The Rhode Island Interscholastic League (RIIL) Baseball calendar for Saturday, May 14th was once again filled with great matchups all over the state. These weekend games are such a bonus for me because of my work schedule Monday through Friday, and I look ahead each week at the potential games on Saturdays to attend. This week, I circled Coventry vs Pilgrim at Pilgrim High School’s Don Mezzanotte Field on my calendar, checked the weather daily, and was so psyched that everything fell into place for me to attend the game.
I have visited Don Mezzanotte Field on several occasions in the past, most recently a few years ago during the Covid-cancelled season of 2020 to take some photos of the field. I grabbed a few photos of the field, the plaque honoring the late Pilgrim High School coach, and a few shots in outfield as an airplane flew very, very close overhead (TF Green is just on the other side of the neighborhood abutting Pilgrim High School). Thinking back, I may have played there as a North Kingstown High School Skipper back in the late 1980s, but not 100% sure I did.
So I was eager to catch a game and headed up to Warwick from North Kingstown on a very hot, humid May afternoon. Pilgrim High School is very easy to get to. I took 95N to the TF Green exit, then down Airport Road, left onto Warwick Ave, then left onto Pilgrim Way, then right into the parking lot behind the field. Fans were piling in and setting up their lawn chairs behind home plate and in the shaded area next to the parking lot. I spotted two sets of bleachers which appeared to have great views of the field, one in left and one in right field. So I started my day heading over to the first base line/right field bleachers. Along the way, I ran into Coventry Assistant Head Coach Bob Downey to catch up with him and the CHS Baseball season. All positive, as always, was excited to be coaching a great group of talented kids, young team, and of course was ecstatic to be there coaching his son Logan, who was the starting shortstop on Saturday. Great to catch up with Coach Downey and chat baseball with one of Rhode Island’s best baseball resources.
From my spot on the bleachers on the first base foul line, I checked my phone for the temperature at game time. This is a habit of mine, mostly in the colder months but I was happy to see 77° on my phone at game time, around 1pm. The Warwick Fire Department had gone onto the field to spray down the infield and batter’s box and they were just about finished with their work when I peered out into the outfield area. I remembered walking the field and taking some photos in the centerfield triangle that time back in 2020, thinking “wow this is a tremendous shot if someone were to hit it out here.” Well, I used my new handy, dandy Google Map measuring tool and snapped this photo of the field and the dimension to the furthest point at Mezzanotte Field – a whopping 496 feet to the triangle.
I am sure the Pilgrim High School baseball team is used to it, but for a visiting team it can definitely shift your focus, even for a second. I am referring to the airplanes that fly directly over Mezzanotte Field at a fairly regular clip. All shape and sizes, big passenger planes, and smaller ones fly right over the field heading to nearby TF Green Airport. I lost count after 10 and was observing the reactions of the coaches, players, and fans as they flew over. Coupled with that, the busy area that Pilgrim High School sits also had a fire truck siren, tons of cars honking their horns on Pilgrim Way, and the Ice Cream truck ringing its bell. A lot of distractions for sure, and then came another round of distractions on the field.
Here is the rule, according to the NFHS, the National Federation of State High School Associations:
Here is how I saw it played out on the field on Saturday in the case of Coventry High School, Pilgrim High School, the infield Umpire, and the fans. The game was stopped with Pilgrim High School’s Colby Barker on the mound after he finished his warmup tosses top of the 2nd inning. I wasn’t sure what was happening, I was too far away to hear the initial reasoning seated in the bleachers. Barker was asked to remove something, a piece of jewelry or a bracelet and hand it to his dugout. The Pilgrim HS coaches barked back at the umpire who started towards them and began a back and forth with them. Then, the Pilgrim parents/fans got involved in the debate and shouted out at the umpire, who then proceeded to walk towards the fans, telling them to mute themselves on their comments, he knew the rules, he was going to enforce them, and if the fans continued ranting at him, he would forfeit/call the game. By the way, Barker was allowed to go back to the mound and continue pitching.
The game went on with both sides getting runners on base, a few hits, a sacrifice bunt that turned into a run (runner scoring from 2nd base), and a pretty evenly matched pitching duel between Pilgrim’s Barker and Coventry High School starter Jake Mather. Around the bottom of the 3rd inning, the infield umpire was at it again. This time, he went over to the Coventry High School third baseman (not sure his name), and removed him from the game. Apparently, the CHS player had a piece of jewelry or necklace that was not in compliance with this NFHS rule and he was removed from the game and the CHS Head Coach was benched for the game. The fans erupted again, shouting “let the kids play,” and so on (no swearing thank goodness), but you can feel the intensity really ratcheting up. Not taking sides here, the CHS fans shouted that their player was removed from the game, yet Pilgrim’s was allowed to continue in the game. The infield umpire, to his credit, did act on the NFHS rule which is intended for the safety of the players. I’m not really sure how it could have been handled differently. It was just upsetting to me and the parents that the game was interrupted and delayed and that the rule was not clearly explained to us, thus the frustration of the CHS and Pilgrim fans.
I moved over to the left field bleacher area after the 3rd inning and stopped to chat with the Pilgrim HS player to ask him what happened. The player (not sure what his name was) was a little confused over the rule and clearly didn’t like the game interruption and the drama that ensued. “We are just here to play baseball,” he said and I nodded to him thinking that was probably the sentiment of all the players from each team. I made it over to the left field bleachers, which were pretty much empty except for one or two fans and took some game photos and this video.
There was a pretty good crowd gathered behind home plate, along the first base foul lines, and where I was along the 3rd base lines. Coventry baseball fans travel well, they always have and they always will. Pilgrim fans lined the backstops and set up on blankets in the left field area around the bleachers. It was an absolutely awesome late Spring afternoon with sunny skies and temperatures more seasonable than in recent weeks. Pilgrim had built a 2-0 lead at this point and were continuing to put pressure on the CHS defense with runners on base and runners in motion. The CHS bats were not finding any gaps, unfortunately as Pilgrim really tightened their defense all over the field, especially in the outfield with a few really nice diving catches. When I left, the score was still close at 2-0. However, checking the box scores this morning, I read that Pilgrim had won 10-0 over Coventry.
With about 2 weeks left of games remaining on the RIIL Baseball calendar, I was psyched to get out and see a great Rhode Island High School powerhouse matchup featuring Coventry vs Pilgrim yesterday. The weather was incredible for baseball. As for Mezzanotte Field and all the distractions above, you get used to the airplanes going directly over your head after the 3rd or 4th one, which makes it kind of a cool experience in and of itself. Both fan bases – Coventry and Pilgrim – were really into the game from the first pitch, to the rules enforcement situation, to the diving catch in centerfield. It was great to catch a live game there at Mezzanotte Field in Pilgrim, catch up with Coach Downey, and to chalk up another great Rhode Island Baseball Experience.