The baseball fan experience is back at most ballparks nationwide due in part to CDC restrictions being lifted for outdoor events, like baseball games. Here in Rhode Island, I am especially thankful that the 2021 Cardines Field and Newport Summer baseball experience is back and in full swing. Newport Summer Baseball Fans, just a year removed from having to watch games exclusively online (side note there was no Gulls season last year, there were Newport Collegiate Baseball League games), in a far away parking lot or playground, or perhaps not at all can now walk up to a ticket booth, announce the number in their party, purchase a ticket or tickets, and walk into historic Cardines Field to look around for a seat. That first glance when you enter through the main gate behind home plate, next to the grandstands that house the press and PA announcer, is absolutely spectacular every time I do it. I have been to games at Cardines as a player and fan for over 30 years and I am here to tell you it never gets old!!!
Monday, July 5th was the observed holiday for most workers, like myself, so I had the day/night off. After a rainy weekend, I was happy to see that the weather would cooperated for the Newport Gulls (of the New England Collegiate Baseball League) vs the Bristol Blues home game at Cardines. Traffic was busier than normal traveling over to Newport from North Kingstown, as families headed to local beaches to watch their town’s fireworks shows, which had been postponed from Saturday Night due to the downpours of rain we had. Rachel and I found a great parking spot just up the street from Cardines and we arrived at the ball park shortly before first pitch ceremonies. It was Star Wars Night at Cardines and there were both Rebel and Alliance characters greeting fans on the street, at the ticket booth, and at the main gate. I said hi and how are you to one of the Stormtroopers and detected a Boston accent. “Naught baaad,” he replied and I chuckled a bit as I walked into Cardines.
If you read my blogs, you will see that I typically walk around baseball fields to gain different views of the game. For last nights Gulls vs Blues game, I decided to just sit in one spot and just soak it all in. The weather was still cloudy at game time, although the sun was trying really hard to push through the clouds. I was hoping one of the Star Wars higher ups at the game, like Kylo Ren or Darth Vader or Obi Won could take a moment and use the force to move the clouds out and the sunshine in. But they were very busy entertaining fans and getting their photos taken with kids at the game. Rachel and I took up a spot in the third base bleachers, all the way on the top row. From this vantage point, I could see the entire field, all of the bleachers, the dugouts, the bullpen area, the entire Cardines Field fan experience.
It didn’t take long for my baseball senses to be engaged because I heard the incredible tones of long time and legendary PA announcer Don O’Hanley’s voice. O’Hanley is to Cardines Field as Scully is to Chavez Ravine or Castiglione is to Fenway, that’s how high praise I think of him. Those deep voiced and smooth lines announcing, “from Duke University and Westport Connecticut,” in between song lyrics and hip hop beats are such a huge part of my Cardines Summer Baseball experience. O’Hanley helped out from time to time with a few sarcastic announcements regarding birthday parties in the stands, the Giant Glass foul ball promos, and funny remarks about suburban South Kingstown or that Warwick was located across the pond. And right on cue, for the traditional 7th inning stretch, there was O’Hanley exciting the crowd with his rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Don O’Hanley, what a treasure we have to look forward to at Cardines Field every summer for Newport Gulls baseball games.
As I watched the incredible baseball talent on the field, I also kept an eye on the fans in the stands. Kid with baseball gloves and Newport Gulls hats filled the bleachers in front of me, many of them not from Rhode Island and perhaps vacationing locally for the July 4th holiday weekend. Their parents, friends, and family members all gathered around them talking and laughing and catching up on each others lives. Cardines Fields is such an incredible family experience for so many reasons and I was so happy to see it nearly filled last night with so many fans – young and old. At the half inning marks, the Gulls marketing and promotional staff invited young fans onto the field for games like donut eating contests, running the bases versus your sibling, and hula hoop twirling – all tied in with a local sponsor and a gift certificate for that sponsor to one or both of the participants. Around the 6th inning or so, there was a call for any young fan that wanted to race in the outfield. Tons of kids headed down to the bullpen area just left of left field. Then, the announcer told them to get ready, and some of the kids just took off. A huge fan race ensued in the outfield, not sure what the end result was but I can assure you the kids had a blast.
Part of the fan experience for me at these New England Collegiate Baseball League games is watching Rhode Island born players compete in this very prestigious summer baseball league. For the Bristol Blues, Rhode Island College and Warwick standout Nate Vigeant started at 3rd base and batted 7th in the lineup. Vigeant ended up going 1 for 2 with an RBI and a walk. I snagged a few photos of him at the plate, including this at bat in the 2nd inning.
South Kingstown native and URI pitcher Bo Brutti took the mound in the top of the 8th inning with Newport hanging on to a 5-2 lead. Brutti, pitching from the stretch, recorded 3 quick outs on just 12 pitchers, striking out 2 Blues batters in his one inning outing. I grabbed a few photos of his one inning outing, including a strikeout of Chris Davis to end the 8th inning. Davis, a Duke University outfielder for the Blues, is the son of Rece Davis of ESPN, who was in attendance last night sitting just a few rows south of me.
The rocking chair section of the left field bleachers, the snack shack, 30 to 40 of the best collegiate baseball players in the USA, the right field fence shouting “hey I’m only 300 feet away!!!”, the new scoreboard lit up with fastballs approaching 90 mph or higher, the tree in fair territory that prevented a 3 run home run to happen, fans chanting “Day-O” with the song over the PA system, donut eating contest, Star Wars characters interacting with fans, the Gulls mascot Gully greeting young fans, Military Veterans, Host Families, Chuck Paiva, Darth Vader, Storm Troopers, Chewbacca, Rece Davis, Don O’Hanley – they were all part of the summer baseball experience there last night at Cardines Field. This was not my usual walk around the park, take a million photos, bring my notebook and take notes type of game. This was a game to just sit or stand in one spot and just take in the incredible Cardines Field Summer Baseball Experience. For lifelong fans of baseball or someone who just happened to be vacationing in Newport, Cardines Field in the summer is still one of the best Rhode Island Baseball Experiences you can hope to have. Summer baseball is back in a big way in Newport, RI and I was just so thrilled to be a part of it last night.
For more information on Newport Gulls games and events, go to www.newportgulls.com. And dont’ forget to sign up for their newsletter, News From The Nest, to read about upcoming game promotions, like last night’s Star Wars Night as well as events like the 2021 New England Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game on Sunday July 18th.