The 2021 New England Collegiate Baseball League season began on Thursday, June 3rd with 5 Opening Day games followed by another 6 on June 4th. Our two Rhode Island teams – The Newport Gulls and the Ocean State Waves – began their seasons on the road. The Newport Gulls began their season on June 3rd vs The Valley Blue Sox. The Ocean State Waves began their season on June 4th vs The Bristol Blues. After not having a season in 2020, the collective sighs, cheers, and applause could be heard in NECBL ballparks from Maine to Connecticut.
And for me the Rhode Island baseball fan, I was so excited to attend a Gulls game at Cardines, a Waves game at Old Mountain Field, and be a part of a very special Rhode Island Baseball Experience – The New England Collegiate Baseball League. Every summer, the talent on the baseball fields of New England from Sanford, ME to Keene, NH to Martha’s Vineyard to Danbury, CT for these NECBL games gets better and better. Some of the top collegiate baseball players from all over the United States spend their summers in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and yes right here in Rhode Island to play baseball at the highest of levels against competition at the very highest of levels. Just this summer, I attended a Newport Gulls game featuring a home run by the Gull’s Justin Guerrera. It was a monster shot over the left field fence. Days later, Guerra was drafted in the 2021 Major League Baseball Draft (20th Round) and had signed a professional contract with the New York Mets. And that’s just one player, one example. The NECBL has a page devoted to MLB Draft and current/former players who have made it the Major Leagues.
The first NECBL game I attended this summer was actually in Mystic, CT. Ocean State Waves vs Mystic Schooners on a Sunday night, June 6th. Fitch High School is the home field for the Schooners, which is just a short drive from the Mystic Seaport area. This was my first glimpse of the Waves roster, anchored once again by Waves President and GM Eric Hirschbein-Bodnar. Both teams featured several players with Rhode Island ties and I was excited to see them playing at this very high level. Fans sat in the bleachers, found spots behind home plate, and crowded the parking lot just past the outfield fences. The weather was ideal for baseball, the play on the field was exceptional, and my spirit was re-energized after a 1 year hiatus from NECBL competition.
My first Ocean State Waves home game at Old Mountain Field, Wakefield was Saturday June 12th vs The Newport Gulls. The NECBL/Rhode Island series is called the Pell Bridge Series, rightly so because these teams travel over the Newport Pell Bridge to play one and other. The weather was spectacular for summer baseball. The kids games in between innings was back as Waves interns had kids running the bases, fishing, throwing huge dice, and having a blast. Fans were back in the bleachers behind home plate and along the parking lot heading out towards left field, and lined up along the right field fences. The banners were back up on the outfield fences, showcasing the sponsors of the Waves. The PA announcer was back calling out “that foul ball is courtesy of Hal’s Auto Body.” Splash, the Waves mascot, was back walking around, shaking hands, taking selfies with fans of all ages. I walked around the field a few times taking photos and watching the game from different view points. I had a smile on my face the entire game and I was so psyched to see NECBL baseball back at Old Mountain Field, Wakefield.
June was a very busy month for Rhode Island High School baseball so I didn’t get to a Gulls home game until July. My first home game for the Newport Gulls at Cardines Field, Newport was Monday July 5th vs the Bristol Blues. That welcoming sign on the facing outside Cardines “Baseball Game Today,” the lineup cards written out on a dry erase board, the stone walkway leading up to the ticket booth to purchase a $5 game day ticket, the friendly intern handing me a Newport Gulls program, looking up and seeing Don O’Hanley at the microphone ready to announce the starting lineups, Gully walking around the infield pre-game – these were my first impressions as I was back at Cardines Field after a 1 year hiatus to watch a Newport Gulls game. The weather was spectacular, the fans nearly packed every seat in the historic ball park, the hockey style dugouts, the donut eating contest and the races in the outfield for kids during half innings, the quirky dimensions, the warehouse in right field, the signs and banners from sponsors proudly displayed throughout Cardines. And the play on the field was just awesome to watch.
On July 18th, I was back at Cardines Field for the 2021 New England Collegiate Baseball League All Star Game. Fans were treated to an incredible baseball game, all the hoopla from a typical Gulls game – Don O’Hanley, half inning contests for kids, the Cardines field experience – and of course, amazing baseball talent on display. I stayed for the entire game to watch Rhode Island’s Addison Kopack (Mystic Schooners, Cumberland) and Shaun Gamelin (Ocean State Waves, West Kingston) compete in the game. Cardines was packed and the fans were treated to an amazing baseball experience.
This summer, I went to about half dozen games in Newport, Mystic, and Wakefield to see the Ocean State Waves and the Newport Gulls. Last night, I went to the Waves final game, a loss in Game 2 of their NECBL Playoff series with the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks which ended their 2021 season. My wife Rachel goes with me to most of the games and she got to know the players, the walk-up songs, and a little more about baseball every game. I throw out bits and pieces of my game observations to her and tell her what pitch this guy is going to throw next and that this batter is going to hit one out on the next pitch and so on. Actually, last night I caught a foul ball in right field, then handed it to a fan who was visiting from out of town. In fact, the Waves Johnny Tuccillo, whose walk up song is Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” was a favorite of hers at Waves home games (I think because she is 100% Italian). By the way, Tuccillo is an incredible player, a catcher who plays at Stony Brook University, who had a phenomenal summer behind the plate and at bat.
So Thank You Waves. Thank you Gulls. Thank You NECBL. Thank you interns taking photos and videos and posting to social media on game days/nights I can’t attend games. Thank you to the dude in the cool jacket at Gulls games for your enthusiasm and high level of entertainment during half innings. Thank you Don O’Hanley for just being you and announcing every player with such incredible speech and at times adding a little humor to the mix. Thank you Newport Glass and Hal’s Auto Body for taking care of those foul balls leaving Cardines and Old Mountain Field, respectively. Thank you Eric and the Waves staff for getting Old Mountain Field ready for game day. Thank you Michael Falcone and the Waves staff for getting Cardines ready for Gulls games and for an incredible job done at the 2021 All Star Game. Thank you fans for showing up to NECBL games all summer and cheering on your friend, your college roommate, your son, your brother out on the baseball field. Thank you to all the host families. Thank you to the sponsors who support Amateur Baseball Leagues like the New England Collegiate Baseball League. Thank you players for being a part of this historic league and this incredible 2021 season. And thank you to my wife Rachel for coming with me to Mystic and Newport and Wakefield so I can have these awesome Rhode Island Baseball Experiences. For the Gulls and the Waves, see you next summer!!!
And just a final note, the New England Collegiate Baseball League playoffs continue as the remaining teams vie for the Fay Vincent Championship Trophy. For more information on the teams remaining, playoff schedules, and more visit www.necbl.com.