The Divsion I Frenzy: Does it Matter?

The Divsion I Frenzy: Does it Matter?

The Journey Most Often Leads Where it is Supposed to Go.

The Ruffnecks Choice – Selecting a Program Matters

The Ruffnecks Choice – Selecting a Program Matters

Choosing a Good Development Program Takes Time

Complex Opens to Hundreds!  Play Ball!

Complex Opens to Hundreds! Play Ball!

New England Baseball Complex Welcomes 250 Perfect Game Participants

The Divsion I Frenzy: Does it Matter?

It is that time of year… students are returning to their high schools after a summer of baseball, readying themselves for the academic rigors of a new school year.  Some seniors have already committed to colleges, many others continue the process.  Juniors and Sophomores engage in scuttlebutt about “this guy” or “that guy” who is being recruited by some big university in the south.  A few Juniors, and even Sophomores, are getting “offers,” sometimes with pressure from college coaches to “take it or leave it, or else we will move on to others.”  The pressure mounts.  What does it all mean? And how much does it all matter?

In the Ruffnecks program we do our best to meet with every player to discuss academic and college aspirations.  Commonly, the initial response to the question of “What are your goals and aspirations?” is “I want to play Division 1, and I want to go south.”  Indeed, we have talented and focused players in the Ruffnecks program, many of whom can and will play Division 1 (whether they go south or not).  However, this frenzy and anxiety is rooted in the pressures from parents, peers, and the “noise” of recruiting services, prospect camps, and empty promises of national, select, teams that claim to wave a magic wand and deliver a D-1 scholarship.  One such organization, here in New England, is even dangling the carrot of “playing for your country” to 12, 13, and 14 year olds…  Taking 13 year olds to a national training complex in North Carolina in September?  A 13 year old?  Really?  Is this funded by the United States Olympic Committee, or is it simply another pay-to-play opportunity?

The Problem

The problem is that reality and expectations do not always align.  The Ruffnecks certainly contribute to the problem.  How?  We boast the accomplishments of our alums.  We communicate how many Ruffnecks have been drafted.  We tweet the commitments of players to big schools.  We fall into the trap.  But we also work tirelessly to combat the problem by working with families to understand the process.  We build TEAMS not Showcase Teams. We foster a culture in which it is fun to travel, play baseball, and be among athletes of like-minded goals and aspirations.  We hope that the friendships forged through the Ruffnecks experience endure.  But the problem constantly looms on the horizon.  Parents (and players) want their kids to get a baseball scholarship, go down south, or to “use baseball to get into a better school.”  Great, but few really have a smooth path.

The problem is also nurtured by organizations and programs that boast “Division 1″ or “draft picks” among players who may have worn that team’s uniform for a single event, or a single tournament.  Again… Really?  New teams, old teams, coaches, make claims that they get kids scholarships or get kids D-1 commitments in order to recruit for their team or program.  And face it, schools do the same thing.  They measure and promote themselves by how many IVY League admissions they get, or their median or mean SAT scores.  The world may not change.  But we can try to catch ourselves, recalibrate, and take a deep breath.

The Solution

The solution lies in the reality that most baseball players of high purpose and focus will find themselves in schools and college baseball environments that are fulfilling.  Certainly, most Ruffnecks players will find their way.  However, the Ruffnecks will not recruit players to this program with promises that we can deliver anything other than an opportunity to reach those goals and aspirations.  We do not deliver scholarships.  We do not deliver D-1 guarantees.  We hope we deliver a journey in which the phone calls to home are punctuated by, “I really like it here.”  The solution also lies in the reality that Division I baseball is not for everyone, and many Division III players are perfectly capable of playing at some Division I schools.  The challenge is to find the school that meets an individual’s academic and athletic aspirations.

The solution also continues to reside in the ability of parents to “chill” as the expression goes.  In several of our year-end conferences we hear the parents do most of the talking, despite the fact their sons are 16 or 17 years old and know our preference that it be the player’s journey.  And the look of anxiety on parents’ faces far exceeds what shows on the player’s face.  Indeed, parents have legitimate questions that deserve to be answered.  But conversations that are steered by parents and not the player are less productive than when the player has focus and purpose.  The definition of success as a parent is not tied to the outcome of a collegiate baseball roster spot for a son.  It is, after all, a game to be played for fun and what it means to our American culture, heritage, and to fulfill our competitive instincts.

Tucker Healy

Our favorite story continues to be the Tucker Healy story.  Tucker was one of the original Ruffnecks in 2003 when the program had none of the reputation it currently enjoys.  Tucker graduated high school in 2008 with no scholarship offers and no recruiting offers at all.  He was captain, short stop, and sometimes pitched for his high school.  He played 1B, 2B, and sometimes pitched for the Ruffnecks in his last few years.  Certainly, not a steady script.  Tucker went to Division III Ithaca College, where his mother went.  He became a pitcher, only. He could not get a summer baseball roster spot on any of the known collegiate summer leagues after his freshman year in college.  He went home to play Legion baseball.  Between his sophomore year and junior year he got a spot in the NECBL.  Between his junior year and senior year he got a spot in the Cape Cod League.  He did not get drafted after his junior year, as most pro prospects do.  He was selected by the Oakland Athletics after he graduated from Ithaca.  He has progressed all the way to Triple A.  He may be the first Ruffnecks alum to get a moment in the Major Leagues… but that remains to be seen.  Wouldn’t that be a fine story?

The Ruffnecks Choice – Selecting a Program Matters

August and September bring with it the season of tryouts for countless teams and programs throughout the region.  Often these tryouts are followed quickly by high pressure efforts from coaches and program organizers to get families to “commit” and plunk their money down for a spot on the team.  Equally often, that pressure is accompanied by the anxiety that “my son will have no where to play if we don’t take this offer.”  This is especially prevalent at the 13U level, where players make the transition from the smaller diamond to the big diamond.  It can be a frenzied time, fraught with pressure from many angles.  We believe in following the “Golden Rule” in selecting a program, particularly at the 13U level:  The Golden Rule is that players and families should take their time, without pressure… just as anyone would want to be treated.

The Rufffnecks do not hold traditional “Tryouts.”  We build our rosters slowly and deliberately.  We evaluate and select new players to the program as a Staff, not solely by the coach of a given team.  Our entering class of 13U Ruffnecks is chosen with consideration for several qualities: Baseball IQ; Baseball “I will”; Athleticism; and parents who are willing to step aside and let the program do the coaching.  We do not build our rosters from cliques of players who follow each other or a coach along the path of empty promises.   Of course there comes a time to make a decision, but it is fair to permit both sides to be deliberate and thoughtful.  Selecting a program matters… so does selecting a TEAM.

13U Ruffnecks Experience: Entry Point to the Program

The 13U Ruffnecks is the first year in our program.  We do not run 12U or younger teams.  We believe that “Baseball Begins at 90,” which means the 90 foot diamond.  In recent years the program has attracted many talented candidates, yet we do so through our Fall Baseball Program, not through tryouts.  13U candidates are encouraged to participate in Fall Baseball where we have accommodated between 40 and 50 players in each of the past several years.  The Fall Program is staffed by most of the coaches in the Ruffnecks program and several professional associates who work with the Ruffnecks.  We bring considerable coaching talent to the Fall experience. Several minor league players also contribute to the 13U experience with instruction.  We find it the most effective way to observe, teach, and evaluate boys who might be a fit for our program.  Participation in the Ruffnecks Fall Baseball Program is neither too much nor too little; it is compatible for those who participate in other fall sports.  It is a six-seven week (Sundays Only) program that provides ample opportunities for most boys to make enough of the sessions to benefit from the Fall.  We clearly communicate our timetable for selecting our roster while working with all the players who participate in the Fall.

The Slippery Slope

There are several pitfalls at the transitional stage of 13U baseball:

  1. The “All-Star” mentality that comes out of the 12 year old year is vulnerable to the promises of continued stardom and success, sold by some who aggressively recruit 13 year olds.  Boys and families are enticed by the prospect of winning with a “bunch of good players.”
  2. There can be a “Herd Mentality” that takes clusters of boys to one team or another.  Of course geography plays a role, but we try to draw from a wide range of communities.
  3. There is considerable clutter and too many choices at the 13U level.  Families often simply do not know what they are looking for.

Our 14U Ruffnecks is an extension of the 13U program, but with a much higher level of competitive challenge.  Our 14s participate in challenging tournaments and play against older competition.  In recent years we have experienced very little attrition from 13U to 14U.  We add to the roster, and roles become more defined.  We are usually able to consider 4 to 6 new players at the 14U level.  Our younger rosters of 13U to 14U have between 14 and 17 players.  Indeed, we need them all and play them all!

College Development Program: 15U to 18U

We consider graduation class as well as age, positional roles, and the ability for each player to contribute to a given roster.  Generally, the “Senior” College Prospect 18U roster is for rising seniors (In the summer of 2015 it is the HS Class of 2016).  The 16U College Prospect roster is comprised primarily of rising juniors.  Accordingly, our 15s are mostly rising sophomores and younger juniors.  We have no tryouts, nor do we do private evaluations.  It is best for new candidates to participate in our Fall Baseball program (outside) or our Winter Workouts, which are extraordinary sessions held indoors at Harvard University.  Winter Workouts are by invitation only, though new candidates may inquire.  Our network of professional scouts, high school, and college coaches also provide recommendations for players who may benefit from the Ruffnecks experience.  Our College Development rosters may have as many as 20 (including players who only pitch).  Expectations are clearly laid out upon enrollment.

Baseball Development One Level at a Time

People have questions.  Each summer, between late June and August we field well over 200 new inquiries.   Of course not all register to become candidates, but folks want to know who we are and what we do.  As the program continues to evolve and garner more attention, the task of defining ourselves for prospective players and their families actually has become easier.  Why?  Because we continue to refine what we do, and we deliver a quality and purposeful developmental path for serious baseball players.

What We Do

We coach and develop.  We build teams that are part of a Program.  After all, the Program is the TEAM of the teams.  More on that later.

What We Do NOT Do

We do not actively recruit and solicit players; we prefer they find us through referrals and reputation.  We do not run a 12U team to feed our development system; we begin on the full-sized diamond.  We do not build our 13U (entry-level) roster with the biggest, most mature players so that we can win 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 have our failures, to be sure.  We do not succeed with every team and every player.  Indeed, there are players who leave the program, though our attrition is quite low.  When they leave, it is because we either could not help them further, or because they felt their baseball objectives would be better met elsewhere.  We do not field “Showcase” teams; Our teams play great competition, wherever that takes us.  We do not do Parent-Coached baseball.  Parents are not in the dugout or on the field.  Period.

The Landscape

New Ruffnecks Listen In

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 “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 thoughtfully.  The good choices are not simple and certainly not plentiful.

Our Objectives

The Ruffnecks are committed to keeping 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.  At our core, we are a college development program first and foremost.  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 do not select the biggest, baddest players at 13, nor do we care.  We do however, attract good players who become better, and eventually many of them become very good players.

There continues to be enormous interest in the Ruffnecks for high school aged players.  Our College Development Program accelerates at 15U along with our two oldest College Propect teams (we still call them 16U and 18U).  We absolutely 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.  Indeed, the focus on their development is not entirely as baseball players since no program can wave a magic wand to get a sub-par student recruited to an academic institution.  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 nearly a decade and 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 facilities are supported well beyond what individual tuition sustains.  Our teams play all over the country.  In the past two years we have participated in events in 16 different states plus the New England States.  We go as far west as Texas and play extensively in the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, among others.  In 2013 we participated in almost 300 games, and traveled to 36 tournaments, 21 of them involving air or bus, hotel, and meal arrangements for players and coaches, all organized and undertaken by our staff.

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.  We keep parents at arm’s length.  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.  In the Ruffnecks we believe that there is still 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.

Ruffnecks Fall Baseball


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