Play ball: RBI Baseball League returns to Pawtucket

Play ball: RBI Baseball League returns to Pawtucket

Sheahan Printing’s Ahrain Helka, left, and Pawtucket Credit Union’s Cameron Culpan are two of the pitchers to watch this summer in the RBI Baseball League’s Senior Division for players ages 16-18. (Breeze photos by Kayla Panu)
From T-ball to ages 16-18 division, Boys & Girls Club promises to pack city’s fields this summer

PAWTUCKET – After a COVID-forced hiatus last summer, the Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket’s popular RBI Baseball League has returned with a resurgence, as games began last week and will continue into the middle of August.

“We were expecting reduced numbers, but quite honestly, we are at the same numbers we were at pre-pandemic for our 13-18 divisions,” said Matt Bergeron, the head of the league. “We are slightly down in our younger divisions, but we still have a lot of interest in our older programs, and even at capacity, it’s incredible. We didn’t expect that. We have seven teams in our 13-15 (division) and four in our 16-18, which is what we had prior” to the pandemic.

Along with a high interest in its older divisions, Bergeron said the league has partnered with Central Falls and added a team in the 16-18 division. They host their games at the newly renovated Macomber Stadium, as well as Pawtucket’s Daggett Field, Slater Park’s McConnon Field, Vets Park, and Max Read Field.

As for the Junior RBI League, which features divisions from T-ball to ages 10-12 and plays on the fields at the Boys & Girls Club, there was a slight dip in numbers, Bergeron noted. The 10-12 division, which normally has seven teams, only contains five teams. The 8-9 division has three, and the machine pitch and ages 6-7 divisions each have two.

“But our T-ball, which is most exciting, has three full teams with coaches,” Bergeron said. “We are at capacity for T-ball.”

Harris Nachbar, who runs the Junior RBI League, added that they have about 38 players for T-ball, and for the first time, they have coaches instead of a team supervisor. “It looks good for the future,” he added.

In past years, the RBI League and the Boys & Girls Club had a partnership with the Pawtucket Red Sox, and every team in the league was named after a Major League Baseball team. But with the Triple-A team now located in Worcester, the 13-15 and 16-18 divisions are named after sponsors, while the Junior RBI League still has MLB team names.

“We are still working with the WooSox,” Bergeron said.

Despite no longer being in Rhode Island, the Worcester Red Sox will host the Junior RBI League at a game on Aug. 21. The WooSox are also sponsoring a ticket raffle, with 10 finalists for the 10-12 division, and out of those finalists, two winners will be announced at that game to attend a World Series game that October.

Instead of having an All-Star game this year, the Junior RBI League will hold a Home Run Derby and a Skills Day where anyone can participate. As for the two older divisions, they will each have an All-Star team (with 15 players each) and head to Jersey City, N.J., this weekend for a regional tournament. The winner will then advance to the next round in Vero Beach, Fla., which is taking place Aug. 2-7.

The league has most of its coaches returning, as well as some familiar names in the city’s coaching ranks, including Bobby Brown, Lonnie Santiago, Corey Morel, and Tom Bilodeau. Having been with the league previously and returning is Cumberland’s Dan Rose, and four new coaches have also joined the ranks.

With a stormy first week, not many games were played, but everyone involved was excited to be back on the diamond.

“We’re just excited to have the opportunity to get back at it,” Bergeron said, “and make it as close to a sandlot atmosphere, which is the hallmark of the program.”

Each team will play 10 games and qualify for the playoffs in this fun, stress-free league. The postseason is expected to begin during the middle of August.