By Russ Waterman
Even if the weather doesn't warm up for a while, with several elite players returning to the diamond this year, Rhode Island baseball fans should still make plans to visit ball fields early and see what promises to be heated and competitive action throughout the state.
Indeed, three seniors from Cranston West High, the two-time defending Division I state titlists, three more from Portsmouth and a few more from Bishop Hendricken and others have already grabbed preseason headlines by making decisions to attend NCAA Division I colleges and other institutions.
For Cranston West, Anthony Meo, Chris Famiglietti and Dan Hopkins have all committed to Division I programs. Meo, a right-handed pitcher, has signed with Coastal Carolina University. With a record of 9-0 and a 0.77 earned-run average last year, Meo was the championship’s Most Valuable Player and was a first team All-State selection.
Outfielder Chris Famiglietti signed a letter of intent with Texas A&M-Corpus Cristi. Batting .421 with five home runs, he was named second-team all-state and first-team all-division last year.
Falcons' first baseman and pitcher Dan Hopkins, another all-state first team returnee, has committed to playing at UMass-Amherst.
Meanwhile in East Bay, Portsmouth High, which at times was nationally ranked last year, can boast of a pitchers' trio from the class of 2008 that may be unmatched by any other team in the state: Ryan Westmoreland, John Pedrotty and Timothy Flight.
Westmoreland, on ESPN's top prospect list and a signee with Vanderbilt University, has some gaudy career stats: a .510 batting average, .579 on base percentage and .817 slugging percentage, in addition to a 28-0 mark with a 0.72 ERA and 270 strikeouts in 174 innings and just 52 walks issued on the mound.
John Pedrotty, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound left-handed pitcher and first baseman who had a .446 batting average and 5-1 pitching record last year, has committed to Holy Cross.
Finally, there is the intriguing story of Flight, a 6-4 left-handed pitcher who has signed with Charleston Southern University despite not having pitched a single inning yet of varsity baseball.
Look elsewhere around the state and there are plenty of other players worthy of bringing out the hats and gloves and lawn chairs and blankets to watch early in the season.
One of the Ocean State's most highly-touted players is right-handed pitcher Jackson Geary of South Kingstown High, who will join mound adversary Meo at Coastal Carolina University. Geary is a 2008 Louisville Slugger Pre-Season High School All-American as selected by Collegiate Baseball Magazine.
Named the Most Valuable Player in Division I-South last year, he pitched in six of seven postseason games and finished with a 12-1 record, including 12 complete games.
Bishop Hendricken has several players either committed to college or being watched by several institutions. Hendricken infielder Danny Gamache has been a first-team and second team all-state selection the past two years. Catcher Milan Adams will be attending the University of Rhode Island while pitcher Robert Curran will be attending Pace University, an NCAA Division II institution.
Juniors Cody Normand, a pitcher and outfielder, and versatile Dave D'Errico, both of North Kingstown and 2007 second team all-state choices, will be closely watched, as will these returning second-team all-state players: South Kingstown outfielder James McKinney and outfielder Brendan Worton of Mount St. Charles Academy.
Among other seniors who have made college commitments (according to the Rhode Island Baseball Institute) are Joe Gardner, pitcher, Coventry, Johnson and Wales University; Jeff Buress, pitcher, Cumberland, Babson College; Chris Colby, pitcher, North Kingstown, University of Rhode Island; and Brett Hopkins, infielder, LaSalle Academy, UMass-Amherst.
Graham Tyler, infielder for Moses Brown School, has made a commitment to attend Brown University, according to the New England Ruffnecks, an AAU and off-season program in Boston.
And many of these players will be an integral part of teams that will be serious contenders for their respective division and state crowns.
Russ Waterman covers Massachusetts, Rhode Island and the New England Preps for MaxPreps.com. He may be reached at email@example.com.