The Ocean State Waves will have a new head coach next summer, but the change won’t exactly mark the start of a new era.
President and general manager Eric Hirschbein-Bodnar will add another title, pairing on-field duties with his off-the-field management. He already doubled as an assistant coach last year – his fourth summer in that spot – and he will now take the reins as the head man.
“The board approved Eric becoming the head coach, with full support,” said board member Kathy Joyce. “We are excited about it. He knows his baseball, is passionate about it and is great with the players. He is also all about the community, which we love.”
“I’m very proud of him,” added board member Melissa Perry, “and I think he deserves to do what makes him happy.”
A University of Rhode Island graduate, Hirschbein-Bodnar served as the assistant general manager and an assistant coach under longtime general manager Matt Finlayson, before taking over the top job last year, when Finlayson took a full-time position in the Salve Regina University athletic department.
Former pitching coach Brian Kehew was the Waves’ head coach in Hirschbein-Bodnar’s first year as general manager, succeeding Jim Sauro, who stepped down after the 2018 campaign. Kehew is also the head coach at Becker College and is opting to devote his summer to recruiting, rather than the grind of a New England Collegiate Baseball League schedule. He’s happy to pass the torch.
“Each Waves player can be confident in knowing they are in the hands of someone who will do everything he can to help them develop and further their baseball careers, while also providing a summer playing experience that is second to none,” Kehew said. “Eric has always surrounded himself with great baseball minds. This, combined with his thirst for learning, his vast experiences and ability to connect with players, makes Eric the perfect fit to be the next head coach of the Ocean State Waves.”
When Kehew stepped away, the board wanted to keep the head coaching spot in the Waves’ family. With Hirschbein-Bodnar already in the dugout as an assistant coach, it wouldn’t be a heavy lift for him to take on a little more in-game responsibility, especially with the bulk of the coaching staff returning. Pete Clays, T.J. Lynch and Dom Grillo are all slated to be back. Chris Botsoe will join the crew for the first time next summer.
“Very excited to keep our staff in place,” Hirschbein-Bodnar said. “The opportunity to be the head coach of the Waves came up and to me it was a no-brainer. My assistant coaches pushed me to take it. They said, ‘We want to stay together. We think we work really well together.’”
Summer will continue what will already be a busy year for Hirschbein-Bodnar, who recently joined the coaching staff at Bryant University as a volunteer assistant coach and director of baseball operations.
“Eric has a passion for the game that is infectious and he will do an awesome jonb mentoring kids from across the country, both on and off the field for the Ocean State Waves,” said Ryan Klosterman, Bryant’s new head coach.
The Waves have emerged as a contender in the NECBL, making two straight trips to the league championship series in 2017 and 2018 before missing the playoffs this past summer.
“Eric’s philosophy and understanding of the challenges and complexities of summer collegiate baseball position him and the Waves organization for continued success on and off the field,” said NECBL commissioner Sean McGrath.
Added Russ Curran of the league’s Martha’s Vineyard Sharks: “I think Eric will do a great job. He is very passionate about the game and he will put his players first, which will translate into success.”
Players who have seen that first-hand would agree.
“Eric is a diehard baseball guy who is constantly learning and adapting, making him a better coach every single day,” said Ryan Ward, who played for the Waves in 2018 and was a draft pick of the Dodgers this past June. “He will be an awesome head coach and will continue to lead that team to success.”
“He’s all in it for the players,” said Elijah Dunham, who played for the Waves this past summer.
“I think ‘H-Bod’ taking over as head coach is perfect for the organization,” said two-year Waves standout Garrett Hodges. “He knows the people around the town and understands what it takes to win. I think he and his staff will have more than enough expertise to bring home a NECBL championship.”
Ian Ostberg, who played for the Waves this past season, is due to return in 2020 and is excited about the new setup.
“I think he’s the right guy for the job,” Ostberg said. “There’s no one who cares more about an organization and I know he’ll put every ounce of effort into being a head coach.”
The Waves’ roster is already taking shape for next summer. The franchise’s off-season events are also on the schedule, with the Brew Tour set for Nov. 16 and the Blacke Tie and Blue Jeans party slated for Jan. 25. As always, the team is on the hunt for host families, volunteers and sponsors.
“It’s all about the community for us,” Hirschbein-Bodnar said. “Family, affordable fun.”