If Dave Belisle has to drive to South Williamsport, Pa. in order to set the record straight about the Barrington Little League team that earlier this week found itself caught in the crosshairs, he’s more than prepared to get into his car and head south.
With the Little League World Series set to begin on Thursday, Belisle doesn’t want to see Rhode Island’s latest representative to set foot on the sport’s biggest stage, subjected to extra scrutiny and become a target for all the wrong reasons. Let’s make sure the focus remains on what takes place on the field, not on a serious claim that on the surface comes off as a classic case of sour grapes.
“I’ll make my presence felt if I have to,” said Belisle when reached on Wednesday, “but I don’t think that’s going to be the case.”
The shine of what Barrington accomplished in capturing the New England regional last Saturday was slightly tarnished when the manager of the Goffstown, N.H. Little League team went to the local newspaper and claimed that Barrington stole signals. Goffstown was the team that was defeated by Barrington with a berth in the 2019 Little League World Series hanging in the balance.
Belisle was in Bristol, Conn. for the New England championship game, sitting in ESPN’s broadcast booth. From the vantagepoint of an individual who guided Cumberland American to two LLWS berths (2011, 2014) and has provided an inspirational soundtrack based on his memorable speech following the conclusion of Cumberland’s 2014 World Series run, Belisle labeled the accusations from the Goffstown camp as shocking and unfortunate.
From Belisle’s vantage point, there was no bad blood, nor any sign that trouble was brewing prior to last Saturday. In accordance with his ESPN duties, Belisle stayed in the same Bristol complex as the Little League participants from the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions. He got to know the players and coaches on a personal level – it was a treat for Belisle to chat with a coach behind the cage while batting practice took place.
“There was nothing but positive things to say about the experience. I had an unbelievable ride in terms of what was going on,” said Belisle.
Setting the scene of what led New Hampshire to respond in the fashion that they did, Belisle noted that the home-plate umpire on Saturday held a conference with Barrington manager Chris Promades after one his players, Owen Pfeffer, was clapping while standing on second base.
Promades went out to talk to Pfeffer. The conversation was brief and to the point, with the coach asking his player if he was giving signals to his teammates in the batter’s box. Once it became clear that Pfeffer had no idea what Promades was talking about, the umpire issued a warning that at the time was believed to have put the issue of breaking one of baseball’s unwritten rules to bed.
“It was a good move by the umpire. He thought something was up and wanted to nip it in the bud. Everything was done properly. It’s also a good teaching moment as far as why something like stealing signals is frowned upon,” said Belisle. “If you know (Pfeffer) you know he’s an emotional kid who wears his heart on his sleeve. He was definitely in-character, but he was told to stop.”
At the discretion of the umpire, anything that comes up after the warning is issued would result in an automatic ejection. There weren’t any issues after Saturday’s brief stoppage, hence the impression was given that everything was kosher. Then came the article in the New Hampshire Union Leader, which Belisle characterized “as a misinterpretation of the Barrington Little League team. It was quite the accusation.”
What’s erupted in the days since the article came out is a series of rebuttals and claims that Barrington didn’t violate any sportsmanship codes, with Belisle leading the charge. Belisle saw the Barrington team several times prior to the New Englands and offered a concrete reason why their innocence should not be doubted.
“If they did it … (Cranston Western manager Garry Bucci) is the best. He would have definitely caught on to anything that was going on,” Belisle said, referencing a team that Barrington faced in the R.I. state tournament. “It was pretty innocent until the article came out. I was shocked to see that. If (Goffstown) felt something serious was going on, they should have pointed it out to Little League administrators. You don’t go to the newspaper or tell the parents that (Barrington) is cheating. They’re just going to run with that and use that as an excuse.”
Belisle understands if the Barrington coaching staff has their guard up but feels the storm that was created by Goffstown will be a moot point come Thursday.
“The coaches are doing a good job of deflecting everything. The players are having a good time, but this has come up and they have to answer questions that they can’t believe they have to address,” said Belisle. “If Little League baseball says it’s a non-issue, then it’s a non-issue. They are pretty thorough when it comes to their rules as far as what should and what shouldn’t happen.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03