Our coaches are involved with players at all ages. Players from younger rosters may have opportunities to play with an older Ruffnecks roster during a given event. The common bond is being a Ruffneck.
Of course, our players love to win. Most competitive athletes do. But we believe that winning is a byproduct of adherence to competitive and developmental principles and fundamental truths. Sounds cliche or trite? It is difficult to do.
We believe in teaching. At the 13U level alone, we put four to five qualified coaches with our 13U team during the season. Why? Because we teach. Our older teams have three, four, and sometimes as many as five coaches working. None are parents. Is this excessive? No. Is this expensive? Yes. Families who pay for travel baseball deserve to get value for what they invest in.
We coach to instincts. We ask players to be instinctive ball players. This takes enormous work, repetitive coaching, and sometimes tough love. The players own the game, not the parents or coaches.
What We Do NOT Do
We do not recruit and solicit players; we prefer they find us through referrals and reputation. We do not use “temporary” players, nor do we invite players to play with the Ruffnecks for a weekend or “just for this big tournament.” You are either a Ruffneck, or you are not. If we need to bolster a roster, we do so with younger players from within our system.
We do not run a 12U team to feed our development system; we begin on the full-sized diamond.
We do not have a solitary coach show up to the field to sit on a bucket, barely teaching or communicating with the players.
We do not build our 13U (entry-level) roster with the biggest, most mature players so that we can flex our muscles at 13; we look for athletic players and supportive families. And we do not easily “kick players to the curb” who have been developed at 13u & 14u as long as they have put in the effort and can define a role for themselves.
We do not succeed with building every roster and developing every player. We have our failures, to be sure. There are players who leave the program, though our attrition is low. When they leave, it is because we either could not help them further, or because they felt their baseball objectives may be better met elsewhere. We are sometimes faced with difficult conversations.
We do not field “Showcase” teams; Our teams play great competition, wherever that takes us.
We do not have a magic wand to get players college scholarships. Neither do we boast that we are a program designed for Division I players only. We have solid players capable of matriculating to fine schools at all levels of collegiate baseball.
We do not do Parent-Coached baseball. Parents are not in the dugout or on the field. Period. We do not ask them to keep the book.
We do not run multiple teams at a given age level. We field one team per classification. No “B” teams.
We do not keep statistics. We don’t care about them in the context of the program or the competition we play.
Of course, there is plenty else we probably don’t do… some of which we might consider… some we prefer to leave to others to figure out.
The New England Ruffnecks stand out at a time when there is considerable confusion regarding the options for baseball instruction, participation, and development. There are literally hundreds of options for a boy graduating from the Little League diamond to life on the Big Diamond. “Daddy Ball” teams, facility-based teams, “scout” teams, and loosely defined “college prospect” teams litter the landscape, often making claims that simply can not be supported. New offerings and teams crop up each year, often formed by parents, coached by parents, or led by parents with the ability to rally a group of kids and families. Some of these programs enjoy short-term success, and some are sustained only as long as those parents or coaches have a child in the program.
Of course the Ruffnecks are not the only choice. There are several other fine programs working hard with good players. But thoughtful families must navigate the landscape carefully and deliberately. The good choices are not simple and certainly not plentiful.
The Ruffnecks keep our objectives simple: At the younger ages we prepare players for high school varsity competition. From 15U and up, we are a college development program. Indeed, at our core, we are a college development program first and foremost. We care about a player’s academic record. This does not mean that every 13 year old who enters our program will go on to play college, but it does mean that our curriculum is designed along that track. We attract good players who become better, and eventually many of them become very good players.
We believe in a steady addition of “new blood” and consider new candidates for every roster, every year. However, we are increasingly selective. Rosters expand as the teams get older and roles become more defined. We do not take players who cannot contribute. Players play. We encourage multi-sport athletes and believe they are among the best baseball players in the long run. As players grow through the system they develop a self awareness about themselves as student-athletes. This means that they begin to realize what kind of ballplayer they may become at the next level and what colleges and universities are realistic for their futures. Ruffnecks rosters are assembled with four criteria as the principle determining factors:
- Age & Graduation Class (HS). Is the player young for his class or age appropriate?
- Ability (Talent)
- Projected Role
- Positional Needs.
Scope of Activity & Support
Financial security has been established over the course of 13 years through the generosity of several benefactors. This financial strength provides opportunities, and a scope of activity that is unsurpassed in our region. The manner in which our teams travel, the amount of travel, practice opportunities, games, and role in the development and planning of the New England Baseball Complex (NEBC) in Northborough require support well beyond what tuition sustains. Our teams play all over the country. Our ability to play and practice at home on the synthetic surfaces of the NEBC further differentiate our program.
Understanding the Culture
We sense that players and families, once they are past the transition to the big diamond at 13 and 14, come to realize that there are really very few programs focused on development and travel at our level. We do not claim to reinvent the principles that have guided baseball development for years. We only try to adhere to those principles. Our rosters provide depth and talent and are built to compete. They are larger than most. While we care that all our players play, we are more concerned that they discover and carve out a role for themselves. Accordingly, most players used to being on the field all the time must adjust their expectations. The physical and mental demands of the Ruffnecks program are significant. We undertake a rugged schedule at ALL levels. We work hard to attract good, dedicated, professional coaches. For players who prefer to enter showcases, attend college prospect camps, or do other events to give themselves exposure to recruiters, we are NOT the program. We still believe that there is value in playing with a team, as a team, and in the context of team objectives. Individual skills and talents are best developed and displayed within the framework of team competition – one level at a time.