Although the Newburyport High baseball team made a quick exit in the state tournament last week, local baseball fans can still catch some postseason ball at the high school thanks to the Pioneer League's Eaton Senior Division playoffs.
The division consists of players aged 13 to 15, and there are currently four teams — Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank (7-5), Odd Fellows (7-5-1), Lombardi Oil II (6-7) and Kelly's True Value Hardware (4-7-1). All games are held at Newburyport High School or the Bresnahan Elementary School, and all games feature a 13-man roster.
"There's some good ballplayers up here," says Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank's assistant coach Richie Eaton, from whom the division takes its name. "You'll see some players who can really show their stuff and it's a fun league."
Eaton, the longtime president of the Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank and longtime coach of the team bearing the institution's name, has been with the Senior League since 1964. He stuck with it all the way until 2007 when it merged with the Pioneer League and was named after him.
"I didn't know about it until I saw the schedule," Eaton says of the league's name change. "Nobody ever told me anything about it. All of a sudden, I saw the schedule and it said, 'Eaton Division.' It was a surprise, but it was a nice honor."
"I've coached seven boys whose fathers I've coached," says Eaton. "So, two generations. Not any grandchildren yet have played for me."
Eaton is currently the assistant coach for his old team with current coach Jimmy Olsen.
"Coming up, I always wanted to play for him," Olsen says of Eaton. "And I would always see him around town. Finally he said, 'I'm going to retire. Would you want to take over?' And I jumped right at the opportunity. There was no other team that I wanted to work with."
The Newburyport Five Cents team was mired in third place just last week, but was able to jump over the teams ahead in the standings with some clutch wins. After all that, Olsen is confident his team is ready for the playoff challenge.
"With the team the way it is," says Olsen, "I would put us with anybody, and that's what I plan on saying to (the team) before we go out there. I trust every single one these guys."
Kelly's True Value coach John Sullivan moved to Newburyport from Malden in 1990 and got involved with the Pioneer League when his son, John, started playing. Since then, Sullivan has never looked back. He is in his ninth year coaching for the Senior Division.
"It's a fun league," says Sullivan. "It's in-town kids. It's a teaching league. These kids go back to school tomorrow, and they talk about last night's game. It's friendly competition."
"It shows how powerful the community is here in Newburyport," Pioneer League board member Chris Wile says of his all-volunteer coaches and staff. "You have people stay around and still participate in this great game."
"I'd like to see the league keep going," adds Sullivan. "We're down to four teams and I'd like to see a better turnout."
"We're down in numbers this year," says Wile. "The kids are having to play the same teams over and over. But from a record and score perspective, there's been great parity this year, more than previous years. So, it's been a good season for all the kids."
Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank and Kelly's True Value Hardware are currently locked in a three-game series until Saturday, while Odd Fellows and Lombardi Oil II are doing the same. The finals are set to begin Monday.