Cranston teams dominated the state’s baseball scene last summer, winning championships at almost every level.
The city will have a shot at one more title this summer.
For the first time, Cranston is fielding a team in the Rhode Island Connie Mack Baseball League. Twenty-one high school age players will join forces and become the Cranston Bulldogs.
The team was created with the help of a lot of baseball people around the city. Dave Ciolfi, president of Edgewood/South Elmwood Little League and the father of a former high-school standout, came up with the idea last October.
“Cranston had a very successful year, but we realized that for high school kids, there’s really only two teams to play on for the summer,” Ciolfi said. “There’s senior legion and junior legion. Babe Ruth ends pretty early and the senior league at Edgewood/South Elmwood doesn’t go all summer. We said what about Connie Mack?”
It was a natural fit.
In some parts of the country, Connie Mack is the premier summer baseball league for high-schoolers. In the Northeast, American Legion has remained the top destination, but Connie Mack has gained a foothold as another strong option. Twelve teams make up the Rhode Island league, and several communities have been building solid traditions over the last few years.
Now the state’s baseball capital is joining the fray.
As Ciolfi put the wheels in motion last fall, he learned that Bobby Santos, a coach in Cranston Babe Ruth, was also interested in starting a Connie Mack team. With Ciolfi’s connections on the east side of the city and Santos’s contacts on the west side, it made perfect sense to join forces.
Ciolfi talked to Ed Holloway, the head coach at Hendricken and the commissioner of Rhode Island Connie Mack, and got approval for entering the team. The city’s Parks and Recreation Department worked the new team into the schedule for the field at West, and Elmwood Sports helped out with uniforms and equipment.
The Bulldogs were born.
“It’s really been a community effort,” Ciolfi said. “The city’s been great and Elmwood Sports was a huge help.”
Ciolfi wasn’t surprised. A lot of people saw just what he saw – that Cranston could use a few more spots on the baseball diamond.
“We’ve got 21 kids on the roster, and that’s 21 kids who wouldn’t normally be playing summer baseball,” Ciolfi said. “My son’s grown and is playing in college. Three of our four coaches don’t have kids on the team. There’s no stake in it for us. We just want to see kids have the chance to play more baseball.”
Ciolfi and Santos started putting the word out at the start of the high school baseball season. As they talked to players and parents at East and West games, the reception was lukewarm at first. But as soon as Cranston’s senior legion roster was selected, interest in Connie Mack picked up.
“It’s like anything new,” Ciolfi said. “People weren’t receptive to it. But I think people realized the credibility of myself and Bobby Santos, and it slowly picked up steam. Then once Gershkoff picked their team, we really started getting a lot of interest. A lot of kids said they wanted to play Connie Mack.”
Ciolfi has worked closely with senior legion manager Dave Schiappa and junior legion manager Nick Ruggieri to find the best fit for players. Several will play both junior legion and Connie Mack.
Ciolfi and Santos also focused on creating a city team, with players from both sides of Cranston. They were successful in that quest. There are 21 players on the roster – 11 from the west side and 10 from the east.
For everybody involved, more baseball can only be a good thing.
“In the long run, I think it’s going to improve the existing varsity players,” Ciolfi said. “And it’s also going to give JV players a better chance to move up and make varsity next year. These 21 kids might have put their gloves down. Maybe they pick them up for fall ball but maybe they don’t touch them until the following spring. Now they have an opportunity to play all summer. I think it’s going to be a really good thing for the city of Cranston.”