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From "The Basin" to Cardines Field
Recently ranked as the 4th best park in the United States for summer collegiate baseball by Baseball America Magazine, Cardines Field, home of the Newport Gulls of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, has a rich history involving the great American Pastime. The parcel of land on which Cardines sits, formerly known as "The Basin," had been used in the 1800s as a source of water for steam locomotives until area residents complained about the stagnant water.
As early as the late 1800s, a small group of New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad employees cleared enough away for a diamond to play host to a six-team league, with the oldest known existing backstop dating back to 1908. The railroad later disbanded the league due to broken windows at the homes that lie mere yards from Cardines' fences, a problem which still exists today. In 1919, the railroad granted permission to the oldest established amateur league in the United States, known as the George S. Donnelly Sunset League which still plays today. Between 1925 and 1936, the City of Newport leased the field for $1 per year. Small wooden bleachers and a backstop sufficed since no permanent improvements could be made to the privately owned parcel of land. In 1936, the City of Newport purchased the field and quickly made it one of the finest fields in America.
Cardines is a cousin of other notable fields of that era: Ebbetts Field, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field all boasted a stone facade and wooden bleachers with unique outfield angles that made players famous in their ability to play the caroms. And, like Wrigley and Camden Yards, vines and shrubbery clime the outfield fences at Cardines. But unlike most ballparks in existence, Cardines, which is bordered by America's Cup Avenue up the left field line and West Marlborough Street on the right field line, is cramped into a space that permits little foul territory and forces the placement of both dugouts on the first base line, side by side.
An Historic Landmark in the Modern Era
By the 1980s, Cardines Field was in danger of being torn down to make room for a parking lot to support the successful tourist industry in Newport. A local group led by Ron MacDonald raised the funds necessary to repair the aging facility and spare it another decade, when once again it faced extinction. Today, the Friends of Cardines Foundation works hard each year to improve the historic landmark, which in 2001 saw the addition of a new lighting system. The Newport Gulls former ownership contributed with a modern new concession stand and, beginning in 2002, the Gulls, Friends of Cardines, and the City of Newport Parks and Recreation Department renovated the restrooms, bleachers, scoreboard, irrigation system, public address system, ticket booths and locker room facilities. The field was resodded and the left and right field fences raised by 10 feet in 2006, and fan safety improvements continue to be made to the historic structure each year. Since 2004, the Newport Gulls Broadcast Operations Department has added camera positions and a production control room, along with tables and press facilities. The Gulls also operate a seasonal field office and souvenier stand under the right field grandstand.
Over the years many baseball legends have graced Cardines Field, including Jimmy Foxx, Larry Doby, Lou Gorman and Satchel Paige, who sat in a rocking chair between the hockey-style dugouts thinking up new names for his many pitches. Folklore has it that Babe Ruth once toed the batters box and rubber at Cardines.
One thing is for sure though, the Newport Gulls have begun an exciting new tradition at Cardines Field, winning five NECBL Championships (2001, 2002, 2005, 2009 and 2012), hosting exhibitions with Team USA, Team China, the Cape Cod Baseball League, and two NECBL All-Star Games (2005 and 2010), and continuing to have unprecedented fan and community support. Each year, Gulls total attendance exceeds 50,000 fans, with many sell-out crowds of 3,000 or more. The baseball tradition continues...
Cardines Field Time Elapse on Game Day
A time-elapsed view from down the first base line of Cardines Field on Host Family Appreciation Night, prior to Newport's regular season finale versus New Bedford on August 1, 2012.
Located at the corner of America's Cup Avenue and West Marlborough Street in scenic Downtown Newport, Rhode Island, Cardines Field today is one of Newport's best-known landmarks, where more than 50,000 Gulls fans fill the seats to capacity each summer.
Key Dates in History
Hockey-Style Dugouts: Due to the lack of foul territory on the third base line, both dugouts are located on the first base line, side-by-side.
Small Dugout Dimensions: Each dug out was designed for the small, barnstorming teams of an earlier era, with less than a dozen players able to sit inside.
Shared Bullpen: Like the dugouts, each team shares the bullpen, located in dead ball territory past the left field concession concourse. A ball bouncing into the bullpen is a ground-rule double.
The Gulls Nest: A boxed-in seating and barbeque area located above the concession stand on the right field line.
The Warehouse: A large, stone structure makes up the majority of what would be foul territory and the bullpen in right field. Halfway down the right field line, the warehouse itself is the foul line, with any batted ball striking it being called foul.
The Fences: While Cardines may have a short porch in left and right field, the fences were once 20 feet high. In 2006, they were raised to 28 feet, with the exception of a 15 foot section in left center field that remains the old height, cut out for a tree branch to grow.
The Trees: Cardines Field is in the heart of a crowded neighborhood in Downtown Newport, and with homes just yards from the outfield fences (making broken windows common), trees grow over the height of the fence in left field. Any ball hitting a tree branch overhanging the fence but bouncing back into the field of play is an automatic home run.
The Ticket Booths: While the main Ticket Booth is located behind the press box, Cardines Field has a half dozen "hidden" ticket booths at gates throughout the ballpark. These unused booths have been covered up for decades, only visible from rooms in Cardines not normally accessible to the public.
The Triangle: Located at the deepest part of the ballpark, the Triangle, at 395 feet, forms an angle in straight away center where the fence opens to allow heavy equipment to access the field.
The Right Center Corner: Due to the property lines in the outfield and nearby homes, the fence in right centerfield juts in more than 40 feet, forming a sharp, right-angle corner. At the front end of the corner is a light tower in fair territory play at Cardines, making it one of the trickiest right fields to play in baseball.
Doubles Delight: The Newport Gulls frequently lead the NECBL in doubles, in part due to the dimensions and angles of Cardines Field's outfield fences.
Triple Rarity: Despite leading the league in doubles, the Gulls typically have among the fewest triples due to short dimensions of Cardines. The most common triples land in the triangle, or in the right field corner when balls bounce away from fielders.
Sea Breeze Boost: Located only a block away from the Atlantic Ocean, the sea breeze frequently has an impact on play, most commonly producing south west winds that blow the ball out towards right.
Extra Outs: Foul outs are rare at Cardines, with only a few feet of foul territory down the right field line and even less on the left field line (the grandstand makes up the back of the third base coach's box).
Not So Wild: Inexperienced runners often get caught at the plate trying to score from third on a wild pitch or passed ball. The limited foul territory means balls often bounce right back to alert catchers, getting pitchers out of jams in a rather unique fashion.
Close Calls: With so little foul territory, most seats at Cardines Field are protected by a series of wire fences, nets and poles that ring the ballpark's grandstands. With major roads lying only a few feet behind the grandstand, it is a standing safety rule that any fan chasing a foul ball into the street or intersection behind Cardines will not be readmitted to the ballpark.
No Press Box: The press facilities at Cardines are literally built into the grandstand behind home plate, creating odd viewing angles. Visiting media should be advised that fans sit directly in front of, next to, and behind reserved press seats. Table space is limited.
Fog Delays: Typically occurring once or twice per season, mid-summer fog, rolling off of the water only a block away, can make the already treacherous outfield at Cardines unplayable and unsafe. In the event of a fog delay, the umpiring crew will typically wait as long as possible for conditions to improve before calling or suspending the game.
The Flag and Scoreboard: Foul territory in front of the warehouse on the first base line includes the scoreboard support beams, which are in the field of play, and the flagpole , which was originally located in play in the Triangle in center field but was moved to its present location in 2006.
Mudville Seats: Located next door to Cardines is the Mudville Pub, which features a seating area where dozens of fans can watch the game from foul territory, protected by a fence. The private apartments above Mudville include a third floor deck, where fans also congregate.
The Mudville Pub seating area located behind foul territory on the first base side. If seats are full, don't worry - the Newport Gulls Broadcast Network provides live coverage of games on television screens inside Mudville, so you won't miss any action!