SUDBURY — Derrick Amodei swiped at the sweat dripping from his face and the mosquitoes swarming him in the parking lot behind Feeley Field. It was humid and unpleasant, but he was happy to be there after helping Sudbury’s American Legion Post 191 to another win.
About a month earlier, he wondered whether he would even have the chance to play baseball this summer.
Amodei is a Carlisle resident; he graduated from Concord-Carlisle High in June. A member of the high school’s varsity baseball team and a Dual County League Small Division All-Star, he wanted one more taste of competitive ball before heading to the University of Vermont.
He figured he’d return to play for the Concord Legion baseball team, where he played last summer. But he found out soon before the season that Post 158 decided it would not field a team.
He wasn’t sure where he would play, or whether he would play at all.
“I was surprised and I wasn’t,” Amodei said of Post 158’s decision. “Concord baseball isn’t exactly very good right now and there’s no way we could have fielded a team with what we had. We wouldn’t have won a game.”
According to Sudbury coach Len Noce , also the District 5 chairman, Concord simply didn’t have enough interest to put a team together.
“They didn’t have enough players,” said Noce, whose team eventually picked up Amodei and Concord-Carlisle rising senior Philip Mitchell . “They had no players. They had no coach. They had no program.’’
Noce said he tried to encourage Post 158 to develop a Junior Legion team, “but they balked on that, too. They don’t have the numbers.”
For Concord-Carlisle High baseball coach John Kelly , the discontinuation of Post 158’s team was another sign of the lack of interest in baseball programs in the area.
“It’s a very difficult place to put a team like that together,” Kelly said. “If you do put a team together you have to have a really large roster. A lot of people go away on vacation, and you risk not having enough players for a game at different times during the year.”
Baseball programs in Concord and Carlisle likely have also lost athletes who have chosen to spend their springs playing lacrosse, which continues to grow in popularity.
In the spring, the Concord-Carlisle boys’ lacrosse team went undefeated and won the Division 2 state title; the baseball team, featuring just four seniors and three juniors, finished the year 3-17.
“Everybody wants to do lacrosse in C-C because they want to be on that championship team,” said Amodei, a first baseman and designated hitter. “Baseball has just gone to the wayside. If we start making the state tournament, maybe we’d get some more kids, but the high school team has to start being successful for younger kids to want to play.”
It’s not just the American Legion and high school teams that have felt the sting of insufficient numbers. The Concord-Carlisle Lou Tompkins youth baseball program is down to just one team for 13-year-olds this summer.
But Kelly insists that the sport is not dead.
“Baseball in Concord is kind of in a lull right now,” said Kelly. “But that’s just at the high school age. Our freshman class last year was very good. And I know the middle school group is very good. There are a lot of really good players on the way up so it could just be the time period in Concord right now that’s seemed to struggle a little bit.”
Kelly started the Concord Baseball Association this summer and entered it into the Granite State League to give 13- to 17-year-olds a place to play while other local high school players have scattered to find teams for the summer.
Amodei and Mitchell happened upon a winning program in Sudbury.
A perennial power in the American Legion program, Post 191 (9-2) is leading District 5A and will play 5B leader Billerica on Sunday for a chance to represent the district in the state’s eight-team national-bound tournament.
“I never thought I’d even make this team coming from Concord,” said Amodei, who has started all but one game for Post 191 this season. “I was just hoping they’d take me for a year."
Then, through the sweat and the bugs, he smiled. It was nice just to have a place to play.
Brush with Colorado fires
Smoke hovered over the Rhode Island Thunder Gold, and ash fell lightly to the ground around players’ feet.
They were in Boulder, Colo., for the Louisville Slugger Independence Day Tournament, one of the most prestigious summer softball tournaments in the country, and they quickly found themselves dangerously close to the wildfires that had ravaged the state.
“We were very close,” said Thunder Gold coach Dave Lotti , whose team calls the Plainville Athletic League fields home.
“They had a thunderstorm during one of our games and there was a bolt of lighting that hit a mountain and the thing actually caught. In a matter of about 30 minutes the smoke was right on top of our field. It was actually raining ashes. We didn’t know if we were going to get to play after that.”
News circulated that they might have to evacuate the area, but the nearby fire was contained quickly and the tournament was allowed to continue.
“It was pretty amazing,” Lotti said. “The players weren’t freaking out or anything, but it was amazing. We’ve never seen anything like that before.”
The players didn’t play as though they were affected.
They placed third overall out of 88 teams, the highest finish in tournament history for a team from the East Coast, according to Lotti.
Pitchers Shannon Smith (Milford High) and Meg Rico (King Philip Regional) led the way, while Olivia Godin (King Philip) and Nicole Lundstrom (Dighton-Rehoboth) also made significant contributions to the team’s unprecedented run through a trying schedule of 15 games in seven days.
“It was an amazing week,” Lotti said.