Newport, Rhode Island is an American history buff’s dream city to explore. Newport, in my opinion, has always embraced the historical aspect of their city – the Mansions with all of their grandeur and rich history, St. Mary’s Church where John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier exchanged wedding vows, Cardines Field (I have written many, many stories about that historical wonder.) Personally, I love American history and love to explore and frankly love Newport. And so, I traveled to Newport yesterday on New Year’s Day, 2021 to explore an interesting piece of history with a side of baseball – Vernon Park and Cottrell Field.
Vernon Park is located off Broadway and Freeborn Street or Vernon Ave near Newport Hospital and just a short drive off the Newport Bridge, if you take the Newport Grand exit. I love the quaint, tight side streets of Newport which were full of neighborhood activities like locals walking their dogs, joggers, and kids playing basketball in their driveways as I navigated down Vernon Avenue. I found out about Vernon Park sort of by accident. I work in shipping logistics and the company I work for, ABF Freight, had a package pickup on an adjacent street. I saw Vernon Park on the GPS map and was immediately intrigued. Tucked into this neighborhood, off Broadway, without having played there or coached there, Vernon Park was not on my RI baseball radar until recently.
When I pulled up to Vernon Park, I was immediately struck by the incredible stone structure located on the lawn behind home plate. So unique, so historical (perhaps), so Newport indeed. The gates to the park were open, so I made my way over to Cottrell Baseball Field and took in the expanse of Vernon Park. Located just passed the centerfield area were tennis courts and folks playing Pickleball. There was a playground located next to the tennis courts and easy street access to the park as well. Huge cherry trees lined the perimeter of the baseball field. I couldn’t help but happily think these massive trees could somehow play a role in the outcome of a play, say a high fly ball to right field, otherwise catchable, but perhaps caught up in the limbs of one of these majestic cherry trees. How Mother Nature may give a struggling batter another chance at a base hit in an important game.
I walked around Cottrell Field to check out the field’s dimensions. Right field had a posted sign stating “265” which noted 265 feet from home plate. There were no markings in left field but by my limited ability to gauge distance, I would say you would need to eat your Wheaties to hit one out. And to hit one out of the centerfield area, you would need Wheaties topped with Spinach and a really stiff gale wind heading straight out to the tennis courts. The field itself was in pretty good shape for January 1st. According to a sign on an adjacent building, several local teams and schools utilize Cottrell Field. Local F. E. Thompson Middle School is one of them.
When I returned to the home plate area of Cottrell Field, I took a moment to walk around the unique stone structure with the chimney and slide. There were stairs leading up to a landing area, which gave me a great view of Vernon Park and Cottrell Field. As I do with every baseball field I visit, I searched around the stone structure for markings or plaques but was unsuccessful. Luckily, we have “Google” and so I entered “Vernon Park, Newport” into a search and came up with some really cool webpage results. One result I found really fascinating was the Newport Historical Society‘s page on the Works Progress Administration or WPA and their contributions to parks in Newport. According to the Newport Historical Society, “Locally the WPA built sidewalks and most of the stone walls, grandstands, concession buildings and other facilities in Newport’s public parks. Vernon Park, Freebody Park and Cardines Field are the most visible examples.” The stone craftmanship is just incredible. And given that it was built in the WPA era of the US history, this structure is roughly 80 years old which is just blew me away.
And here is the view from atop this stone structure.
I remember snapping a photo of a WPA plaque located just inside the entrance to Cardines Field years ago, I just never took the time to find out its significance. It goes without saying the Cardines Field is one of the most historic baseball fields not only in Newport, not only in Rhode Island, but in this entire universe!!!
It was an incredible first day of 2021 visiting Vernon Park and Cottrell Field in historic Newport, RI. The tree lined left and right field areas give this park such an old school, comfortable feel to it, I just loved that. Tucked into this quaint Newport neighborhood with tennis courts and playground, this community baseball field and park was an incredible find for me. And reading more about how the Works Progress Administration helped build structures and parks in the 1930s and 1940s in Newport was really interesting reading for me. So, if you are a US History buff, love baseball, and are perhaps headed to Newport, I highly recommend a visit to Vernon Park and Cottrell Field.