2011-03-24 / News

Islander enters his fifth season as third-base coach of the Rams

By Geoff Campbell

Cirella, left, began coaching the University of Rhode Island baseball team in 2007. Before joining the Rams, Cirella coached with his father at Salve Regina University. Photo courtesy of the URI Athletics Department Cirella, left, began coaching the University of Rhode Island baseball team in 2007. Before joining the Rams, Cirella coached with his father at Salve Regina University. Photo courtesy of the URI Athletics Department University of Rhode Island’s Eric Cirella, a long-time Jamestowner, described the life of a Division I assistant baseball coach – coaching third base is hardly the hardest part.

“So much goes into coaching – things that people wouldn’t imagine – all sorts of business facets, and recruiting,” he said. “You’re trying to sell kids on the school, [stay] within a budget and market your program not only to recruits, but to potential donors.”

He considered the sociological aspects of the work as well: “You have all these kids who you are kind of a second parent to, and you have to show them tough love and it doesn’t always work out.” But, he added, “What’s better than building relations with people, traveling and competing?”

In describing the aspects of a coaches’ work, Cirella explained that the NCAA has rules that are quite clear in terms of which coaches are permitted to recruit at what time of year.

“My recruiting season is longer than my playing season,” Cirella said. “You never stop recruiting, but there are certain times when you can see kids. I can see a kid play from March 1 into September and after that it’s arranging visits of prospects to the schools.”

Cirella said that the work is divided between two assistant coaches, a head coach and a volunteer assistant. “There is also a baseball operations guy who fundraises, markets summer camps, maintains the web site and manages travel for the team.”

As a recruiter for the baseball team during the summer, Cirella said that on any given day he could be watching up to a dozen baseball games, while talking to summer coaches and making connections with high school coaches. He said that updating scouting reports, player development and recruiting requires twice as much time in the office as his duties on the field.

“It’s not just as easy as seeing some kid and recognizing that he is talented,” Cirella said. He described the recruiting process as an intricate procedure that involves many conversations and thorough research in order to determine the best prospects.

Cirella explained some more of the thinking a recruiter does. “Weighing pros and cons. Is he a strong student? Can he get academic [scholarship] money?” he asked. “If a kid is getting academic money, now maybe we have to fight for him versus the Ivies.” He is referring to Ivy League schools when he says Ivies.

“We lose kids to Ivies all of the time because they say, ‘Coach, at the end of the day, am I going to be a professional baseball player?’”

Cirella followed that hypothetical question with a statement: “We don’t want people who don’t want to play pro ball in our program. Get drafted, play independent ball, play some sort of minor league baseball where you are getting paid to play. That’s our goal for every player we have in the program because that’s the mentality that we want.”

Cirella estimated that one third of URI players go on to play professional ball at levels from the independent leagues to the Majors.

“URI baseball players do well in the classroom and as the liaison to the academic advisor we do put that stress on academics. But the mentality of the kid we are looking for is the kid who wants to play professional baseball because you put so much into it.”

Coaching third base rounds out Cirella’s responsibilities. He described his job as full time and year round, requiring him to work six or seven days a week for half of the year.

Traveling is a significant part of Cirella’s experience. The team has already been to Louisiana and to Florida twice. Currently, the Rams are on a road trip in North Carolina. Although recruiting takes place around the country, for the most part his recruiting travel is confined to Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and New England.

“Some days you can see yourself doing it forever and it is the greatest thing in the world,” said Cirella, talking about coaching longevity, “and other days it’s not so clear. I try to be grounded and appreciative of having a job that [I’m] passionate about every day.”

Cirella said that he loves the competition. “The Atlantic 10 is a baseball conference that is getting better every year,” he said. “It’s been dominated by Charlotte and Xavier, but URI has been in the postseason the last eight years.” In order to qualify for the postseason tournament, teams must finish in the top six in the conference.

Winning the Atlantic 10 earns a team an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. In 2009, URI received an at-large bid to enter the tournament in a year when many college baseball procrastinators believed it was deserved, according to Cirella.

Asked how this year’s team might fare in the Atlantic 10, Cirella said, “In the last two years we have beaten seven ranked teams.

“The [2009] team had three very good starting pitchers who have all been drafted since,” he said. “I think that our team this year is better than that overall, in a lot of different areas.” Cirella said that the team’s strengths include a deep bullpen, a lot of experience, leadership and athleticism.

He explained that the prospects of the team’s potential needs to be seen in the context of the number of scholarships the university offers for baseball players.

While most teams in the Atlantic

10 Conference have 11 scholarship players on its team, URI has three. Describing the program “as not fully funded by the state,” he added that the football program will change conferences next year which will limit the number of football scholarships that it can offer down to 40. The change would vacate nearly 20 scholarships that can be used by other URI teams, including baseball.

Cirella described college sports as an “arms race” to build better facilities. That’s done through donors who are able to see the potential.

Growing up, Eric played all of the sports that the Jamestown Recreation Department had to offer. At Lawn Avenue School, he played basketball, baseball and soccer. Then it was off to North Kingstown High School.

As a Skipper at North Kingstown High School, Cirella’s team was runner-up to Hendricken’s famed 1999 team led by recently retired major leaguer Rocco Baldelli.

Eric is the son of Steve Cirella, who has coached baseball for 30 years and for the past 11 years has served as Salve Regina University’s head coach. He also directed the Jamestown Cal Ripken Baseball League from 2007 to 2010.

Cirella played for his father at Salve where, in their last year together, they won the conference championship. They progressed in the NCAA Division III Tournament, but lost in the regionals to Trinity College and Suffolk University.

That same year Cirella was named for the second time as an All-American, an Academic All- American and he won the Division III batting title with a .504 average. He was the runner-up the year before when he hit .514. His lifetime average of .447 is the 18th highest in Division III baseball history.

Baseball is king of the sports as far as Cirella is concerned. “The more that I played it, the more I fell in love with it,” he said. “I guess it is easy when you are exposed to it so much.” He remembers keeping score at his father’s games at an early age.

Cirella earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from Salve Regina and just completed his master’s degree in communication studies from URI this winter. He also taught for three years as an undergraduate instructor in the communications department.

Asked directly if URI will win the Atlantic 10 Conference, Cirella didn’t budge. “If we stay humble and try to work everyday and try to get better,” he said, “we are going to be a tough team in the A-10 to beat in a three-game series.”

Sounds like a winning plan.

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