SMITHFIELD, R.I. — Have glove, will travel.
That is the fortunate set of baseball circumstances that recent Attleboro High School graduate Alvaro Espinal, the former star center fielder for coach Steve Dunlea’s Bombardiers, has found himself in this summer.
After the Bombardiers’ spring baseball season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bryant University-bound Espinal was facing the prospect of not playing in any summer baseball league, be it the New England Collegiate Baseball League, the Futures League or anywhere else.
As fate would have it, however, not only is Espinal patrolling center field and batting near the top of the order for the Canton A’s of the Cranberry League, he is also playing in the defacto Newport Collegiate Baseball League at Cardines Field.
“It’s been solid competition,” Espinal said of his summer baseball experiences. “With most of the leagues getting shut down, a lot of guys who were going to play in the Futures League or NECBL were looking for teams to play on. It’s not the best competition out there, but there are still a lot of good players. It is baseball and there are a lot of games.”
With Canton in the Cranberry League, Espinal and several area teammates are 14 games into an anticipated 20-game schedule. The A’s, coached by Brian Cullen, has an Attleboro area all-star team in former Bombardiers Jon Candiales (UMass Dartmouth), Eoin Kelleher (St. Olaf) and Espinal; North Atlteboro High products Kyle Bolger (Framingham State) and Tyler LaFreniere (WNEC); and former Mansfield High Hornets Matt Farragher (Stonehill) and Aidan Cahill (Clark).
Espinal is a member of the Paul Bailey Blue Team in the Newport League, along with former AHS Bombardier Matt Callahan (Dean College) en route to another 20 games on the calendar.
“I got lucky with my situation because Candiales, we’ve been family friends for a long time, he told me about the Cranberry League team and he told that they were still on for the summer and looking at guys,” Espinal said. “And my L&M coach was telling me about the Newport League and got me there. I couldn’t sleep before my first game, I was so excited to be playing.”
There are at least three games a week in Newport and two to three games each weekend in the Cranberry League with both leagues using wooden bats.
Espinal has to make sure his calendar is correct as to what field to arrive at, often playing a 1 p.m. Sunday game in Newport and then high-tailing it for a Cranberry League doubleheader starting at 5 p.m.
“It’s a lot of baseball, but I’m not complaining,” he said.
“Winters have always been a grind for me,” said Espinal, a lifelong baseball proponent, of his training. “It’ pretty much every day. I don’t want to take a day off.”
Espinal had hoped that a strong spring season for the AHS baseball program might land him a spot on the roster of the Brockton Rox in the Futures League.
“With how everything turned out, I didn’t get to show them my potential,” he said. “They saw me at showcases, but they just can’t take anybody off of one game. They want to see them a bit, which was what the high school season would have done. I didn’t get that opportunity, but I can’t really complain.”
Espinal is just happy to be chasing fly balls and looking for his pitch at the plate after his hiatus from the diamond this spring.
“Going into quarantine, getting everything shut down, I was prepared as best I could be,” Espinal said.
The talent-rich Attleboro High baseball team was projected to be in the hunt to make a second straight appearance in the MIAA Division 1 South Sectional championship game.
“We had a lot of guys coming back, we had some good arms and we had a lot of good young talent which would have made an impact,” Espinal said. “I was so ready to get back on the field.”
Espinal had spent his off-season at an indoor facility in Smithfield, R.I., where many members of the Bryant University team worked out and with his Bombardier teammates at Hayward Field in Attleboro.
“Everyone had gotten their at-bats in, their reps in, everyone felt prepared,” he said of sitting out his senior season. “Quarantine happened and I didn’t know if I would be playing summer ball, so I was figuring that I would just try to get ready for college.”
Espinal had played in the L&M Baseball program in past fall, winter and summer seasons. His Bryant connections pitcher Chris Wright, a Bryant University product in the San Francisco Giants system, sought him out to face live pitching during March, April and May as well.
Espinal also faced another hot pitching prospect, R.I. native, C.J. Dandeneau, who attends the University of Connecticut and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I did that pretty much before the Cranberry League season began,” Espinal said of keeping his baseball spring training alive, even without live games. “I love the games at Cardines Field, it’s beautiful. It’s a great place to play.”
Best of all, Espinal has received word that he will be moving into a dorm at Bryant in a few weeks, “having a semi-normal” campus following the health and safety guidelines with both in class and on-line learning. Bryant is a member of the Northeast Conference and because the conference closed the window for fall competitions, the only baseball that Espinal will play during the fall ball season will be on campus with his Bulldog teammates.
“We should be able to workouts, practices, intra-squad games,” Espinal said. “Back in March, in the back of my mind, it did cross me that I wouldn’t be playing any games. If this (coronavirus) hadn’t happened, I’d be having my senior season at Attleboro High, be with my friends and competing, doing what I love to do.
“Every day in quarantine, every day, I remember thinking of how much getting to play baseball means to me.”