CUMBERLAND – Dave Belisle stopped by Garvin Field Wednesday night to congratulate the Cumberland Major Division All-Stars on achieving Rhode Island’s answer to Little League glory.
With all eyes on him, Belisle asked the players if they were ready to turn the page and focus on the task ahead upon arriving in Bristol, Conn. The first game of the new-fangled Metro Region bracket is set for Saturday (7 p.m.) under the bright lights at Breen Field against Connecticut’s Fairfield American.
“The players are working hard and the coaches are doing a fantastic job. They’re enjoying it,” said Belisle when reached Thursday.
The manager of the 2011 and 2014 Cumberland American Little League teams that went to Bristol and emerged as New England’s representative in Williamsport, Belisle can speak to the script that needs to be flipped during the week off from the conclusion of states and the start of regional play. It starts with coming down from that proverbial high and asking if you’re content with the accomplishments to date.
“You’re in a happy mood but you’ve got to change that and redirect that energy again to another challenge,” said Belisle. “If you bring the energy you had in the state finals to Connecticut, you’re going to do great. If you’re satisfied with winning states, you’re going to be out in two days. You’ve got to want the carrot. You can’t think that you’re going on a mini-vacation. There’s a championship out there.”
The speech to the current group of Cumberland Little Leaguers may not have tugged at the proverbial heartstrings like the 2014 speech that Belisle delivered in Williamsport to his CALL players with the ESPN cameras capturing every poignant word. The objective wasn’t to lull the Cumberland players into a false sense of security. It was about conveying the importance of having a firm purpose of amendment with every step you take in Bristol.
“Whether you’re stepping into the batting cage or practicing, you do so like you’re ready to step between those white lines,” said Belisle. “If you like baseball, Williamsport is like Disneyland. That’s what you’re punching your ticket to.”
Belisle has been tracking Cumberland’s progress throughout the summer. He will be a regular in Bristol and plans to help ESPN in an off-air capacity – specifically in helping to round up coaches and players for media requests. He also has a rooting interest that he hopes has a week-long shelf life.
“I’m going there to see my team play. That’s my top priority,” said Belisle. “I’ll be right in the middle of the Cumberland section like I was during states.”
Looking back at Cumberland’s march to the state title that saw the group respond by winning four straight elimination games, Belisle said, “Unlike the other sports, baseball isn’t timed. It’s about outs. It’s amazing how one play can turn the tide of the game. They grabbed hold of that wave and rode it right to the very last strikeout.”
Since 2010, five Major Division teams from Cumberland have qualified for regional play. The previous four were part of the town’s two-tier Little League system that was in place prior to 2017 – the last time Cumberland sent a representative to Bristol. This year marks the first time players who previously would have straddled either the Cumberland American or Cumberland National side-of-the-fence came together and produced a state title.
“The numbers were down. There was no way they could support two divisions,” said Belisle. “They had a tough time convincing Little League International but were able to justify putting one team in. It also shows the type of baseball that’s being played in Cumberland. They don’t have the quantity but still have the quality.”
As for being placed in a four-team bracket that besides Connecticut also includes state champs from New York and New Jersey, Belisle stressed to the Cumberland squad not to think along the lines of David vs. Goliath. There’s a proven track record that Belisle believes will be taken seriously by the entries in this year’s Metro Region field.
“There’s a little reverse psychology,” said Belisle. “As I told the team, ‘Don’t think the other teams don’t know about you guys.’ They know who Cumberland is.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03