2014-07-10 / Front Page

America's Favorite Pastime with Sunset League

By Jacquelyn Moorehead

Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are upon us, and for many nothing screams summer quite like the crack of a baseball bat. While the thrill of rooting for the Red Sox is terrific, nothing beats a live local game. Luckily, baseball is played across Newport multiple times daily, with players from youngsters to seasoned veterans taking to the field.

Our city, which numbers so many of the nation’s “firsts” and “oldests” in its rich history, also boasts the George Donnelly Sunset League (GDSL), the oldest amateur baseball league in America, celebrating its 95th year this season. Games are free and competition is intense.

Established as the Sunset League in July 28, 1919 by Dr. Peter Integlia of the Newport Recreation Department, the organization’s first game was played August 4, just one week after its founding. Play has been continuous, with the league being renamed in 1992, honoring George Donnelly, longtime player, scorekeeper and historian. To date, 151 teams have played in the league.

“Newport has a strong history of baseball,” Chris La Rose, GDSL commissioner said. During the 40s and 50s, the league’s popularity boomed, with the Navy presence adding a boost in both players and spectators. La Rose said thousands of people came to Cardines Field, which seats 3,000, filling the stands each night. Temporary stands were set up out behind the right field fence to accommodate overflow.

Cardines Field was first used as a water basin for steam locomotives in the 1800s. In the later part of that century, after neighbors complained about the stagnant water, railway employees transformed the field into a baseball diamond. Starting in 1925, the city leased the field for $1 and purchased it outright in 1936. Since then, the field has undergone many renovations thanks to the Friends of Cardines Association and Newport Parks and Recreation Department.

With deeply-rooted connections to community, the league makes ongoing donations to local charities; this year’s recipient is the Rhode Island Veterans Home in Bristol. Each home run nets the group a $5 contribution, and proceeds from the sales of GDSL hats and T-shirts are also donated. Past beneficiaries include the Wounded Warrior Project and the Portsmouth Little League’s challenger division.

The diehard players and fans are rabid in their enthusiasm for the game – and its history. Noah Clark, in his mid-60s, is the league’s oldest player. “We have a good thing going here, not many baseball leagues can say they are 95 years old,” La Rose said.

“The living history of Cardines is incredible. You can’t help but want to walk the field when the lights are out and think of the teams and the players who came before,” La Rose said.

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