A pillar in Post 188 head coach Brian Tomasini’s tenure was to re-establish the junior American Legion team.
It had fallen to the wayside a few years before Tomasini took the reins in 2016. And the group that former general manager Andy Boli coached prior to jumping to Post 188 had dissolved. As he put it, there just wasn’t enough manpower to operate two teams when they were trying to save one.
Nevertheless, that Tomasini had a pipeline for 8th graders to sophomores to streamline into the senior legion program was pivotal. With Team Cape Cod regularly making trips to the Senior Babe Ruth World Series and the ominous presence of AAU showcase leagues, they wanted to let a younger group of student-athletes know that there was a competitive local option that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to play.
“Legion ball is high-quality baseball,” second-year junior coach Larry Shell said. “You get exposed to college coaches and you get great coaching on this level. The kids who have the desire and ability to play in college, we do our best to help facilitate that. Why pay thousands for that, when you can get the same thing for hundreds?”
But more than the level of play, it was the mentality Tomasini and company wanted to instill in players at a younger age. It dates back to when Bob Corradi coached Tomasini as a teen ballplayer. Student-athletes play summer ball to get better at their high school sport, or get the opportunity to get better with their college teams. They didn’t stress winning, only getting better at playing sound baseball.
And then there’s the local parameters. The program could select the top 18 players from the towns of Bourne, Sandwich, Falmouth, Mashpee and Martha’s Vineyard. There’s a finite area from which they could recruit, and that standard is held to every American Legion team.
The wins would come if they were dedicated in getting better. And for years, the wins came by the bushel. Tomasini wanted to re-create that.
“There’s something to be said about the kids who stay home and play for the hometown public school team. It’s kind of the same with Post 188. It has a homegrown, grassroots, blue collar feel to the program,” he said. “You get down to the ballpark after work, leave everything else behind and use this league to better themselves, not just to get reps in.”
So when it came time for tryouts in his third year, he was somewhat shocked to see nearly 60 student-athletes, ranging from 8th grade to freshmen in college, come out for the two programs. Only five or six of them were holdovers from the previous year. So team chemistry was a high priority, especially considering the 188 team would be comprised of mostly league rivals from the high school season.
“When you’re rebuilding a program like we were, team chemistry is huge,” former general manager Chris Fitzgerald said. “They had to buy into the program and what we were trying to do. And when you’re talking about the best players from the local teams, sometimes that meant not playing as much as they typically would for their high school teams. We want you in on every pitch, every at-bat, every game even if you’re not playing. We felt that if you weren’t, that was taking away from team chemistry.”
That might scare away some players, but not those who played for 188. They bought in on both levels. But it took time for everyone to get on the same page. Both the junior and senior teams stumbled out of the gates. The senior team started out 9-7 and found itself in seventh place in the standings. But they responded by winning the final four games in the regular season to finish 13-7 and earn the third seed in the District 10 playoffs. The junior team also faltered early on before hitting its stride.
“We didn’t expect the junior program’s success in the first two years. We wanted them to just buy into the system early on. It was more of a long game we had planned,” Fitzgerald said.
The senior team captured the program’s first District 10 title since 2005 while the junior team came within a game of reaching the state tournament in its first re-established year. That senior squad, which staved off elimination twice in the District 10 finals to defeat regular season champ Wareham Post 220 before they were ousted in the first round of the state tourney, going 1-2 in the double elimination format.
There was plenty to be proud of across the board, but there was still a boxes left unchecked on their to-do list
And yet, in three short years, the rebuild was on the upswing.
This is the second installment in an ongoing series about the rebirth of the Post 188 American Legion baseball program.