Three local baseball players are hoping to turn their experiences in the New England Collegiate Baseball League into success with the University of Rhode Island. Infielder Alex Ramirez and pitcher Jon Jones played for the Ocean State Waves this past summer and Addison Kopack played for the Mystic Schooners.
Ramirez shines in his home state
Ramirez, a Warwick native, has grown accustomed to representing his home state on the diamond.
For the past two years, Ramirez has been patrolling the infield for the Rhode Island Rams in the spring, and the Waves in the summer. Like many local kids, Ramirez grew up going to games at URI’s Beck Field and Wakefield’s Old Mountain Field. He honed his early skills at the youth baseball camps at Beck and now leads the next generation of local baseball talent by leading the camps.
If any of the kids that he helped develop make it to Kingston, they likely won’t have as unconventional of a transition to college as Ramirez did. Just 13 games into his freshman season at URI, college baseball was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, robbing him of his first full season.
He not only had to face the adjustment to a completely novel lifestyle that was thrust upon the entire world, he had to keep his baseball skills intact without the availability of practice facilities or pickup games. He also had to prepare himself academically and athletically to the entirely new set of challenges that college presented.
In 2021 he finally got to put on a Waves uniform shortly after his first full season at URI and had what was statistically his best season. His performance gave him what he considers to be the highlight of his time with the Waves: being included in the All-Star Fan Vote.
“I felt like I was just that guy for some time and it went really well for me,” he said thinking back to when the team wrote “Vote A-Ram” on the field. While he did not win the vote, Ramirez had the humility to accept the results without letting it bruise his ego.
He finished the season with a .313 batting average and a .884 OPS, the best in his career. Remarkably, this outburst came after Alex had played the spring and summer seasons consecutively after only playing 13 games in 2020.
When asked if the immediate jump from college ball to summer ball exhausted him, Ramirez explained that he prefers the lack of time off.
“Once I lose my groove, it takes a while to get back into it so I like to go right into it,” he said.
The constant grind of the season is one reason why his batting average improved so drastically from his first two seasons as a Ram, when he batted .175 and .176. While it may seem like this jump could prove that the summer season may not be as challenging as A-10 baseball, Ramirez believes that NECBL pitching was actually more difficult to face, due to the vast diversity of talent from across America featured in the league. The launching pad behind his ascension to the next level was confidence.
“At first it was more mental than anything, but now I feel that now it’s up to me being comfortable and confident,” he said.
His confidence carried over to the following spring, when he posted his best stat line as a Ram, knocking 56 hits and batting in 25 runs in 54 games, all career highs. While his teammates in Kingston appreciated the effort for the school during the spring, they became rivals as soon as the calendar flipped to June, when each year, the schoolmates scatter across the region and don different uniforms. When asked about this dynamic, a smile immediately lit up the senior’s face as memories of competition with his closest friends flooded his mind. Like most at the collegiate level, he considers the summer rivalries with his college teammates to be an absolute joy.
“You get the chirps, you talk your talk, and it’s fun. You want to come back to school and get bragging rights,” he said.
While he loves battling his college friends, Alex also loves facing off against unfamiliar foes. The summer league not only allows players like Ramirez to improve by keeping their skills sharp, but it allows them to face different types of players and challenges that they would not otherwise have faced until the minor leagues.
“You’ve got guys from more diverse areas from all over the country playing on teams,” Ramirez said. “When you’re playing for schools it’s just two different teams from certain schools.”
He enjoys examining different players and comparing how they play in school to how they play during the summer. He described a change in atmosphere in the summer, as the NECBL certainly has a different environment from school ball that can help players prepare for professional baseball. The league allows local fans to watch some of the best developing prospects face each other at a far cheaper price than a minor league baseball game.
While many of the top players in the league end up getting drafted during the season, many players like Ramirez have their eyes set on a different goal. He expressed that he most anticipates, “chasing a ring, being a leader on both teams and playing every day, staying healthy, staying in the lineup, just being a big contributor to going far with the team.”
Kopack has done it all
Kopack has played all around the diamond during his time with URI and the NECBL’s Mystic Schooners. He is a true utility player, seeing time at every position but pitcher and catcher last year with the Rams.
Recently, Kopack is making a transition to be more of a full-time catcher, playing the majority of his NECBL season behind the plate. Catcher is arguably one of the most physically and mentally challenging positions in not only baseball but sports. Kopack has made lots of progress over the summer getting comfortable behind the dish and looks to keep refining his defensive game. Kopack also excels on the offensive side, which is extremely valuable at the catcher position.
“My bat is my best friend,” said Kopack, the team leader in batting average during URI’s 2022 season at .364 with an OPS at 1.174.
Kopack has Major League ambitions, and he is no stranger to the spotlight. Kopack was a member of the 2014 Cumberland little league team that made it to the Little League World Series. Kopack says playing in front of 35,000 people in Williamsport is his favorite baseball experience of all time.
The NECBL is a wood-bat league, as most collegiate summer leagues are. Kopack says hitting a barrel is rather indistinguishable between a wood bat and metal. The difference is in the mis-hits, shattered bats or stingers occur when contact is made too high or low on the bat relative to the barrel.
Another difference between Kingston and Mystic is the prep for games. During the spring, the team practices all week with detailed scouting reports of pitchers, and hitters including metrics on all their stats. Game plans are curated days in advance on how pitchers plan to attack hitters on any given day and what hitters expect to see on the mound.
Contrasting detailed scouting reports, summer ball consists of starting each day fresh. Players find out who’s pitching when they come to the park that day. Hitters see many arms from around the country they aren’t familiar with, so they usually make up game plans on the fly, and stick to their approach. Pitchers and catchers work together with coaches to game plan around said pitcher’s strengths, more so than attacking hitter’s weaknesses. Catchers are sometimes called the quarterback of the diamond; they control the defensive movements in the field, relay signs from the dugout to the field, and work in tandem with the manager to call the game.
Before games, Kopack gets his hitting and running routines in far before the game starts, he then warms up with the pitcher and chats about how certain pitches are feeling that day and mixes up certain tendencies to keep hitters guessing. Post-game, Kopack enjoys getting a team meal and spending time with his teammates. He cherishes the special bond he has with his teammates.
“I may never see some of these guys the rest of my life,” said Kopack.
NECBL was high-level chance for Jones
Rhode Islander Jon Jones had gotten used to playing high level ball here, in his home state, playing for the Ocean State Waves in the NECBL during the offseason. Jones started his 2022 offseason campaign in the Hamptons league, posting a 4.76 earned run average over 14 appearances, totaling 22.2 innings for the Shelter Island Bucks. Jones said he earned his way to a contract with the Waves and was excited to come play for a larger league like the NECBL.
“The difference between the Hamptons and the NECBL, the guys playing in the NECBL all are top line, Division I guys for the most part or are Division III guys who are absolutely killing it and could probably play at any D1 school they want,” Jones said.
Jones only made one appearance for the Waves in his few weeks with the team, allowing no runs and striking out one batter in his single inning against the Newport Gulls.
Jones is from Warren and graduated from Mt. Hope high school back in May 2020. Jones is a redshirt sophomore for the Rams after appearing in five games last season and allowing 10 earned runs in 4.1 innings.
“Last year, for the school, I didn’t have the best season. I didn’t really pitch a lot,” Jones said.
He wants to pitch more and be a bigger contributor to his team this year: “Get more innings, I would like to be somewhere around 15, 20, 25. I just want to get more innings and be productive. My goal for this season for the school is to have the season I had this summer, in the school setting.”
Jones wants to play more to his strengths this upcoming season, filling the zone and forcing light contact. He understands what his role is going to become and he is excited to be the guy who can eat up innings for the Rams and not allow runs to cross.
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