Smithfield Little League Prepares For New Season

Smithfield Little League Prepares For New Season

by Paul Lonardo

Smithfield Little League’s trip to Williamsport representing the Metro Region in the Little League World Series last summer will never be forgotten, but the league has turned its attention to the upcoming 2024 season with the same goal it sets every year, and that is for all of Smithfield’s children to have a fun and memorable time playing the game of baseball together.

Jim Connell, the Director of Player Development for Smithfield Little League, acknowledges that there was a little extra buzz around the winter clinics this year, and a marked increase in the number of children in attendance at the free, off-season training that the league offered. It was a twelve-week program that ran from early January through the end of March, and everyone is excited and ready for the 2024 season.

“We had about sixty kids working hard for three solid months in the winter, and that’s really nice to see,” Connell says.

The age group that saw the most significant rise in camp participation this year was the youngest of them, the five- to seven-year-olds. That increase is certainly a consequence of the success of last year’s Little League World Series run. The total number of participants does not even consider many older players who could not attend the winter camps because of obligations to other sports, particularly middle-schoolers. Connell has even seen a considerable number of kids who had been playing other spring sports, like Lacrosse, make the switch to play baseball this year.

“The Little League turnout is really going to help the high school baseball program,” Connell says, “and that makes me really happy.”

The clinics were held Thursday nights at The HIT Center of Rhode Island, an indoor softball/baseball training facility at 3 Industrial Drive in Smithfield. Connell wants to give a shout out to this local facility for all their support and all the accommodations they have available.

“I got involved with Little League when his kids started to enter youth sports, joining the board and becoming Director of Player Development,” Connell says. “First thing I wanted to do was find someplace local where they could go. The other indoor facilities that are around the state are too far. He realized that a place closer to Smithfield would also result in getting more kids to show up on a regular basis, so The Hit Center was a godsend.”

Joe Roumelis, who founded The H.I.T. Center of RI with Jeff Pallotta, worked closely with Connell and the kids over the winter.

“Joe has been very welcoming to us,” Connell says. “He’s taken care of us in a big way. And the facility is great. It’s clean, reasonable, and they have a wide-open space where we can set up all our stations and go through our fundamentals. It’s just really nice. It’s been a feel-good situation for me, my first year at this position. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

Smithfield’s success last summer not only increased enthusiasm among the young ballplayers in town, but it expanded the interest in sponsors, making Shanyn Turner’s job a lot easier. She is the Sponsorship and Communication Officer for the league. This year’s winter clinic ran if it did in part because of the extra funding provided by so many generous individuals and businesses within the community, and far beyond.

The league relies on the generosity of its sponsors, and there are several ways to lend support. Sponsoring a team is just one way. There are fundraising and other events that require a personal commitment from parents and boosters to donate their time and money. All funds received go directly to the league and are utilized for equipment, uniforms, field maintenance, the winter clinics, and special events like Opening Day.

Donations can be made online through the league website Smithfieldlittleleague.org.

Opening Day this year is Saturday, April 27, and a big parade and celebration is planned, featuring the unveiling of a brand-new scoreboard donated by Smithfield Eye and Optical. Should it rain, the events will be shifted to the following day. It should be a lot of fun for everyone, so mark the day on your calendar.

Anyone interested in being a sponsor or a vendor for Opening Day, it’s not too late. You may contact Shanyn directly at Smithfieldsponsorship@gmail.com.

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