Brian Vaganek will play football at Holy Cross. Eddie Blessing is set to kick and punt as a preferred walk-on for the University of Rhode Island football team.
Even with college football on the horizon, two of Narragansett High School’s top senior athletes were eager for one more baseball season this spring. They believed it would have been a good one.
“We were pretty confident we were going to be able to make a run,” Blessing said.
And for all the team’s seniors, it would have been an end to a journey taken together.
“I played with most of them in Little League all-stars, different AAU teams,” Vaganek said. “It would have been nice to finish it out with them. But it is what it is.”
The Mariner baseball team was a perennial contender while the class of 2020 was in the fold. With several members of that class earning playing time as freshmen, Narragansett went 11-7 in 2017. The next year brought a 12-6 campaign and a run to the regional finals, one win shy of a trip to the Division II finals at McCoy Stadium. The Mariners went 11-7 again last year and lost a heartbreaker in the opening round of the postseason.
“We had a pretty big class for our school playing baseball, and we all put in a lot of hard work every year,” Vaganek said. “Being able to go through that with the same group of guys, it was an honor and a privilege. We went to the playoffs every year, had a good season every year. There’s not much for me to complain about.”
“It’s meant a lot to me,” Blessing said. “With our size, we probably should be in D-III. To be able to compete with some of the bigger schools in D-II, it’s been pretty fun to show that we can be a good team.”
Football season gave Blessing and Vaganek a taste of senior year success. They led a resurgence that took the Mariners to the top of the division, sporting an undefeated record until November. They eventually bowed out in the Division III semifinals against eventual champion Pilgrim, but it was a memorable season.
Blessing got to experience the success alongside his father, Matt, the team’s head coach. Having grown up hearing of the school’s football glory days, he was proud to help restore some of the shine.
“It felt good to bring back some of the tradition that Narragansett has had – hopefully bringing it back for good,” Blessing said.
Vaganek was just happy to be back on the field, having missed most of his junior season with a nagging ankle injury. Returning to a winning team made it even better.
“It was really awesome,” Vaganek said. “We had a really good group of seniors that kept everyone in line, made sure we were all focused on what we wanted to accomplish. It really worked out for us for a while there.”
The seniors were hoping for similar success on the baseball diamond, so the cancellation of the season stung.
“At first, we thought it would be a delay and maybe a shortened season,” Blessing said. “Once we found out it was getting worse and we weren’t going to be able to play with each other again, it hurt. We felt like we had a strong team coming back. We only had one senior graduate. We had our whole pitching staff and most of our lineup.”
“I thought we had a really good chance to go deep in the playoffs, maybe even compete for a ring,” Vaganek said.
The bond between teammates is especially strong in Narragansett. Beyond the outfield fence at Sprague Park, home of the Mariners, is “Little Sprague Field,” the home of Narragansett Little League.
“It’s a small town, so we’re basically all in the same league our whole lives,” Blessing said. “You get really close with them. It’s been fun playing with all these guys. They’re my brothers.”
For a Division I football prospect like Vaganek, there can be a temptation to focus solely on the gridiron. But having played baseball since he was 5 with the same friends, he never thought about giving it up.
“I really enjoy the team aspect of sports, putting in the work with all the guys, going to practice every day,” Vaganek said. “I never really considered quitting baseball.”
Blessing played football, basketball and baseball for the Mariners. He took one season off from basketball and didn’t like watching from the stands. He returned this past season, and was looking forward to closing out an 11-season career with a sport he’s always enjoyed.
“Baseball is a sport that’s a little slept on because sometimes it’s boring to watch, but it’s really fun to play,” he said. “When you’re at the plate and you make solid contact, watch it fly, it’s really fun. There’s no better feeling than winning a baseball game with your friends and making a run in the playoffs.”
For both Blessing and Vaganek, the focus now is on being prepared for football at the next level, and they relish the opportunity.
“I always wanted to play a college sport,” Blessing said. “I fell in love with football, so I’m really glad I get to be a part of it at that level. It’s my favorite sport.”
“Playing on that stage, I’m really excited to be a part of something bigger than the average small town football,” Vaganek said.