Happy Holidays to all in the Ruffnecks program, to our alums, and to our friends throughout the extended baseball community, near and far. As we look back on a wonderful 2015 season and year, we eye 2016 and the program’s future with enthusiasm, high hopes, and more opportunities for our players than ever. This past season was our first at the New England Baseball Complex (NEBC). Our familial relationship with the NEBC is a mutually beneficial partnership that provides residency for the Ruffnecks, while providing the NEBC with a nationally recognized program. Our teams continued to conduct a travel schedule that is unmatched both in quantity and quality. Ruffnecks chase the best competition, regardless of where the search takes us. Now in our 13th year, the Ruffnecks are among the most established, enduring programs in the region, and in the country. Travel-Club baseball can be a transitory, if not unstable, mix of teams and organizations that come and go. It is a rarity for a program to have staying power while maintaining an upward trajectory of successful development for its players. With vigilance, we continue on that path.
The NEBC as a Game Changer
Our first year at the NEBC ushered in a new era for the Ruffnecks program. With no false humility, the NEBC introduced new challenges that we have yet to meet, and even comprehend. The ability to run our program at a state-of-the-art facility is a privilege, indeed. Nevertheless, we are still learning how to utilize the field space, organize workouts, attract new talent, and provide a “virtual playground” for baseball players who happen to be Ruffnecks. We are the ONLY program to have such a facility to call “home.” We want our players to use it, hang out there, and make it a staple in their baseball lives. Our ability to run practices on multiple playing surfaces at one time; our ability to incorporate full-field BP sessions into our regimen; our ability to control our own field scheduling and use… these and other factors add up to an incredible advantage for our players and coaches. The challenge is for us to take advantage of that advantage!
What we are learning is that the Ruffnecks program can, and should be, a valuable engine for the NEBC and developmental programming in the region. The NEBC is, in turn, an incredible resource, a “home” destination for tournament play, and a platform to attract some of the long-respected titans of comparable travel/development programs to New England. The Boston Invitational, which the Ruffnecks founded in 2008, is now a marque event at the NEBC attracting teams from all over the United States. In turn, the Ruffnecks program serves the NEBC with Fall Baseball programs, particularly the 13U Fall Program that attracted 75 participants this past fall, with an additional 50-75 inquiries and wait list applicants. Again… we are challenged to keep the momentum, while building a program that serves and delivers.
Roster Composition, Development, and Retention
Ruffnecks rosters are populated with good, solid, ball players. Sometimes their skills become exceptional, and occasionally the program attracts exceptional talent that becomes more exceptional through the playing and development opportunities that define the program. Ruffnecks players are hard workers. Their improvement cannot be attributed to magic, growth spurts, or preemptive athleticism. Our good fortune is that Ruffnecks rosters are becoming increasingly selective. The excitement and sense of purpose of each new 13U class continues to inspire our coaches. Since the implementation of the 13U Fall Baseball program in 2010, the selection process has hardly been scientific. The players who end up on the 13U team are neither a collection of all stars nor are they exceptional in anything other than their commitment to being a part of the program. All of them have a long way to go to become the player they either think they are or wish to be. Some are young. Some are physically underdeveloped. Some are big, and have enjoyed that advantage. All have a lot to learn, and if they stay, they will learn a lot about themselves as people and players.
The trend is defined by a high rate of retention. The most recent Senior Class had 11 players who spent all five years in the program. We look forward to fielding a 2016 Senior team that has 9 five year players, and another 7 who have been with the program for three or more years. Yet we still find ways to welcome new talent, and to attract players for whom a more brief Ruffnecks experience is an important part of their development. And while most players and families trust the process (a subject for another post), we work tirelessly to advocate, manage expectations, and develop baseball players capable of finding an opportunity to play four more years in college. Ruffnecks players are generally excellent students. Most understand the importance of building a strong academic profile. Increasingly, we see stronger student-athletes at the 13U entry level, which makes it easier to manage those expectations and to set goals and aspirations.
Our coaching is exceptional. The stability of the coaching staff is an important part of our success. We staff our teams with 3, 4, and sometimes 5 coaches at a time. None are parents. All bring professionalism, knowledge, and enthusiasm to the Ruffnecks experience. Our players understand that there is something to be learned from each. Being uncomfortable is a challenge that delivers growth. Each coach is as much a Ruffneck as are the players, though each adds something new and different to the coaching continuum.
So we head into 2016 with much to be thankful for, and many challenges. We need to get our new indoor hitting facility up and functioning in order to restore the culture of hitting that defined the program when we had our cages in Needham. Our geographic base is shifting, while still attracting players from a wide range of communities. We thank all our players and families… our coaches… and our supporters. We move toward 2016 with a profound sense of humility and responsibility to continue the work begun in 2003. And consider this… our new 13’s are on track to be Seniors in 2020!!!