Here in New England, we tend to be passionate about baseball. After all, some of the oldest teams and ballparks in America are located right here. And the rivalry between the Red Sox and the Yankees is the stuff legends are made of.
Newport, Rhode Island, which is famous for its mansions, beaches and restaurants, is also known for Cardines Field, one of the oldest wooden ball parks in America. Like its contemporaries – Fenway Park and Wrigley Field – it originally featured a stone facade around home plate and wooden bleachers for the fans.
In continuous use since 1908, Cardines Field is now home to the Newport Gulls of the New England College Baseball League. Its wooden benches are located right next to the field, which lets the fans see and hear the game up close. The “Whump!” of the ball in the catcher’s mitt, the crack of an honest to gosh wooden bat, and the chatter among the players are all part of the Cardines Field experience. At just $4.00 a ticket, it’s a great way to be part of America’s pastime without busting the family budget.
What is especially nice about going to a Gulls game is the number of young people in the stands. The Gulls are a community based organization. Local families provide lodging for the players and transportation to away games. The kids in those host families and their friends become involved and want to see “their players” on the field. Typically, there are as many young people as adults in the stands, all with Gulls t-shirts, Gulls hats and Gulls pennants. Gullie, the team mascot, has an entourage of young admirers around him the entire game.
Another classic baseball facility in Rhode Island is located in the city of Pawtucket, next door to Providence. It is called McCoy Stadium and it is home to the PawSox, the AAA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Like Cardines Field, the seats are right next to the playing surface but raised one story to accommodate the dugouts and team offices at ground level.
Before every game, young fans seeking autographs put a program or other scrap of paper in a plastic pail and lower it on a string to the players in the dugout below. The players scribble their signatures, then give the string a tug. The kids haul their pails up and go dashing through the stands to show their parents and friends their prize. It’s too precious to watch.
There is something idyllic, almost wistful, about watching college or minor league baseball. The distortion that big contracts and multi-million dollar payrolls create is cleared away and we see the game for what it is – a paean to all that is right and decent and hopeful in our society.
There are no luxury boxes at Cardines or McCoy. The person next to you could be a bank president or a laborer. Baseball reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously, because no matter our station in life, we are all just fans when the home plate umpire shouts “Play Ball!”