On July 4 weekend last year, I celebrated our nation’s birthday in baseball heaven: the rightfield bleachers at Fenway under a cloudless sky. I baked like a maine lobster in the 90-degree heat but it was worth every sweaty moment.
Yesterday, I enjoyed summer baseball on a different scale. I attended the Newport Gulls game at historic Cardines Field. It ain’t Fenway, but Cardines is still a jewel of a ballpark, one of the many that host collegiate summer baseball across New England in June and July. If Fenway is a bandbox of a ballpark, Cardines is a matchbox, its ancient, green-painted wooden grandstand giving it a country fair type of feel. Built in 1918, it has been trod upon by the likes of a barnstorming Jimmy Foxx and Satchel Paige, as well as countless future major leaguers who honed their skills during the summer months.
The quality of baseball left something to be desired — the Gulls, who play in the New England Collegiate Baseball League, lost 14-8 to the Danbury Westerners (Danbury is located on the western edge of New England, in case you’re wondering), but the quaint, inviting feel of the Newport diamond, a far cry from the expansive major league parks where I’m used to watching the game, made for a very enjoyable experience. And by quaint, I’m talking about:
- Tickets for adults are just $4.00. That’ll get you a bag of peanuts at Fenway — I think.
- The ballplayers use the same bathrooms as the fans
- The dugouts are situated just yards apart, each one about the size of a large fireplace
- Foul balls routinely land in the street, somehow, at least on this day, doing little damage to unsuspecting motorists and pedestrians
- I could actually count the house — 162 at the end of the first inning, by my unofficial estimation. This did not include those watching from the back porch of the Mudville Pub (where I had my pregame meal of “chowda and a stuffie“). According to the official boxscore, it filled out to 450. Maybe I missed a few folks at the concession stand.
- Two lucky fans won an in-game promotion sponsored by a local furniture store and got to watch the game from rocking chairs behind third base.
- Colonial homes line the streets beyond the 20-foot high chainlink outfield fence. Just think: people have been watching games from the front yards of those homes for almost a century.
- The sound system had feedback, the outfield grass had weeds, and the infield had more bad hops than a week-old pitcher of Newport Storm. But that was okay. It added to the charm.
- The crack of the bat (wood, thankfully) and thud of the ball in the catcher’s mitt, rattle your bones and course through your veins. In a pleasant way. Like biting into a hotdog when the skin is brownish and crispy. Real authentic. The way the game should feel.
- There’s nothing like the thrill of a packed major league park during a pennant race, but a lazy afternoon spent at a timeless gem like Cardines Field, just blocks from Newport Harbor, is a subtle reminder of the simple things that make watching a summer baseball game so intoxicating.