The Rhode Island Interscholastic League (RIIL) baseball calendar for Saturday May 21st was once again jam packed with exciting games. Senior Day celebrations, Junior Proms, playoff positioning, the forecast – all on the minds of the Rhode Island Baseball Community this week. A few of the scheduled games had some time changes that worked for my schedule and I chose Narragansett vs Johnston at Sprague Park, 10am as my game of the week to attend.
Narragansett has been like a second home to me ever since I can remember. My brother and sister and I would live at Narragansett Beach in the spring, summer, and even fall months. Not literally of course but just about every opportunity we could find, we were at Narragansett Beach. I played for American Legion Post 39, so my home games were at Sprague Park. I played high school games (NKHS) vs Narragansett High School for years (JV and Varsity) because there were in our division. And now, my sister’s family (my nephews Jackson, Finley, Harvey Hohl) are all playing or have played for Narragansett Little League (also at Sprague Park) and for the middle school, soon to be Narragansett High School. So finding a game to attend at Sprague Park that fits my schedule is a real treat for me!
The forecast leading up to Saturday was for oppressive heat, high humidity, and some overnight showers. A+ to the weather people because they got it just about 100% correct. When I arrived at Sprague Park around 9:45, I didn’t see any players on the field. I had a sinking feeling the game had been cancelled due to the rain we had overnight into Saturday morning. As I drove closer to the field and parked, I noticed the teams in their respective dugout areas and a small group of parents/fans lined up against the first base line and behind the visitor’s dugouts. I took a seat in the bleachers behind home plate and waiting to see what was going to happen with the game. There was a groundskeeper with rain boots on, had a good sweat going, raking the third base line. The two managers – Narragansett and Johnston – met at home plate with the two game umpires and discussed the game being played or even moved to another day, from what I could gather. All the while, the groundskeeper (didn’t get his name) worked feverishly to clean up what he could, then prepare the foul lines and batter’s box for the game. He did an amazing job and I made a point to yell over to him “great job on the field.”
The worst spots, from what I could see, were the home plate area, the base lines, around the first, second, and third base bags, and the pitcher’s mound. I am not a green thumb nor a landscaper but whatever that groundskeeper did, stuck. Sure the dirt was a little muddy in spots but I had a good feeling that once the sun came out, the field would dry up fast. At around 10am, Narragansett took the field for infield/outfield pre-game. Then, it was Johnston’s turn for pre-game. The umpires and the managers exchanged line up cards and well wishes, and the first pitch (originally scheduled for 10am) would be about 10:45am. Better late, than not at all and I was psyched for Narragansett vs Johnston.
First pitch – 10:42am. It was still a bit overcast with the temperatures rising a few degrees in the short time I had been at Sprague. When I arrived, it was 65° and at game time, my phone showed a temperature of 72° with the humidity really becoming a factor. Narragansett gave the ball to Andrew DiBiasio, a strong right hander who after walking the first batter, got the next three Johnston hitters to fly out to Centerfield. Three balls hit very well but in the end, as most managers or pitching coaches will say, just loud outs.
Johnston High School handed the baseball to Starter Joe Silvia with the sun peeking out from time to time, making it feel more like August than May. Silvia got into some trouble early with a walk, 2 batters hit, and 2 singles to plate 3 Narragansett Mariners in the bottom of the 1st inning. Unlike the top of the 1st with 3 very well hit Johnston Panthers line drives caught, the Narragansett hits were hitting gaps in the defense. Tough start to the game for the Johnston Senior. After 1, Narragansett up 3-0, still very early in the game!
Narragansett’s DiBiasio came out firing in the top of the 2nd, pouring in strike after strike. Another loud out to left field, followed by 2 ground ball outs played nicely by the Narragansett 3rd baseman and the Mariner bats were heading back to the batter’s box vs Johnston’s Silvia. With runners on 2nd and 3rd for Narragansett and 1 out, the Johnston SS (not sure his name) made a really nice defensive play catching a foul ball just passed the third base coach’s box to momentarily save a run. The next pitch from Johnston’s Silvia got passed the catcher and the Narragansett runner sprinted in from third base, dove head first and slide safely into home. I was recalling the great work done by the groundskeeper and noticed that here in the bottom of the 2nd inning, the dirt was dry enough to slide on. Again, shout out to the groundskeeper. With 2 outs and again, two runners on base, Narragansett’s Zander Kent smoked a line drive to the gap in left center field. The Johnston Leftfielder (not sure his name) made a diving attempt at the ball but came up just short. Kent rolled into 2nd with a double and 2RBI on the play to push the score to 6-0, Narragansett.
Off in the short distance, just passed my view of left field sits the “little field” at Sprague Park, home of Narragansett Little League. There is a dirt driveway that connects the two fields (not a cut through people!!!) and I just love the fact that the big kids play in the same baseball complex as the little kids. Actually, at Sprague Park near where I parked, there is another baseball backstop, maybe for Tee Ball or an instructional league team. The tennis courts were rocking, the big and little fields were packed with fans and baseball, I’m certain the playground was busy – just a great family experience there at Sprague Park.
Ok, back to the game. Not much going on for an inning or two. Johnston replaced Silvia with another Senior, Joe Vento who pitched in and out of a few jams to keep the score at 6-0 heading into the top of the 5th inning. The Johnston faithful in the stands got the Panthers revved up and the bats began to find some gaps. Johnston benefitted from a few walks from DiBiasio (still in the game for Narragansett) and an infield error to plate 1 with no outs, the bases loaded, and Johnston standout Jeremy Urena coming to the plate. Tense moments indeed at Sprague and I was there to witness a first in all of my baseball experiences.
Huge moment in the game. Johnston was on a roll. Bases loaded, no outs, a big time performer in Urena coming to the plate. The Johnston fans were buzzing, the Narragansett fans were pacing. And then it happened. DiBiasio, true to form all game, came right after Urena with strikes. Urena unloaded an absolute missile off DiBiasio that was hit so hard, I couldn’t believe my eyes what happened next. DiBiasio stuck his glove up in the arm, maybe in self defense, to catch the baseball struck by Urena, only for it to glance off his glove and continuing traveling to the Narragansett 2nd baseman, who was in perfect defensive position to snare it out of the sky, and then add salt to the wound, step on the 2nd base bag for an unimaginable double play. If DiBiasio had not slowed it down, who knows how many Johnston runs would have scored. What a twist of fate for Johnston and Urena, who absolutely smoked a line drive into an very unfortunate double play. But Johnston did not quit, the next hitter took aim at the same lane, again off DiBiasio’s glove but this one was good enough for a single bringing home 1 run for Johnston. A gap double would bring home yet another run, and after all that tension and drama, Narragansett would cling to a 6-3 lead heading into the bottom of the 5th inning.
A quick bottom of the 5th inning for Johnston’s defense put them right back in the batter’s box to keep applying the pressure on Narragansett. However, that was all the scoring Johnston would do for the rest of the game. Narragansett would tack on one more in the bottom of the 6th inning and the final score at Sprague Park was Narragansett 7 – Johnston 3. It was a very exciting game with some good pitching mixed in with some timely hitting and some untimely hitting as well. Both teams survived the pre-game field delays, the groundskeeper did an incredible job on the field, and the fans were treated to a really good baseball game. It was great to be back at my second home, Narragansett, and watch two Rhode Island baseball powerhouses on a hot, humid, August-like, May Saturday morning.