“It’s great to be back.”
You’ve probably heard this expression more than a few times recently as distance from the worst of the pandemic that brought society to a screeching halt continues to increase here in the US.
Down in Newport, specifically Cardines Field, hosannahs and hallelujahs are not the only sounds that can be heard from the venerable America’s Cup Ave. location. The crack of the bat – baseball’s time-honored acoustic – is back courtesy of some Boys of Summer who hail from all parts of the country.
Not that Mike Falcone is counting, but the director of baseball operations for the Newport Gulls noted that 669 days will have elapsed between the Gulls’ last playoff game in 2019 and Friday’s 2021 home opener against Martha’s Vineyard (6:35 p.m. first pitch). It’s the first of 22 home games and the first of seven that will be televised on Yurview (Cox Ch. 4) (Friday home opener cancelled due to rain).
Officially, the Gulls raise the curtain on the new season Thursday night on the road in Holyoke, Mass. against the Valley Blue Sox. It will be a significant step toward normalcy for an operation that’s claimed seven New England Collegiate Baseball League titles and is back in full force after enduring a year-long hiatus due to COVID-19. The Gulls are looking to pick up from where they last left off – not to make up for lost time.
“It’s a long time on paper, but it’s also surreal. For us, nothing happened,” said Falcone. “It’s like we’re two years removed. That’s all it is.”
A strong crowd is expected for Friday’s opener. Falcone says he can’t wait to hear the first roar after something of note happens. They’ll be procedures in place to keep spectator foot traffic flowing inside Cardines Field. Of note, the area behind home plate won’t be accessible to fans. Fans will be allowed to sit in the stands along the 1B and 3B lines.
“We’re striving to avoid any bottleneck situations while following all the safety guidelines,” said Falcone.
As for the on-field product, Falcone noted one of the biggest challenges in putting this year’s Newport roster together stemmed from the NECBL making vaccinations mandatory for every coach and player.
“It’s a personal decision and we certainly understand that,” said Falcone.
With the NCAA Division I College Baseball Tournament getting underway with regional play this weekend, coupled with the MLB First-Year Draft pushed to July, Falcone and fellow members of the Gulls’ front office had been on pins and needles regarding who would be part of Newport’s opening day roster.
2021 GULLS YURVIEW GAME SCHEDULE
- 6/4 – vs. Martha’s Vineyard (Cancelled due to rain)
- 6/11 – vs. Mystic
- 6/25 – vs Ocean State
- 7/9 – vs Ocean State
- 7/16 – vs Danbury
- 7/23 – vs Valley
- 7/30 – vs Ocean State
Some of the current players are on temporary contracts, though that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be hitting the road once reinforcements arrive via the NCAA Tournament.
“If you’re playing well, it’s going to be hard to get rid of you,” said Falcone. “Hopefully, those who are in the NCAA’s get here in a reasonable amount of time for our fans to experience them.”
One player who falls under the “can’t wait to see you” category is Luke Hancock, a junior catcher from Mississippi State. So far, Hancock has blasted 10 home runs. The neighbors around Cardines Field would be wise to be on high alert when he comes to the plate.
We can’t wait to see all our fans this upcoming season! Time to get excited for opening day on June 4th! pic.twitter.com/ojrzdaGtj9
— Newport Gulls (@NewportGulls) May 28, 2021
In terms of those in Newport’s fold right now, one player to watch is Matt Wood, a catcher from Penn State, who showed promise as a freshman (.303 batting average). Daniel Colwell is a junior pitcher who made the long trip from UCLA after pitching exclusively in relief for the Bruins (25 appearances with an ERA of exactly four).
Additional players to keep an eye on include pitcher Jimmy Kingsbury via Villanova, who logged innings for the Gulls two seasons ago. There’s also a strong in-state presence on Newport’s roster headlined by URI senior-to-be/South Kingstown native Bo Brutti, who appeared in 15 games on the mound this past spring for the Rams.
David Iannuccilli and Cal Parrillo are a pair of Newport players who call Johnston their home and play collegiately a Rhode Island College. Iannuccilli is listed as a catcher while Parrillo finds himself in the infield mix. In the outfield, you have Portsmouth native/Stonehill College product Conor Kiely and Ponaganset High alum/URI product Billy Butler.
“I know I’m biased, but I believe it’s a strong roster,” said Falcone, who is appreciative of the interest expressed by Yurview in airing a select number of games.
“It’s a great group of guys to work with … professionals who have been doing it for a number of years,” said Falcone. “For the players to be able to look back and see themselves, it’s a very cool aspect of the season.”