LINCOLN — A showcase event like the R.I. Little League Major Division state tournament calls for just the right venue, a spot that’s accommodating in every applicable way.
Naturally, the spotlight will shine on the players and coaches hailing from the four district winners – Burrillville, Barrington, Cranston Western and Coventry American. In addition, there’s just cause in touting the scene of what figures to be a close and tightly contested double-elimination spectacle.
Beginning this weekend and stretching into next week, Randy Hien Field – officially christened in April 2009 and named in remembrance of the late Lincoln Little League patriarch – will have a firm place at the center of the state’s youth baseball faction. It’s in the Lonsdale Park section of this town where the final push to qualify for the New England regionals will unfurl – an important step certainly not lost on the event’s primary overseers, all of whom are dutifully prepared, organized and chomping at the bit to serve as accommodating hosts.
“Given that this event is so important in determining who’s advancing to Bristol, Ct., it should be played on a pristine field such as Hien Field,” said John Sharkey, President of Lincoln Little League. “Randy Hien participated in so many all-star tournaments over the years and around all the parts of the state. The generosity shown to us … this is an opportunity to give back to all those leagues.”
State Tournament Director and Lincoln resident Steve Guarino concurred with Sharkey by adding, “With this being the first time the 11-12-year-old tournament is taking place at Hien Field, it’s certainly a great opportunity for the league to showcase the facility.”
One of the promises decreed by Pat Freaney, the head of Rhode Island District IV, was that when the next time came for the district to host the states, Hien Field would get them, no questions asked. Despite fielding teams that typically ruled district and state competition, Lincoln was almost never discussed as a possible spot to serve as a launching point for Bristol – that is until a significant upgrade was made in the town’s Little League complex.
“You need a facility that has lights and adequate parking and a beautiful field to play on,” said Sharkey about the main items of necessity that were achieved due to the incarnation of Hien Field. “Quite honestly, the district administrator would have never awarded (the states) to us without having a new facility.”
Sharkey says the official bid came roughly a year ago and that the intense planning needed to ensure that everything goes off smoothly started taking shape roughly three months ago. One of the first acts of business was formulating a committee that Guarino would head and also include the voices of past Lincoln Little League board members.
As the date drew closer, Guarino says the focus and energy has been channeled in two specific areas.
On the subject of parking and sheer volume of expected spectators on Saturday and Sunday, space is available at St. Jude’s Church and Bellows-Falso Funeral Chapel. The town of Lincoln is also supplying a shuttle service that will undoubtedly iron out any additional traffic concerns.
“Otherwise there will be cars up and down the street,” notes Guarino.
The other pressing matter is making sure there’s enough food and beverage to cover what could wind up being a week-long state tournament. All four entries will play Saturday and again Sunday before the field starts whittling down.
“We have volunteers who are helping with the parking and the concessions. The town is maintaining the field and we have people to help with all the baseball-related activities such as scoring the games, pitch counters, operating the scoreboard and announcers,” Guarino said.
Friday night saw tournament leaders roll out the red carpet for a stylish Hien Field meet-and-greet that allowed the players to break down barriers and interact with their peers in a casual setting – one of the time-honored Little League traditions of teams exchanging pins was conducted – prior to the competitive juices taking over. A tent was rented and enough tables and chairs were set up to accommodate roughly 200 people with Guarino expressing gratitude to the local businesses that donated food for the occasion.
“We’re going to give them an opportunity to take infield and outfield on Hien Field for a short time,” Sharkey said. “Also, the umpires will meet with all the managers and go over the rules for the tournament.”
Everything kicks off Saturday at 11 a.m. with Cranston Western facing Coventry American. An official welcome ceremony is on the docket leading up to the 1:45 p.m. contest between Burrillville and Barrington. Sunday will see the two losing teams from Saturday meet at 4:45 p.m. while the winners engage at 7 o’clock.
Monday will serve as an off day before play resumes on Tuesday night at 6:30. After that, the two remaining teams will square off Thursday, and if necessary, a final game will take place Friday.
“There’s a whole lot that goes on behind the scenes,” said Guarino, noting the committee’s role in collecting and verifying the proper paperwork as it relates to the ages of the players and their residence. “We have four terrific representatives so it should be a lot of fun.”