When the PawSox packed up and headed to Worcester, it was a gut-punch to local baseball fans. Many lamented the loss of a fun and affordable family night out. But you don’t need to pack the car and head to Massachusetts to catch a game. The Ocean State Waves and the Newport Gulls are two affordable baseball options that are just as good as catching a minor league game right in Rhody.
The teams are part of the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL), where elite college baseball players get game time over the summer. According to Ocean State Waves owner, general manager, and head coach Eric Hirschbein-Bodnar, with the loss of 120 minor league teams, it’s also where these athletes get scouted for the major leagues.
“We’ve had over 75 players get drafted for Major League Baseball,” says Hirschbein-Bodnar of the team, which was founded in 2013.
“If you don’t get drafted out of high school and decide to go onto college, you are not eligible to get drafted again until after your junior year, or when you turn 21,” he explains. “So it’s important for guys to go play in the summer to improve their draft stock.”
With such high stakes, the NECBL teams work with sophisticated technology to collect information for pro-scouts to access. The Waves have over $150,000 worth of analytical equipment, including TrackMan, which positions 150 lasers behind the home plate to track every pitch. “This gives you all kinds of data metrics that the naked eye can’t see.” There’s also a synergy system of eight cameras set up around the field, to catch every angle of the game in order to match the metrics with the footage.
All this intel is a boon to the team as well. “We have five coaches on staff that are on the field and three analytics people that interpret all the analytical data for us,” Hirschbein-Bodnar
continues, which helps him and his staff coach the Waves to victory.
While collegiate baseball can lead to big contracts for the players, it’s ultimately about the community. Waves players are required to participate in four two-hour reading days, where they go into the public schools and read to the kids. “When an eight-year-old kid asks to play catch, they are expected to toss the ball,” says the Waves’ coach. “There are a lot of dark things right now; we want to be a beam of light.”
That also means fun family games like cornhole and water balloon throwing contests between every inning to keep fans engaged and delighted. The players also work with the kids at their two week-long kids camps in July. And you can’t beat the price. With tickets at only $5 per head, a trip to the ballfield is one of the most affordable summer family outings in the state.
The Waves and the Gulls have an across-the-bay rivalry that’s akin to New York City’s Subway Series, when the Mets play the Yankees. Called the Pell Bridge Series, it’s a friendly rivalry, explains Hirschbein-Bodnar, since both teams rely on each other for things like marketing and sponsorship ideas, as well as growing their respective teams. “If we do our job, and we push each other to get better, the brand of baseball gets better, and the communities get better.” OceanStateWaves.com, NewportGull.com
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