Saturday morning, as per policy of the University of Rhode Island Athletic Department, I logged into the Covid-19 Assessment portal. In order to ensure that visitors are coming onto URI’s campus safely, this test must be filled out, per the AD’s office. I completed and passed the Covid-19 Self Assessment Test and was granted admission for the 1pm game at Beck Field. Although I felt extremely excited about seeing my first live baseball game of 2021, I couldn’t help but feel bad for the parents of the players who unfortunately could not attend. On a side note, I hope our Rhode Island state guidelines for attending events such as ball games, weddings, and graduations continue in a positive direction so friends and families can have uplifting experiences like I had yesterday.
The calendar date yesterday was March 13, so technically yes we are still in Winter, 2021. Full disclosure, I don’t usually get to watch live baseball games until April but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to watch two Rhode Island baseball powerhouses face each other – University of Rhode Island vs Bryant University. With mask on and several layers due to the 40 something degrees out, I checked into the visitor’s table located just behind the Bill Beck Field plaque, signed in, and made my way over to the stands on the first base side of the field. I sat down and was immediately bombarded with the sights and sounds of live baseball.
It was a windy day at Beck Field, which is to say the sun comes up in the East and sets in the West. From every person’s lips I spoke to yesterday, Beck Field is one of the windiest ball parks around Rhode Island baseball. The sun was shining brightly with barely a single cloud in the sky. The American Flag was flickering beautifully in centerfield, gracefully showing everyone in attendance which direction the wind was blowing. The turf field looked so perfect from foul line to foul line, certainly nothing like my backyard which in its current state is a shade uglier than brown. Players in the dugouts, coaches, umpires, URI staff, myself, the few students attending the game sitting in the bleachers in front and to the side of me – all wearing masks and/or face coverings nearly 100% of the time. With the exception of each school’s pitcher on the mound, most of the players I observed in the field defensively were also wearing face coverings.
Before I snapped a single photo, I relaxed and listened to the very entertaining sounds of baseball chatter coming from each dugout. URI was at bat in the bottom of the 1st inning when I arrived and the URI dugout was enthusiastically cheering on their hitters. From the Bryant dugout, coaches were yelling out defensive signals and pitch selection signs. Back to URI’s dugout where I could hear individual players yelling out encouragement like only baseball players can yell out. Then back to Bryant’s dugout where they were screaming out congratulatory remarks to their Pitcher, who just blew a high fastball by a URI hitter. Back to URI’s dugout for more instructions and encouragement and commentary about what to look for on the next pitch, this time in both English and Spanish. Back to Bryant’s dugout when the final strike was recorded and the bottom of the 1st inning was completed. And then the between inning music began as URI took the field and Bryant headed to their dugout to bat. I used the word “entertaining” and I mean it wholeheartedly. The hilarious chatter of baseball players is one of those incredible sounds you only hear at a live baseball game.
URI and Bryant University play at the Division 1 level of NCAA Baseball, which means these are two top baseball programs not only in Rhode Island, but the entire country. From what I observed yesterday, there was some elite talent on display on both sides of the field. Pitching dominated the first inning or two of the game, with pitchers from both URI and Bryant exhibiting above average fastballs and crisp breaking balls. To watch a Division 1 Pitcher wind up and absolutely blow a fastball, belt high, by a Division 1 hitter is a thing of beauty. The whole sequence happens in merely seconds from the time the Pitcher gets the sign, starts his windup, releases the ball, the hiss, the sizzle, the laser like precision, the violent swing and miss, the sound of the thump in the catcher’s glove, and the call from the umpire, “Steeeeerike!!!” Apart from a few hits, walks and runs leading into the 3rd inning, pitching was the story early on. In fact, it was 2-0 URI, going into the bottom of the 5th inning.
Baseball is a streaky sport and runs can come in bunches. Perfect example was the bottom of the 5th inning for URI Baseball. Bryant and URI had remained close on the scoreboard and both were just sprinkling in hits and baserunners in the first 5 innings. If a baserunner did get on and attempted to steal 2nd base, the catchers were quick to change their fate, throwing out a number of would-be basestealers. In the bottom of the 2nd alone, URI’s Jordan Laske threw out two potential basestealers heading for 2nd base with absolute rockets to the fielder at 2nd, who merely caught the ball and placed his glove on the ground. So, in the bottom of the 5th inning, in a very close 2-0 game, URI ran 9 batters up to the plate, recorded 2 walks and 5 hits including a bases clearing double, was the benefit of a throwing error, and wound up scoring 5 important runs. And in the process, changed the momentum of the game significantly.
A baseball matchup can be as simple as a Pitcher vs a Hitter. But the real fun comes with you have runners on base, a close ball game, less than 2 outs, a tired pitcher, a veteran hitter, and then the matchup becomes much more complex. Yesterday, in that bottom of the 5th inning, there was a situation with a runner at first, a runner at third, a Pitcher struggling to get an out, a left handed batter at the plate, and all of the possible situations and moves that each team could make. Is the batter going to square and bunt, maybe a safety or suicide squeeze? Will the runner at first take off for second base to eliminate the chance of a double play? What pitch selection would be best to get an out? URI’s dugout roared on each pitch in anticipation of a timely hit. Bryant’s dugout screamed out defensive strategy and encouragement for their Pitcher. Base coaches at first and third paced and yelled out to their base runners to “get one more step, one more step” in the hopes there was a passed ball or batted ball in play. Each pitch meant something and the intensity had ratcheted up to a whole new level in this important game sequence of events. It was what teams practice for in December, January, February indoors, pouring over every possible scenario and situation so their players can be ready when the time comes. Instincts are not forged in March or April on the playing field. Rather through hours, weeks, and years of practicing baseball. As it turned out, this left handed batter ended up earning an important walk, which loaded the bases for the next batter, who proceeded to lace a double to the left field fence, clearing the bases. For me, the consumate baseball fan, it was baseball bliss.
With the score 7-0 heading into the top of the 6th inning, I was positioned behind the Bryant Baseball dugout which was on the third base side of the field. I didn’t catch who said it but the call to action was clear as could be. “27 outs, guys, there are 27 outs in a game.” Your team is down 7-0, you just had a tough inning which produced 5 runs for your opponent, you are on the road, the wind is blowing like crazy, it feels like 25 degrees out there, you are playing your first game in almost 2 weeks (due to a positive case of Covid-19 in the Bryant program), and your coach says “27 outs.” That was a really cool baseball moment for me. And a gigantic coaching lesson for coaches of all levels. The game wasn’t called after the 5th inning, there were still 4 innings to play. The message, the game ain’t over until its over. Great way to end my baseball experience at Beck Field with those words of encouragement from the Bryant dugout.
My first live baseball game of 2021 was incredible. The hilarious chatter coming from URI and Bryant’s dugouts was so great. The field conditions, the beautiful American Flag waving in centerfield, the sunny skies, the ping of the bats, the hiss of the fastballs, the thump of the catcher’s mitt receiving those fastballs, I could go on and on. Baseball is by far the best sport to see live. There are so many nuances to the game that you just miss by watching it on TV or the internet or your phone. URI and Bryant University have top notch baseball programs and incredibly talented players representing their schools. URI did end up prevailing 7-0 yesterday and the two schools meet again today at 1pm at Beck Field.
Thank you to Coach David Fischer of URI Baseball for his assistance in connecting me with the URI Athletic Department to apply for a visitor pass. And good luck to URI Baseball and Bryant University Baseball today and going forward in 2021.