The Ocean State Waves are entering a new era.
Longtime president and general manager Matt Finlayson has stepped down and is passing the torch to assistant general manager Eric Hirschbein-Bodnar. Finlayson, who recently started a new job as an assistant athletic director at Salve Regina University, will remain on the nonprofit franchise’s board of directors. Hirschbein-Bodnar will take on the duties of recruiting, marketing and community outreach, with a goal of keeping the two-time defending NECBL Southern Division champions on the same path.
“Matt built this thing from the ground up,” Hirschbein-Bodnar said. “I want to keep it rolling.”
Finlayson was the general manager for the Waves in their first two seasons in Wakefield, working under the franchise’s founder, Jeff Sweenor. When Sweenor stepped away, Finlayson purchased the team, adding the president tag to his general manager duties. He steered the Waves to new levels of success, on the field and off. The team has played for the NECBL championship in each of the last two summers, has dozens of alumni in professional baseball and has established a foothold in the community.
“I think the organization has come a long way,” Finlayson said. “The sponsor base has grown every year. Attendance has grown every year. Our host families are the best. We’ve had a lot of success on the field. A lot of things are rolling in the right direction.”
Finlayson accepted the job at Salve Regina, his alma mater, in May. He hopes it’s the next step in his quest to become a collegiate athletic director. Due to start in August, he remained at the helm of the Waves all summer. Once his work with Salve Regina began – just days after the Waves lost in the championship series – Finlayson realized how difficult it would be to keep doing both jobs. While the Waves play for just two months, running the franchise is a year-round, full-time gig.
“Running the Waves is not easy,” Finlayson said. “I kind of realized it would be impossible for me to give my best to both. I’ve been working with Eric for eight years, so I knew if anyone could continue to grow the Waves, he would be the guy.”
A native of Long Island, Hirschbein-Bodnar grew up attending Brooklyn Cyclones minor league games with his father. A serious knee injury during his high school baseball career had short-circuited plans of playing in college and Hirschbein-Bodnar ended up at the University of Rhode Island. He hoped to play again, but URI’s D-I program was a level too high. He considered transferring to a D-II or D-III program but that was before he started working in the baseball office as an intern under Finlayson, who was the director of baseball operations at the time.
“I learned so much from Matt and all the coaches,” Hirschbein-Bodnar said. “I realized, ‘This is what I want to do.’”
Hirschbein-Bodnar graduated from URI in 2014. When Finlayson took over the Waves later that year, he brought Hirschbein-Bodnar aboard to help with sales and sponsorships. As assistant general manager, Hirschbein-Bodnar worked closely with local businesses and community members. His experience also includes several summers as an assistant coach with the Waves, giving him the full breadth of knowledge about the operation.
“I’ve done everything at this point,” Hirschbein-Bodnar said. “Matt felt the time was right to make a move, and I was thrilled to get the chance to take over.”
Since taking the reins, Hirschbein-Bodnar has been in close contact with Finlayson, who will continue to assist with sponsors and marketing. The front office is taking shape, with Hirschbein-Bodnar’s father, Perry, taking over as vice president. Finlayson and his father, Bill, had the same arrangement. Hirschbein-Bodnar expects his mother, Susan, to be involved, as well.
“We’ve always preached family with the Waves,” Hirschbein-Bodnar said. “I can’t thank my parents enough for everything they’ve done for me, and I can’t wait for them to be involved.”
While the summer of 2019 is a long ways off, the Waves’ roster is already taking shape, and the team’s success has not gone unnoticed in the college baseball ranks.
“My phone hasn’t stopped ringing with coaches wanting to send their players here,” Hirschbein-Bodnar said. “It’s a testament to Matt and all the guys we’ve had here the last couple of years.”
The new era may look a lot like the old era.
“My vision is to stay true to our mission. We want to be a community-oriented team, and that’s the most important thing,” Hirschbein-Bodnar said. “The community has given the Waves so much. We owe it to them to give back. The players know what’s expected of them – go to all the reading days at schools, go to all the field days. And the play on the field corresponds with that.”