By Jim Sullivan
Boston Red Sox fans were faced with a harsh reality after a 9-0 lead turned into a 15-9 drubbing at the hands of their most hated rival, the New York Yankees, at Fenway Park Saturday afternoon.
The 2012 Boston Red Sox are a disaster of 2011 Boston Red Sox proportions.
"But this is New England and baseball is our birthright," we say. "We have to have it."
For us, there is a solution to this problem because we live in the River Rival Region. There's great high school baseball played all around us, and no one's going to sell anyone a commemorative brick to see it.
Returning from a Cinderella story last year, Newburyport Clippers at 4-0 have the same number of wins as Bobby Valentine's crew. The Clippers won their first state championship in program history during coach Bill Pettingell's 40th and final season. Current coach Steve Malenfant has already stopped watching the Red Sox lose and believes wayward fans will find something to cheer for with his starting nine.
"These guys play with their heart," says Malenfant. "You don't have to pay to come to these games. You don't have to worry about paying big-time concessions. You can bring your own food. And I think the big thing is, you can see the enthusiasm of the kids. You can see how the kids have developed since their time in the Pioneer League. It's a joy to watch these kids perform at the highest level with pressure on them."
Malenfant says that seeing the returning players from last year is obviously a big draw in Newburyport. Defending state champion and senior co-captain Brett Fontaine is currently 2-0 and absolutely baffling on the mound as he throws to fellow co-captain and battery mate Jimmy Conway.
Left-handed newcomer Connor MacRae impressed the Clipper faithful with his varsity pitching debut in Saturday's 5-3 victory over Amesbury, who also has a talented rookie southpaw in Andy Reidy.
Senior Eric Eaton has also shown some good stuff both on and off the mound. Noah Kligerman is a dangerous hitter in the No. 3 slot and Troy Eaton can hit clean-up as well as any player in the area.
Over in Byfield, the Triton Vikings are sporting good pitching with senior co-captain Blaise Whitman striking out 12 Hamilton-Wenham Generals in the course of seven complete innings last week. Whitman is also batting over .300, and fellow co-captain Richard Fecteau is coming close to .400 to close out his high school career on his way to playing for Salem State next year.
Triton coach Rich Dube (who believes the current Red Sox should be playing slow-pitch softball instead of baseball) sees the draw of high school ball as a chance to get back to the game as it is meant to be played — for the love of it.
"What's right about baseball is at the high school level," says Dube. "This is something that (the players) do for fun and they're passionate. Are we pros? No. But the kids play hard, they play with passion, and they like the game."
Pentucket baseball showcases a trio of strong pitchers — left-hander Alex Ministeri, Corey McNamara and John Simard — all of whom throw strikes and work quick.
"People are going to see a team hustle on and off the field," Pentucket coach Tom L'Italien says of what can be expected over in West Newbury. "They're going to see a team that gets invested in the game. They're going to see a team that's never out of the fight. They're going to see a team that pays attention to the small details of the game. They're going to see a team that wants to play the game and really cares about each other. When people come to see that, they're going to see a good product."
A good product is out on all four fields of the River Rival region. But for Malenfant, the most important thing is the human connection.
"Being watched by people is important," says Malenfant. "Not just Newburyport, but all of the Cape Anne League teams, the cities, towns, you know that people care about it. The more you get people to come, the better the kids will perform. Because they consider what they do important. And it is the most important thing to them at this time."
Baseball season is still here in New England, and it's free.