WOONSOCKET — Since last October, Mike St. Germain and dozens of other folks have spent countless hours planning and resourcing the new Woonsocket Little League.
After all that organizing, those people saw their labor come to fruition during the first-ever WLL Opening Day at Renaud Field.
Because the league – which consists (baseball-wise) of teams that once represented the Bernon and East Woonsocket organizations – now is so large, the board of directors had to schedule the ceremonies for the new home of Woonsocket High baseball.
Those arriving late for the 11 a.m. fete had to walk at least a half-mile to the well-groomed Renaud infield due to the amount of cars parked all around the neighborhood. One they got there, however, they witnessed a colorful yet simple display of togetherness, that supplied following the parade of teams into the park.
“This was unbelievable!” St. Germain grinned after the ceremony before a few hundred parents, family members and fans packed the bleachers down the first- and third-base lines. “What a beautiful day. We had to switch dates from a couple of weeks because of the weather, but we got a perfect day.
“This is so satisfying,” he added. “Both leagues have been trying to merge for five or six years now; we just wanted to get more unified. It finally came together; both boards of directors sat down and evaluated the last couple of years, and came to an agreement. That is, together, we could be a stronger program. We just pooled our resources.”
The league now consists of over 500 youngsters on 34 baseball teams in a variety of age categories, not to mention 10 softball squads and three Junior Division (13-15) teams.
“What many people don’t recognize is what goes into (assembling all the key parts of) a season,” he stated to the crowd. “Planning this upcoming season started in October, and without the board of directors and several other key volunteers, we wouldn’t be here today.”
St. Germain spent his time thanking those directors for their devotion and hard work, among them Kevin McGuire (Vice President of Baseball); Steve Sgambato (Vice President of Softball); Lisa Godfrin (Secretary and Junior Level Representative for the league and also District IV); Ron Masse (Treasurer); Dave Jarrett (Coaching Coordinator); Mike Berube (Safety Officer); Carl Godfrin (Umpire in Chief); Dave Scott (Equipment Manager); Mike Cinquantini (Field Maintenance Coordinator); and Amy Lorusso (Concessions Manager).
There were still others, including the age-group representatives: Steve Thibault (softball); Judy Wynn (Major Division); Willie Houle (Minor Division); Bill Berube (Instructional Division); and Angie Godfrin (T-Ball Division).
He also praised the devotion of Player Agent Kim Sgambato)
“What can I say about Kim,” he noted in his speech. “My job is easy compared to hers. This is her first year … and we all hope it’s not her last. Not many know what a player agent does prior to a season … but she coordinates registrations; registers, tracks and maintains all player records; and coordinates tryouts.
“She also schedules and manages our player drafts and all player transactions through the season; ensures player placement (on a squad); and she’s our liaison between players, parents and the league,” he added. “She made regular (season) schedules for Majors, Minors, Instructional and T-Ball, not to mention the endless e-mails and phone calls she receives.
“Kim, your commitment to this league is truly appreciated and should be applauded.”
He also thanked all managers and coaches, the parents and the players involved with the “Cookie Dough” fundraiser, one that collected over $5,000 for uniforms and equipment.
He asked those youngsters who sold those items to step onto the infield dirt to be recognized.
St. Germain mentioned the many city fields wouldn’t have been ready for the league’s initial games without the generous volunteer work of Ed Lee and Jim Senay; and that the WLL’s strength and conditioning clinics couldn’t have occurred if not for Rhode Island Athletic Club President/Owner Mike Reynolds.
Then again, he claimed the league wouldn’t be where it is now without the aid of District IV Administrator Ron Lopes.
“I wouldn’t be here without my wife, Lisa,” he offered afterward. “I started coaching even before we were married, and this week is our 20th (wedding) anniversary. She deserves a lot of credit; she’s the one who let me go to the ball fields almost every night to coach.
“She’s the First Lady of Woonsocket baseball,” he continued. “She just rolls with the punches, and I don’t know how she’s done it, but she’s shared me with the sport of baseball.”
Others speaking briefly included Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, Roger Picard and Police Chief Thomas Carey.
“This merger has been a long time coming,” stated Baldelli-Hunt in her message. “As President St. Germain said, we are a community that has come together; we’re no longer a community that’s divided. We’re strong and we’re active, as this is an important part of growing up. Woonsocket is a very solid community with a lot of strength and perseverance.
“This is now the home of the varsity baseball team, and we’re examining our (Little League) fields … bringing them closer to the high school campus, (so) keep the spirit, be good sports and we’ll see you on the ball fields!”
Ceremony Emcee Tommy Brien recognized former Woonsocket High Athletic Director George Nasuti, who died on Feb. 11 at the tender age of 52. He asked that all players, coaches, parents, families and friends follow his renowned motto: “You give respect, you get respect.”
When asked about what it took to assemble the city’s softball program, Steve Sgambato responded, “Oh, my God! We took on an incredible amount of work. We were not only busy merging the East Woonsocket and Bernon leagues, but we also had to combine our Little League with North Smithfield.
“We focused on grouping the girls from Woonsocket with North Smithfield to develop the new Northern Rhode Island Softball League,” he added. “This allows girls from both (municipalities) to play at a more competitive level.
“The way it used to be was we’d have, say, seven 11-12 year olds playing on a team, but we’d have to bring four or five 9-10s to complete a team roster. Girls would get intimidated playing with and against older girls, or maybe get turned off with (the sport).
“By combining with North Smithfield, it allows us to fill each age group with the appropriate age kids. You do that, and teams are going to be more competitive. I think it will create more parity and interest in softball.”
He noted the league now has grown from five to 12 teams in five age categories, including 6-and-under, 7-8, 9-10, 11-12 and 13-16.
“This turnout was amazing,” Sgambato said. “To be able to fill a varsity baseball field with all these teams is unbelievable. Last year, we (with the East Woonsocket league) were able to just cover the infield (perimeter at Hartnett Field). I thought then that, ‘We’ve got to do something.’
“We not only had declining numbers but declining talent, but not anymore. Just to see this growth again is huge.”