Among the Mansions, a Ballpark Gem

After crossing the Pell bridge and taking a right onto America’s Cup Avenue to go to downtown Newport, RI, you’ll notice on the left something that looks straight out of a history book; a little ballpark made of stone and wood called Cardines Field. Like most old ballparks, it is crammed into a small plot of land in the middle of a neighborhood, with an expansive outfield, wooden bleachers, and high fences protecting the surrounding roads, businesses, and homes. It claims to be the oldest ballpark in America, starting to host games in 1908, four years before Fenway Park in Boston. Despite the antique look and feel of the park, it remains busy to this day hosting teams from two different leagues throughout the spring and summer including the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Newport Gulls.

The wall on the third base side of Cardines Field

The stadium is named for Bernardo Cardines, who was the first Newport resident to die during World War I. According to the Gulls’ website, “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.”

Photo of Basin Field in 1908 from the Point Association of Newport.

In addition to the Gulls, the ballpark is also home to the George S. Donnelly Sunset League, one of America’s oldest amateur baseball leagues established in 1919 and continuing today. The league currently has six teams and plays from May through July. In the past, teams from Newport have been joined by clubs from Fall River and New Bedford, Massachusetts, and from the Naval ships and bases that have called Newport home over the years. Members of the naval teams include Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto who were stationed in Newport during World War II. The Gulls say that Jimmy Foxx, Larry Doby, Lou Gorman, and Satchel Paige also played at the field throughout its storied history.

A 1926 picture of Captain Edgar B. Larimer of the Torpedo Station (batting) and Commander William F. Amsden of the Newport Naval Training Station (catching) to celebrate the start of the George S. Donnelly Sunset League season. Photo courtesy of the Newport Historical Society.

Like most ballparks of its age, Cardines field has survived attempts to tear it down. The Gulls’ website says, “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.” Since then, the Friends of Cardines formed to help preserve the park. The Newport Daily News reported in 2019 that “the Friends of Cardines, a nonprofit organization founded to help raise funds and coordinate the many groups involved, has taken initial steps toward renovation,” adding, “Architectural renderings were commissioned and budgets drawn up to address both short- and long-term needs. Additional work has been mapped out, including the construction of new grandstands and locker room facilities.”

Sunset at Cardines Field, courtesy of Discover Newport.

Cardines Field offers baseball fans that chance to experience the game from the same stands that people have been watching from since 1908. If you find yourself in Newport, check the sign over the ticket windows to see if there is a game that night. You won’t regret it.

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