ROWLEY — The Intertown Twilight League is now in its 90th season, celebrating competition, community and a pure love for the game of baseball.
Contrary to popular belief, Jeff Wood has not been there every step of the way.
“Almost. Sometimes, it feels like it,” laughed Wood, the 48-year-old skipper for the Rowley Rams.
For Wood, Eiras Park, leading the Rams, a group of adult men longing for some outlet to play baseball after their high school and college days are over, is where he belongs in the summer.
It’s like it’s meant to be for the lifelong Rowley resident.
“I grew up in Rowley. I grew up in the ITL,” said Wood. “This is special. It always has been. Under the league rules, at least 75 percent of our roster has to be from the Triton area or Georgetown. It’s a community-based (team). Growing up, I always knew this is where I would be after high school.”
Dragging the infield on a tractor or lining the diamond in the summer heat as a bunch of weekend warriors prepare for a Wednesday night tussle with Hamilton-Wenham may not sound like the big-league dream. But for Wood, the stars are aligned perfectly.
There’s a reason the league has survived through wars, technology in an ever-changing world and even sagging participation in the grand old game.
There is a draw here, playing for your town with athletes from the same neighborhoods, even deep into your adult life.
Wood embraced it early and hasn’t stopped. He’s the true ITL ambassador of baseball.
“It’s the purest form of baseball for sure,” said Wood. “Guys get out of work and hustle to the park to play ball. I love the town thing. I love this atmosphere. I love being at the baseball field. You get caught up in it. For me, at 48, it’s a way to compete.”
The players on the Rowley squad certainly appreciate Wood. They notice the work this professional landscaper puts into the program.
Trying to meld a bunch of 20-somethings into a team, making sure that players get their chance to shine can’t be easy either. Somehow, Wood makes it work.
“He played down here. He makes it no pressure, come down, have fun,” said Georgetown’s Anthony Conte, a 28-year-old middle infielder who played his college ball at Salve Regina. “He gets the young guys here, keeps us competitive. He’s kept us relevant every year, that’s his biggest attribute. Every year we’re right there in it. With him, it’s easy to get guys to commit to come down here every night, instead of being bottom of the barrel.”
Guys like Conte and Joe White have been with Wood, the manager, almost every step of the way.
“Four or five of us have been here for 10 or 12 years. I started in 2007 (with Wood). I don’t think we won a game that year.”
Of course, the fact that Wood played in the league, from right after his graduation from Triton Regional in 1989 through 2001, makes it easier for him to understand and manage players and their egos.
He’s also got the legend he laid down on the field, one that still carries on today.
“My first couple years (starting in 2007) he was still a player. But a few years later against BeverIy, we didn’t have enough guys, so he had to go in there at second base,” said first baseman Joe White, who didn’t play baseball at URI but was on the crew team. “He made one of the most phenomenal plays I’ve seen, fully-extended, laid out for a ground ball.
“I didn’t even think he could get up to throw it to first. He popped up, threw it from his knees and got him at first. That same year, he hit another ball at Rockport and ended up getting a triple out of it. I thought he was going to die.”
These days, Wood is strictly management material. Some things never change, though.
His wife, Tracy, is at every game, just as she was through Jeff’s playing days.
“She’s been unbelievable supportive,” said Jeff. “So have my two daughters. They know two or three nights a week through the summer I’m not going to be around. And the family has just been great through the whole thing.
Just how long Wood, who doesn’t coach anywhere else and likes it that way, will stick around, he’s not sure.
But as long as he works the grounds and the dugout here at Eiras, he’s a happy man.
“It’s that community thing,” he said. “This is a place for people who love to play the game and compete. And it’s just a lot of fun to be around.”