This past Sunday, I had an opportunity to watch a live baseball game at Cardines Field, Newport. The Newport Collegiate Baseball League (NCBL), newly formed in the wake of the New England Collegiate Baseball League cancelling its 2020 Summer season, began its league schedule this past week, with Opening Day/Night on Thursday July 9th. Mike Falcone, Director of Operations for the Newport Gulls of the NECBL, and a host of others worked feverishly this spring to compile 4 competitive baseball teams of local New England collegiate players, 4 top level coaches and coaching staffs (again all locals), and put together a safety plan for everyone involved to be able to play baseball this summer. Cranston’s Coast to Coast Promotions helped with the league’s hats, game jerseys, even face masks. Mike worked with the City of Newport on a safety plan and how it would be executed for his league’s summer schedule. It took months of hard work and dedication to make this dream a reality and for baseball to come to life this summer in Newport. And I couldn’t wait to see it for myself.
In the onset, The NCBL and Cardines Field does not allow fans to attend the games inside the park. Only media and NCBL staff are allowed inside Cardines at this point, although Director Falcone is hopeful that fans will be allowed to attend at some point this summer. To gain admission into the ballpark, I had to petition to the league’s operations staff and let them know which game I would be attending. When I arrived at Cardines on Sunday, I was asked a few health questions and my temperature was taken. Also, I was required to wear a mask at all times where social distancing was a concern. And encouraged to wear it throughout the game in general. Media was asked to stay behind home plate along with the other NCBL staff. The staff included league reporters, photographers, live game broadcasters, camera personnel, and ballpark’s announcer.
Meanwhile, outside of the ballpark, fans gathered around Cardines Field. Just passed the left field fence is a neighborhood playground. Fans, family members, and other interested spectators lined up (first come, first serve) along the fence, under the shady trees, and around the playground to watch the game. I spoke to one of the player’s parents who simply said “If I can’t go in, at least I can see him play from here.”
Cardines Field is so unique in so many ways. One of the unique aspects of Cardines is the “hockey” style dugouts. The dugouts are situated right next to each other on the first base line. Most ball parks have opposing dugouts – one on the first base line and one on the third base line. When the players were not on the field or at bat, they were all sitting in the stands, not the dugouts. The stands were marked with an “X” so players could see where to socially distance themselves from each other. All of their gear that would normally be hanging in the dugout was in the stands. Bats, helmets, and baseball bags lined the stands along with the players who were not in the game or at bat.
When a runner reached first base, the runner and the first baseman would put their masks on. The umpire in the field wore a mask. Players elected to bat with or without a mask. Fielders were wearing face coverings in the infield for the most part. The coaches wore face coverings when they trotted out to coach first or third base. The media, the photographers, the play by play announcers, myself, we were all wearing mask for the majority of the game.
It was weird to watch the game and not heard the roar of the crowd on each hit, each pitch, each amazing defensive play. There were two home runs hit while I was at the game, and we (the 10 or 11 of us in the stands) all clapped and cheered as loud as we could. There was a really nice defensive play by the NCBL – Black’s second baseman, who dove, got up, and made a sensational throw to first to record an out – we all cheered loudly. In between innings, the ballpark’s PA system played some loud music to try and simulate a “normal” game and “normal” game conditions. At times, it was so quiet, I kept my conversations to a minimum during the live game action for fear they would be picked up by the live broadcast. I waited to chat in between innings to the various staff and media that were with me in the stands.
As for the play on the field, I was so impressed by the talent on display. Top collegiate players from local New England schools as well as recent Rhode Island High School graduates (Class of 2019) comprised the four NCBL teams – Black, Blue, White, and Orange. There are players from URI, RIC, Bryant, Boston College, just to name a few schools. Tucker Flint, former Bishop Hendricken High School and now University of Maryland baseball player, cranked one high and over the right field fence. Bo Brutti, South Kingstown High School and now URI Ram baseball player threw some absolute GAS on the mound. Alex Ramirez, Central High School grad and now URI Ram baseball player hit one out to dead right center field and played amazing shortstop. These along with a host of other star players braved the heat and humidity of a hot July Sunday afternoon and played a very competitive game.
I got a chance in between innings to walk around Cardines and take a few photos of the famous ballpark. The creaky wooden planks of the bleachers, those choice seats behind the third base line in the bleachers (there is a wooden cutout, maybe for a camera or photographer), the backdrop of the houses and neighborhood businesses of Newport, the wonderful “antiqueness” of one (if not the) of the oldest baseball parks in the entire USA. I have a lot of great memories of Cardines as a player and now as a fan.
I had a blast attending the Newport Collegiate Baseball League at Cardines Field. I am excited to go back again to see another game and watch some of the best college baseball players play on one of the most historic baseball fields in the entire USA. Special thanks to Mike Falcone and his operations staff for granting me access to the game.