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CCRI honors former major league pitcher
Rheal Cormier ’88
April 6, 2012
The Community College of Rhode Island Department of Athletics retired jersey No. 20 in honor of former major league pitcher Rheal Cormier '88 at the Knight Campus in Warwick on March 31, the close of All College Week. The ceremony marked the first time in CCRI's 47-year history that the college retired a jersey in honor of an athlete.
Cormier was a pitcher for the Knights baseball team and went on to pitch 16 seasons of major league baseball.
“Twenty five years ago, it all started for me on this campus,” Cormier said, addressing a crowd of former coaches, teammates, CCRI baseball players and fans.
Originally from New Brunswick Canada, Cormier was recruited with his brother Donny to play for the Knights in 1987. He arrived in Rhode Island speaking little English (coming from a French-speaking part of Canada) and was “struck by the warmth of the people here,” he said.
Even after 683 professional appearances split between the St. Louis Cardinals, Montreal Expos, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds, and Boston Red Sox, Cormier said his memories of playing at CCRI remain strong.
“What I have learned is that the small things along the way are the most important things,” Cormier said, adding that he has stayed in touch with his coaches and fellow players from his CCRI days. Many of them were on hand to congratulate him at the retirement ceremony.
Cormier also thanked his CCRI head coach, Art Pontarelli, for developing his game in his early days. Cormier arrived at CCRI able to throw a fastball, a curveball, and a changeup, a skillset common to most pitchers. Pontarelli encouraged Cormier to work on a pitch called a split-finger fastball, which would move the ball in a different way.
“The first time I tried a pitch with that new grip the ball did exactly what it should have done,” Cormier said. “The pitch I learned on the field right there [at CCRI] became my out pitch in the big leagues.”
Jay Grenier, who was assistant coach of the baseball team while Cormier was at CCRI, spoke about the phenomenal seasons the Knights had with Cormier.
In 1988, the team placed third in the Junior College World Series. Grenier said that when the team arrived at the playoffs in Colorado, “I thought we would be there for a few days, but we ended up on a magical run that lasted 14 days.”
Cormier was named Junior College Player of the Year during this season.
“When you get an honor like that in tiny little Rhode Island … that’s a phenomenal feat,” Grenier said.
CCRI President Ray Di Pasquale, CCRI Athletic Director Joe Pavone ’72 and CCRI Head Coach Ken Hopkins ’75 also spoke at the ceremony. Hopkins has more wins to his record than any other CCRI coach and it was his idea to retire Cormier’s jersey – CCRI’s most successful coach honoring one of its most successful players.
Hopkins shared with the audience a story about Cormier’s time in the minor leagues before he was drafted by St. Louis. Cormier was on a bus traveling between games and his teammates were sharing what colleges they had gone to, such as Stanford and Florida State. When it was his turn, Cormier answered with pride, “The Community College of Rhode Island.” He was the only one of those players to make it to the major leagues.
“For all of us who ever wore the CCRI uniform,” Hopkins said, “we were on that bus with you.”