Players arriving in Wakefield this week are hearing a lot about the success of the team they’re joining, from president and general manager Eric Hirschbein-Bodnar, from manager Brian Kehew, from the community and from teammates who have been here before.
The Ocean State Waves have some tradition to talk about.
“That’s one of the first talking points at our first practice,” Hirschbein-Bodnar said. “We treat them as professionals – how they prepare, how they work in the community. The bar is high and you have to bring it in this league. If you let your guard down for one night, you’re going to lose. That’s our big thing, making sure the older guys really put the emphasis on playing 110 percent.”
The Waves are coming off a second consecutive Southern Division title and runner-up finish in the New England Collegiate Baseball League championship series. The first of those was the best season in franchise history, a ride that included a No. 1 national ranking. There were more ups and downs last year – plus a string of injuries that stole the team’s depth – but the winning ultimately continued until a sweep at the hands of the Valley Blue Sox in the finals.
The off-season brought changes to the front office and the dugout. Hirschbein-Bodnar has taken over for longtime president and general manager Matt Finlayson after serving as assistant general manager and an assistant coach the past few years. Kehew is moving from pitching coach to field manager after Jim Sauro stepped away. But while Hirschbein-Bodnar and Kehew will put their own stamp on things, they already have a blueprint.
“Matt grew the organization and we’re trying to keep it trending in the right direction,” Hirschbein-Bodnar said. “The biggest thing is the majority of our coaching staff is back. Coach Kehew knows what to expect. Coach [Pete] Clays stays on as our hitting coach. A lot of professional hitters give him a lot of credit for helping them progress, so it’s awesome to have him back. We have T.J. Lynch back as our infield coach and he’s been a great fixture in the organization – knows how to win. And Dom Grillo, who pitched two years with the Waves and pitched at URI, is coming on board as the full-time pitching coach. He’s been there. He knows the grind. We’re really excited to surround ourselves with good coaches who know how to win in this league.”
The roster has a familiar feel, with the same kind of mix of pitching depth and veteran hitters that powered recent success, plus the usual pipelines of talent.
“When you look at the roster, it’s a lot of familiar schools,” Hirschbein-Bodnar said. “A few new guys, because of the success of the organization and the reputation in college baseball. We’ve gotten some bigger-name schools – we have two guys coming from Indiana. But we’re always getting some of the best guys at URI, at Bryant, at Quinnipiac, at Kennesaw State, at Southern Miss. Coaches there want to send us their guys because they know we’ll give them everything they need to succeed. They know their players are going to develop.”
Six players are due to return from last year, including all-star Garrett Hodges of Kennesaw State and power hitter Casey Dana from Seton Hall. Their experience with a winning Waves team should go a long way.
“We’re excited to get those returners back,” Hirschbein-Bodnar said. “I think it’s important to have that core of returners who know what to expect and who can take charge and lead.”
The Waves will again have a target on their back in the Southern Division, with their challengers eager to take a shot. Newport has missed the playoffs in two straight years and will be hungry to recapture its form. There’s also a newcomer in the league as the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks make the move from the Futures League, where they won two championships.
“Russ [Curran] who’s the GM there, has done a great job winning the Futures League,” Hirschbein-Bodnar said. “It adds another tough team in the south. It’s going to be a battle. They’re going to be just as tough as Newport and Mystic and that’s really going to make the Southern Division a battle every night.”
The Waves were set to open the season on the road Wednesday night against Danbury. Their home opener at Old Mountain Field is set for Thursday night. The team will play 20 home games, most on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with first pitch at 6:30 p.m.
“It’s another great roster. We’re excited, and I think the community’s fired up,” Hirschbein-Bodnar said. “That’s the most important thing for myself and the organization. The town has bought in. That’s what I’m excited about – seeing all the familiar faces out in the crowd and their kids running around. It’s going to be a lot of kids games going on in between innings, quality baseball, good food. We really appreciate the community coming out. We’d love to have everyone there, excited for opening day. We’re ready to rock and roll.”
MEET THE WAVES
Corey Sawyer was one of the Waves’ top relief pitchers last season with a 1.75 ERA and is due to return this year. He followed up his big summer with a strong spring for Seton Hall, pitching to a 1.73 ERA and a team-high four saves . . . Returning Wave Thad Harris improved as last summer went on and won his last two appearances. This spring for Winthrop, he joined the weekend rotation and pitched to a 4.90 ERA . . . URI’s Jake Walker started four games and made eight appearances for the Waves last summer, with a 7.10 ERA. He had a strong spring with the Rams, posting a 3.50 ERA while ranking third on the team in appearances . . . Though he pitched almost exclusively out of the bullpen last summer, Peyton Deats led the Waves in strikeouts with 40 in 29 innings. He followed that with a solid spring for Kent State, logging a 3.77 ERA while pitching mostly in relief. Deats will bring three of his teammates with him to Wakefield this year, including two pitchers in Trevor Pittman and Zach Schultz. Pittman had a 5.70 ERA while pitching as both a starter and a reliever. Schultz had a 2.68 ERA and saved two games . . . Kyle Brennan served as the closer for Belmont and saved nine games while striking out more than a batter per inning. Brennan and Samford’s Billy Creger are both natives of Franklin, Tennessee. Creger also shined in the bullpen this spring, posting a 3.68 ERA and a .184 opponents batting average across 22 outings . . . Arthur Correira’s final outing of the spring with Quinnipiac came in an NCAA Tournament Regional game against East Carolina as the Bobcats gave the host Pirates a scare. Correira finished the year with a 5.31 ERA . . . Liam Dvorak was the ace for Holy Cross this spring, going 6-5 with a 3.58 ERA and a team-best 83 strikeouts in 75.1 innings pitched . . . One of three former Rhode Island high school stars on the roster, former Cumberland Clipper Zach Fogell had a few tough outings in his first season at Brown before finishing the spring by turning in five scoreless outings in his last six appearances . . . Part of the latest crop of Wakefield-bound Kennesaw State players, Monty Horn excelled in limited action this season, putting up a 1.23 ERA in 14.2 innings . . . Jack Ipsen had a 4.15 ERA as a valuable member of the Bryant bullpen this season, making 21 appearances . . . Sam Lara had a 6.11 ERA in 15 appearances out of the bullpen for St. John’s, a number inflated by one bad outing. He delivered scoreless performances in 10 of his 15 outings. Teammate Matt Semon had a similar campaign, pitching well in the majority of his 15 appearances . . . Kyle O’Neill had a 5.80 ERA while pitching in a swing role for Division II Felician College . . . America East champion Stony Brook has three players ticketed for Wakefield, including pitcher Sam Turcotte, who had a 4.24 ERA and saved seven games.
Bryant University coach Steve Owens has sent many of his players to the Waves over the years and this year will send his son. Bryant sophomore Sam Owens, a former Scituate High School player, hit .326 with six home runs this season . . . Daniel Seres batted .204 but did hit four home runs for Kennesaw State this spring.
Casey Dana tied for the Waves lead in home runs last year and is headed back to Wakefield after leading his Seton Hall squad in homers this spring with eight . . . Nick Grande hit .332 with five home runs and stole 19 bases as the top player for Stony Brook’s NCAA Tournament squad. Grande was named America East Player of the Year and is a finalist for the Brooks Wallace Award, which is presented to the nation’s top shortstop . . . Brett Helmkamp led his New Jersey Institute of Technology team with a .325 batting average and .420 on-base percentage . . . Continuing a tradition of Southern Mississippi players, Will McGillis comes to the Waves after hitting .223 this spring . . . After finishing second on the team in home runs last year, Winthrop’s Dillon Morton had a rough sophomore season, hitting .186 across 34 appearances . . . Ian Ostberg was one of the top offensive threats for MAAC champion Quinnipiac, batting .321 with three homers and 35 RBI. Teammate and former Wave Brian Moskey was the MAAC Tournament MVP. Ostberg homered in the title game . . . Xavier Vargas continued to emerge as one of URI’s top offensive options this year, batting .300 and leading the team in home runs and RBI . . . Part of a new connection with Indiana University, Justin Walker comes to Wakefield after hitting .210 and starting 38 games in the spring.
Garrett Hodges is set to return to Old Mountain Field after putting together one of the best seasons in Waves franchise history last year. Hodges hit .361 with seven homers and 40 RBI. He followed that up by hitting .293 with seven long balls for Kennesaw State this past season . . . Brendan Conley will be back in his home state with the Waves. The Hendricken grad and Siena College outfielder hit .289 this year . . . Elijah Dunham was one of Indiana’s top performers this year, batting .310 with eight home runs and 29 RBI . . . Nick Elsen had a solid debut for Kent State last year before hitting a bit of a sophomore slump this season, batting .186. He did hit four home runs despite the batting average struggles . . . Michael Wilson probably gave his teammate Grande some competition for conference player of the year honors. Wilson hit .331 with team highs of 10 home runs and 45 RBI en route to first-team all-league honors.