Steve August’s mission with the New England Ruffnecks is a simple one.
“All I’m trying to do is build a program that replicates baseball as it should be,” he said. “Focused kids with a passion to play the game because you love it, not because you want a scholarship. Play because you love it, the rest will follow.”
So far, so good. The Ruffnecks, founded in 2003, have found success by getting away from the “showcase player” and focusing on developing a culture of team baseball. August says the greatest compliment he’s received in recent years came from a coordinating director of a big Division 1, ACC college program that frequently watches his program.
“What I liked about watching you guys,” the director told August, “is I get to see so many games, and so much of it is these showcase kids. The team doesn’t know each other. If you guys move a runner over, lay down a sac bunt and win a game, 2-1 or 5-3, your kids are off the bench, excited for each other. If you guys lose 7-2, your kids are genuinely pissed off.’”
August, a former assistant general manager of the Boston Red Sox, has turned the Ruffnecks into a well-established program that has one team per class; from 13 to 18-year-olds.
“There’s a little spillover in each one based on age and positional needs,” he explained.
“But what we do not do, we do not have kids just pitch with us or play with us on weekends. These kids are on the roster. We have full rosters, we build them like a college team; 13-15 positional players and we add a bunch of PO’s. So we’ll have 20-21 guys on a roster. It’s every day from June to the first week in August. Our kids play 40-50 games, and (would probably like) a day off here and there.”
The Ruffnecks have placed countless players in major college programs, but also boast several players on the cusp of the big leagues. Original Ruffneck LHRP Tucker Healy has a chance to crack the Oakland Athletics roster, while RHRP Adam Ravenelle (Tigers) and INF Isan Diaz (Brewers) both enjoyed time in the prestigious Arizona Fall League in 2016.
With the Ruffnecks proven track record, and their development philosophies matching those of Program 15 and the New Balance Future Stars Series, the two joining forces was a logical fit.
“We're bringing Major League baseball people focused on building players and growing the game together with other Major League baseball people who are active in their communities on the ground doing exactly that,” said P15 CEO Jeremy Booth.
“When it came to New England, working with Steve August and the Ruffnecks was a no brainer for us. Steve has exemplified exactly what it is we are trying to do here and we're excited to have them with us.”
For August, the feeling is mutual.
“I like what you guys are doing, I hope you guys become the next big, major thing where team-oriented guys go, he said. “If you want to be a showcase guy, we’re not for you. It’s a culture of team here, it really is. It isn’t just words.”
“(Jeremy and I) had known each other a little bit over the years. He reached out to us and gave me the pitch on it — and I get hammered with stuff and I read most of it — but this looked like these guys are trying to do something the right way.”