2012-01-26 / News

Jamestown’s Babe Ruth League baseball team at a ‘crossroads’

Both coaches are leaving, and only 5 players are on the roster for the spring

Jamestown’s Babe Ruth League baseball team is looking for a little help. To keep going, the team needs at least two adults to take over the coaching, according to outgoing coach Tony Rafanelli.

Rafanelli said he doesn’t want to sound overly dramatic, but he feels the Jamestown Babe Ruth team is at a “crossroads.” He is looking for a couple of parents to take over for him and Steve Cirella, who also coached the team for the past three seasons.

Prospective players and their parents should mark their calendars for Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. for a meeting at the Jamestown Fire Station’s upstairs meeting room to assess the team’s future. People who can’t make the meeting but want to participate should contact Rafanelli at 423-3953.

Last year’s team won the league championship, but seven players from the lineup are not returning. They “graduated,” Rafanelli said, meaning they have used up their three years of eligibility. He’s not sure if enough youngsters want to play to field a team this year, he said, and one reason for the February meeting is to get an accurate head count.

Babe Ruth is open to youngsters who are 13, 14 and 15 years old on April 30. (If they have turned 16 by April 30, they can’t play.)

Jamestown plays in the Newport Babe Ruth League, Rafanelli said. If there isn’t enough interest to continue the island team, the youngsters who still want to play can try out for the Newport teams. Babe Ruth League gives the youngsters an inexpensive way to continue their baseball careers after Little League.

He estimated the cost per player would fall between $80 and $90 this season, not including discounts for children whose siblings also play. The money covers the league registration, insurance and umpires. The players rely on sponsors and two fundraisers to pay for uniforms and equipment.

Rafanelli said the number of players has been dwindling for a few reasons. For one, Jamestown’s school age population has been declining. For another reason, baseball isn’t the only game in town anymore.

“There’s been a trend toward other recreational sports,” Rafanelli said. First, baseball had to compete with soccer. Now it’s also up against recreational lacrosse.

But the toughest reason to overcome may be due to fear of failing because of the higher level of play, Cirella said. After playing all their lives on a Little League field, the youngsters do have to learn how to deal with the bigger diamond, which is essentially laid out in the same dimensions as in professional baseball. It’s definitely daunting for some youngsters who haven’t developed physically, he said.

“It’s a greater distance to run and throw. Basically, it’s what the big leaguers play on.”

But Cirella thinks quite a few youngsters don’t try to make the team because they’re afraid of the disappointment. Kids who love the game should stick with it, he said, regardless of their perception about their skills because their bodies will grow as they become teenagers and they’ll acquire the strength to make the long throws.

Also, the coaches will give them drills to help them throw the longer distances, Rafanelli added.

“We’ve trained our kids to be afraid to fail,” Cirella said. But if they never fail, they also never learn to improve, he added. When you look at hall of famers’ batting statistics, the reality is most of them failed to hit the baseball twothirds of the time, he said.

Statistically, less than two percent of Little Leaguers are playing baseball by high school. Babe Ruth League is open to girls, but no girls have gone out for the team the last few years.

Five players are on the Jamestown roster so far. Rafanelli said that 13 or 14 is the ideal number.

But adult involvement is also necessary. The team needs at least two adults to supervise the youngsters and ensure safety. Ideally, the team could use three adults, with one acting as the manager and the other two taking on the coaching duties.

Adults have to take an online course to coach, but the league usually pays for the fee. But lack of experience shouldn’t deter any parent from coaching, because there are plenty of resources around. Cirella said he once recruited a lady who was reading a book in the stands during one of his games. She said she didn’t know anything about coaching, but Cirella said she picked it up quickly.

In the past, parents with children on the team have typically taken on the job of coaching and managing.

Rafanelli and Cirella, the head baseball coach at Salve Regina University, are both stepping down after coaching the team for the past three years. Rafanelli decided to leave because his son Matt played three seasons and is no longer eligible. Cirella is also leaving because his son is not playing Babe Ruth League this season.

Rafanelli said he got a lot out of the experience coaching Babe Ruth, and playing at Cardines Field was the big thrill.

“It’s just fun,” he said, describing the “feeling of playing in a pro atmosphere.” Most of the regular season games happen at Cardines Field, which is in the heart of the Newport downtown scene. Admission is free, and typically 30 to 50 people take in the game.

A few games are scheduled at the Vernon Avenue playground. That’s a nice field in a nice neighborhood, he said.

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