2017-06-22 / Front Page

Sun Hasn’t Set on Century-Old League

By James Merolla


Shortstop Jared Winpenny of the Rathskellar team turns a double play at second base to force out Harrison Barlow of Brothers Oven, in the George Donnelly Sunset Baseball League that has played continuously in Newport since 1919. (Photo by Meri Keller) Shortstop Jared Winpenny of the Rathskellar team turns a double play at second base to force out Harrison Barlow of Brothers Oven, in the George Donnelly Sunset Baseball League that has played continuously in Newport since 1919. (Photo by Meri Keller) There are no programs, a PA system announcing players, or vendors selling hot dogs to the crowd. But few summer baseball leagues boast more history than the George Donnelly Sunset League.

“It’s old baseball. You just get a different feel at the old ballpark,” said Gerry Marzilli, coach of Brothers Oven for the past eight seasons. “The nooks and crannies of the field, the jutting corner in right-center, the cavern of Death Valley in deep center.”

For nearly a century, the league has flourished.

“This time next year, we will be sitting on our 100th season,” said Chris LaRosa, league president, as he electronically monitored the nightly box scores on the league’s website, which he developed and updates as a labor of love.

LaRosa also maintains the website’s history of the league, trying to discover and record every box score of every game since the league was founded in 1919.

“Not many things in Newport are 100 years old,” said LaRosa. “Mansions, yes. [But] the America’s Cup isn’t even 100 years old.”

The Sunset League, originally named because games ended at dusk, was renamed after George Donnelly in 1992. Donnelly, who was nattily attired in a business suit behind home plate for 61 years, started as a teen catcher in the league, led it several times in RBIs, became league scorer, statistician and historian from 1929 to 1990, and was also the city’s recreation director from 1943 to 1969.

The league grew during his tenure, peaking in the late 1970s and early 1980s when rosters were bursting with military families and there were three times more teams than the current six.

The schedule runs from May through Labor Day on days when the popular Newport Gulls, which is also filled with college kids who aspire to play major league ball, don’t take Cardines Field. “We have high school, college kids, kids out of college and older guys, too,” said LaRosa. “Twenty-eight players per team. We work around the Gulls’ schedule and play a lot of games in May and a lot of games in August, and on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays when the Gulls aren’t playing.

“These are kids who want to play the game after high school, after college, who want to play a few years longer,” he said. “Look at the Town Dock team. There are kids on that team who have played together since their city recreational days.”

The astonishingly resilient league almost crashed a few times, especially when the city wanted to knock Cardines down for a parking lot a couple of decades ago, and when it had to open up to teams beyond Aquidneck Island in order to keep it going after the military bases began to close.

“There used to be a rule that you had to verify your Newport residency or you couldn’t play,” said LaRosa. “We don’t have the fan base we used to have. There is too much going on in Newport. Too much other entertainment. We are trying to build it up.”

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