A few weeks back, I spotted (and shared) a post on social media written by the Bryant University Sports Information Department regarding a Coaches vs Cancer game. The game was scheduled for Saturday, May 1st at their home baseball field, Conaty Park against LIU (Long Island University). According to their baseball page, “The Bryant University baseball program has joined forces with the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation’s Vs. Cancer program to defeat childhood cancer, participating in the 2021 Vs. Cancer National Event that was created by coaches across the nation.” I reached out to Eric Hirschbein-Bodnar, who is an assistant coach and Director of Baseball Operations at Bryant University, regarding Bryant’s spectator policy and the possibility of me attending the May 1st game. Even with the relaxed restrictions on outdoor spectator and capacity limits from the State of Rhode Island, individual businesses and certainly schools still have specific policies which must be honored. My hope was that I could gain access to the game and help promote the efforts of Bryant Baseball in their efforts to help defeat childhood cancer.
While this process was taking place, I had posted the May 1st Bryant game on my Facebook page and I received a very interesting comment from Amy Antunes. Apparently, her son Noah, whom I had written about a few years back and then again recently along with his RI Renegades teammates, was slated to throw out the first pitch at the Coaches vs Cancer game. At that point, I was doubly excited at the possibility of attending the game. Conaty Park was on my short list of baseball fields in Rhode Island yet to be explored and photographed. The chance to catch Bryant baseball live, check out Conaty, possibly do a meet and greet with Noah and his family, and help promote the Coaches vs Cancer game – it all hinged on whether or not I could gain spectator or media access to the game.
Late Friday night, I got the text from Eric. “You’re all set to come tomorrow.” Eric sent me a health screening portal from Bryant University, which I had to pass in order to receive a large green check mark. I was to show this check mark to the attendant in the guard shack upon entering the campus of Bryant University. Masking and social distancing as well as other spectator policies could be found on Bryant University Athletics’ home page. On the morning of Saturday, May 1st, I logged onto the portal, entered my name, email address, phone number, and answered the health questions, then hit “submit”. A large green check mark appeared and I was cleared to attend the 2021 Coaches vs Cancer game, 1pm featuring Bryant University Baseball vs Long Island University at Conaty Park.
Bryant University is an absolutely spectacular college campus located in Smithfield, RI. From my home in North Kingstown, I took 95 North to 295N to the Route 7 exit, then a short drive on Route 7 to then take a left onto the driveway leading up to the campus. The campus features a perfect blend of newer construction, newer buildings, upgraded athletic fields along with timeless moss covered stone walls which form the perimeter of the athletic fields along with the wooden backdrop of Northern Rhode Island. Even an amateur photographer like me can take excellent photos at Bryant. I was so impressed with the campus. I parked just outside the soccer field area, made my way across the field, and spotted an opening in a stone wall up a small incline. From the opening in the stone wall, I caught my first glimpse of Conaty Park.
As I walked toward the field with my water bottle, notebook, sunglasses, reading glasses, and camera/phone I spotted a couple of fans and introduced myself. The Kelly family were in attendance to watch their son, Shane Kelly, a senior at Bryant from New Jersey. Proud parents who raved about the campus, the school, and of course their son playing baseball at Bryant. It was great to meet the Kelly family and hear more about their son’s experience at Bryant. After chatting for a few minutes, I excused myself and headed over to the bleachers behind home plate. This area behind home plate, which also houses the press box, was really impressive with a mix of traditional bleachers and folding stadium seats. Great views of the field and the campus activities surrounding the field. I took a seat on the top level of the bleachers just as the players were finishing their pre-game warmups.
It was then that I spotted a Bryant coach accompanied by a youth baseball player wearing a green (Smithfield Little League colors) sweatshirt, green hat who had walked out to the batter’s box with what appeared to be the starting lineup card for Bryant University and the first pitch/game ball. I looked over to Bryant’s dugout and saw more green – a Dad wearing a similar green sweatshirt and hat, a Mom taking photos/videos, and several others taking notice. There were camera and video personnel behind home plate. As I looked closer, yep, it was Noah Antunes from Smithfield. After the lineup cards were exchanged, Noah was instructed to go out to the mound to throw out the first pitch. If my eyes are correct, #18 Brandon Taylor from North Smithfield, RI was the catcher. Noah threw a perfect pitch, much to the delight of the family and fans in attendance, and the game was officially underway.
Fans – college students, family members, friends – starting showing up around 1st pitch and sat socially distant in the bleachers and along the perimeter of the field. Mr. Kelly and his family were just about halfway between the first base dugout and right field. In the distance, I could see some fans just passed the outfield fences. The PA Announcer had stated that masks and social distancing rules did apply to the game, so fans were asked to comply and from what I witnessed, they did. I stayed at the top bleacher spot for the first inning or two because it had an amazing view of the game and the other activities going on around Bryant’s campus. Just passed the baseball field, a softball game was going on. A track meet was taking place in the field and oval just passed the softball field. Students were jogging and walking and on the paved golf cart path that led from the parking lot to the fields. I felt safe and comfortable attending the game. Plus the weather was gorgeous – sunny skies, a bit windy but not uncomfortable.
As the game progressed and the in-between inning music began to play, I spotted Noah and his teammates and the man with the green sweatshirt from pre-game sitting on the opposite side of the bleachers from where I was. I packed up my stuff and walked over to introduce myself to who I thought was Dave Antunes, Noah’s Dad. It was easy to find him, he had “Antunes, Manager” on his sleeve. Great guy, proud parent, awesome baseball coach – he turned to his son, Noah, and Noah’s friends to introduce me. The boys, Smithfield Little League 12U and RI Renegades teammates, had come to support their teammate as he threw out the first pitch. Dave and I chatted about the game in front of us along with a host of baseball topics. Dave’s older son, Matt, plays for Smithfield High School and was playing LaSalle Academy in a scrimmage game on Saturday. We chatted about baseball fields, sportsmanship, the 12U scene for Rhode Island baseball in 2021, and why hitting the cutoff is so important! Dave has a great baseball intellect and it was awesome trying to keep up with him. I grabbed a photo of the group, including Noah’s first pitch baseball. Sincerely, it was great to meet Noah, Dave, and his supportive teammates! Continued success, and most importantly, good health!!!
I was interested in the fans stationed just passed the outfield fencing area and what their view was like, so I hopped off the bleachers and made my way around the third base perimeter of Conaty Park. From there I could see the Bryant bullpen area, and signage reading “Bryant Baseball.” To my left, there was more of the track and field meet competitors and activities. I finally made it out to the stone wall perimeter of the field and spotted fans in folding chairs just relaxing and watching the game. The sun was shining brightly and there was some shaded areas where some fans had camped out at. The stone walls once again provided the perfect, natural perimeter between the field area and the wooden area.
Here is a video I took from an awesome spot around the center field area, sitting on the stone wall perimeter.
As I made my way around the perimeter of the outfield, I caught a glimpse of the Bryant Softball game. I stopped to take a few photos from the right field area as well as the Conaty Park dedication plaque, which sits just passed the right field foul pole.
It was an inspiring and incredible visit to watch Bryant University take on LIU in the Coaches vs Cancer game on Saturday. I had a fantastic visit with Dave and Noah and his teammates, and got to watch Noah throw out a great first pitch. Bryant’s starting pitcher threw the ball well, just had a few tough breaks and some calls that went against him early. Bryant got behind on the scoreboard early and ended up losing a tough one, 8-3 to LIU. I did get to watch Warwick’s Matt Woods and South Kingstown’s Liam McGill play for Bryant, both of whom are having excellent 2021 seasons. I spotted Mr. Kelly just as a foul ball was hit over his head and into the soccer field area. We exchanged hello’s and good-byes as he hustled down to retrieve the baseball. His son, Shane, went 1 for 4 with a double. I took the golf cart path out passed the softball field, track, conditioning complex to the parking lot area. The weather was amazing, the field looked amazing, my entire Rhode Island Baseball Experience at Bryant University was AMAZING. I can’t wait to visit Bryant again.