Longtime high school baseball coaches Joe Small and Steve Simoes are inducted into the MBCA Hall of Fame
When Joe Small walked into the baseball job at Hopedale High, it only took the first day of tryouts for him to assume it wasn’t going to be a staircase to the all-star storyline.
“Eight children showed,” he recalls. “I thought it took nine to play a game.”
The little ones begged the kids to try their luck at baseball. “A kid didn’t know which end of the bat to use.”
Hopedale went through the season with 11 players. They finished 7-7. Not bad at all, all things considered. Years passed and the Blue Raiders went 60-80. No one thought he was broadcasting a Hall of Fame career.
Ha. When Small retired in 2013 after 24 seasons and 330 wins, guess what? He has just been inducted into the Mass. Baseball Coaches Association. His teams have won seven Dual Valley League championships, gone to seven sectional finals and found themselves in the playoffs 18 times in a row.
Hall of fame. Oh yes.
The best Blue Raider team? “Every team was different,” said Small, who lives in Florida with his wife, Sue. “But in 2008 we beat undefeated West Boylston for the district title.”
Little Hopedale did this? Open eyes.
Twenty years ago, Steve Simoes took over a small, struggling baseball program at Hopkinton High. A guy from Connecticut, Simoes had never heard of Hopkinton. He graduated from Boston College and navigated the business world. He ends up giving in to a higher vocation.
“My heart was in teaching and coaching,” Simoes said. “It was in my blood.”
He moved to Natick. This would prove to be a good omen. One day, looking for a coaching job, he read an article in the sports section of Middlesex News (now known as MetroWest Daily News). John Carroll was the high school athletic director, and more than that. He was a Hall of Fame baseball coach and Natick legend. The school’s lavish baseball complex is named after him.
Carroll was a charismatic and connected man in the sports world in high school. Simoes decided “I’m going to talk to this guy.” While visiting the AD office, Carroll’s secretary, Barbara Gershkowitz, told her boss that a young man was looking for a coaching job. Carroll was busy at the time, but Simoes overheard him say “tell him to come back tomorrow at noon.” I’ll find him something.
Simoes returned; he came out of Carroll’s office as the new JV coach at Westwood High. “And I had never even met (Carroll),” Simoes said. A career was launched.
Like Joe Small, a Hall of Fame career. He and Small were inducted into the Mass Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame on Saturday at the Four Points Sheraton in Wakefield.
Those were the days
Joe Small is 70, and yes, he loves how different things were when he was a kid rushing the ballparks in Hopedale.
“Baseball is all we’ve done,” Small said. “Now they all have computers. Before, we had to get up to turn off the television.
Baseball was all Small needed.
At Hopedale High, he played three years in college as a right-handed shortstop and pitcher.
“We beat Dennis-Yarmouth in the state title game.”
He also played two years for the prestigious American Legion team Milford Post 59. Another crown was on the horizon. “We beat Wellesley for the state title. It was a best-of-three series.
Milford had also won a best-of-three series against Framingham Post 74 to get to the showdown at Wellesley.
Legion baseball was very prominent at this time. Against Framingham, Small recalled facing Dave Schuler, a hard-throwing southpaw who pitched for the Angels and Braves in the big leagues. Schuler was a product of Marian High in Framingham, now closed.
Milford Legion also faced Wellesley’s Ace Adams who was drafted by the Cardinals but opted to sign up at Michigan. Adams also pitched BP for the Red Sox for several seasons.
Ironically, Small and Adams found themselves roommates when they played for Orleans in the Cape League.
After high school, Small went to Quinsigamond Community for two years. “I was going to Framingham State to play for (coach) Steve Ryder.” Ryder, a superb outfielder at Framingham High, played in the Milwaukee Braves organization for several years.
Small earned a baseball scholarship to the University of New Haven. “My senior year, we went to Division 2 College World Series in Illinois. We won two games.” But not the title. It had still been a great ride.
Small was drafted by the San Francisco Giants, hitting Rookie League ball well, and then broke his ankle. He was never the same. It was time to go home.
“I worked as a reserve policeman for 10 years, then I got into painting,” he said.
But Hopedale was Small’s perpetual playground.
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“That’s where everyone knew Joe,” said Justin Richards, who played for Small and later coached with him. “He was tough but fair. He got the best out of you.
No coach enjoys losing. Small took it to the extreme. “He was fierce, he hated losing,” Richards recalled. “He was a great mentor. If I needed baseball advice, I went to Joe.
“He took over a program that was struggling and built it up. He did it the right way.
walk the walk
Difficult for Simoes, 58, to bypass the playing fields. One season ends, the next begins. In her head.
“I’m really excited to start building a team in the offseason,” he said.
During his run at Hopkinton, Simoes changed direction, coaching at Millis High for two years and attending Holy Cross. The road led back to Hopkinton.
The 2004 Hillers went 24-2, winning the Division 2 state title. “Special team,” the coach said.
People who have coached with Simoes praise it.
“Steve is really supportive of his assistants,” said Kiely Murray, currently a member of his team and school counselor. “He walks the walk.”
Murray played softball and volleyball at Holliston High and coached those sports at Westborough.
“She’s been invaluable to me,” Simoes said.
For more than 30 years, Keith Verra, a native of Natick, has assisted Simoes, including passing Millis. “Steve Simoes is the best baseball teacher and communicator I’ve ever seen,” said Verra, who has had his own success story. In 2003, he guided Marian High to the Division 3 title. He is the head coach of Northbridge High now.
Simoes stayed in touch with his coaches during the shattered 2020 pandemic season. “Twice a week we had a Zoom link,” Murray said. As for former players, she said “everyone who plays for Steve stays in touch”.
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Admittedly, Simoes didn’t fully grasp Hopkinton’s early restructuring when he took the job. The Hillers had won only a handful of games in the previous three seasons. “It was a small school. There were only three seniors on the team. We started freshmen and sophomores,” Simoes said.
When the team finished with a 6-13 record, the Middlesex News cheered with a headline that suggested the Hillers must have discovered a magic potion.
Simoes witnessed vast changes in high school athletics. “Almost all kids specialize in a sport. Private lessons, AAU and travel teams. We try to encourage multi-sport athletes. Fortunately, the training of children has not changed much.
Like Small, Simoes has it all figured out. The Hall of Fame kept the count. “It’s an honor,” Simoes said. “I’m happy with the guys I’m going to play with.” He reflected on when “Hopkinton and Hopedale were two of the smaller schools in Eastern Mass.”
“I can’t wait to go (to the HOF) with Simoes,” Small said before the momentous evening. Their careers have a similar ring. Their love of the game, teaching their players not just the game but also slices of life. Breathe on game days and even training.
Joe Small a painter; Steve Simoes a businessman? No chance. Just a few small town guys with one heart and one mind. Play ball.
Lenny Megliola can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @lennymegs.
This article originally appeared on MetroWest Daily News: Joe Small Steve Simoes inducted into MBCA Hall of Fame