With both teams lined up along their respective baselines, Tolmanâ€™s Chris Citron (right) sings the National Anthem during Saturdayâ€™s pre-game ceremony at McCoy Stadium. The Rhode Island Professional Firefighters Pipes & Drums Band, which also performed Amazing Grace, is in formation behind Tolmanâ€™s team. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN
PAWTUCKET â€” After it ended, Newtown (Conn.) High senior quad-captain Stephen Conway paused for a moment just outside the first-base gate to the barbeque tent near shallow right field and scanned â€“ from a point-blank view â€“ nearly-empty McCoy Stadium.
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About 20 minutes prior, the Nighthawks had dropped a 5-3 non-league decision to host Tolman High, but Conway refused to allow the defeat bother him.
â€śLook at that; this is absolutely awesome!â€ť the rightfielder gleamed. â€śI couldn't ask for anything more! I'm a Mets fan, but I don't tell many people that. This is so amazing! It wouldn't be any different if we were at Yankee Stadium, or a (Major League Baseball) team I don't root for or like. Playing in a place like this, the home of the Pawtucket Red Sox, means the world to me.
â€śAny time you get an opportunity like this, you can't take it for granted,â€ť he added. â€śFrom the moment you step on the field to the moment you step off it, you've got to soak it all up. Every minute we were out there, you just wanted to look around and soak everything up. It's unreal.â€ť
Once the verdict had been rendered, and after the Nighthawks and Tigers graciously had greeted each other at home plate â€“ as is the post-game norm nationwide, skippers Theo Murray of Tolman and Matt Memoli of Newtown congenially chatted at the dish.
Not long after, Memoli congregated his troops down the left-field line for a post-game meeting.
When asked if the loss mattered any to the Connecticut contingent, Conway just shrugged, â€śThat's a tough question, but you know what? Our players were all in the huddle, and we were saying this isn't a game we could get too upset about, given the atmosphere. Whether it was us or the other team, it didn't matter. It's a whole different story. You come out here and lose, but losing isn't anything really to get upset about.
â€śIf we were back at Newtown and facing a Connecticut team, that would be totally different, because you know you have to win. But you can't get too distraught about this, and it's because it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
â€śOn the bus ride home, I don't want to say to myself, 'I wish I had enjoyed it more,'â€ť he continued. â€śI won't, and it's because this is a thrill. You just hope something like this comes your way again, but you never know. We were all mesmerized (Saturday).â€ť
Conway â€“ a captain with fellow seniors Justin Devellis, Dean Demers and Reid Schmidt â€“ then delivered a statement that spoke volumes, and it didn't matter whether you're a former baseball player or coach aged 95 or a mere child of six.
â€śWe were all kids here,â€ť he explained. â€śYou watch a professional baseball game on TV when you're six, seven or eight, and you always wish for and strive to someday play on that field. For me, for us, playing in a Triple-A stadium, regardless of the team, it's something you'll never forget.â€ť
Actually, a tilt like this was most welcome for this squad, located not far from the tragedy that occurred last Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary. On that tragic morning, a gunman opened fire inside the school, killing 26, 20 of them children aged six and seven, before pulling one of his firearms on himself.
Memoli moved with his wife to Newtown (from his hometown of Shelton) in June 2011, and discovered just months ago that the couple were expecting their first child.
â€śIt was a no-brainer to move to Newtown,â€ť he stated while relaxing just outside his Nighthawks' third-base dugout, the same one usually inhabited by the PawSox. â€śIt's an amazing place to raise a family. I coached a lot of these kids when they were in seventh or eighth grade, and they're like my family. For these kids, it was scary, and also very, very sad.
â€śBut you have no idea how much this helps us,â€ť he added. â€śIt's been crazy, but just to get out here for a little normalcy, it's fantastic â€¦ I don't know Theo Murray from Adam, and it's a huge testament to him and the Pawtucket Red Sox to invite us to come and play at such a gorgeous place. This is probably the most significant game we've ever played.
â€śWe've never played in a stadium like this; we have an Independent League team, the Bridgeport Bluefish, who play in Harbor Yard, and we play there on Thursday, but it's not one-tenth of the place this is.
â€śIt's definitely the most excited the kids have been all season. To see the looks on these kids' faces, it was absolutely incredible!â€ť
Memoli couldn't help but laughing when pointing out one of the lighter moments of the late morning and early afternoon.
â€śThe funniest thing, and it's a classic story, one of our kids (junior) Greg Hennessey saw the phone in the dugout, and he kept saying he wanted to be the first one to call the bullpen (for one of their relievers),â€ť Memoli chuckled. â€śEvery time the phone rang, he sprinted over to it. He got such a kick out of that.â€ť
The announcement of the attendance, 918, was hardly lost on Memoli. He also heard the news that $8,500 had been raised for the Sandy Hook School Workers Assistance Fund.
â€śThat's outstanding,â€ť he noted. â€śThe generosity of the people in this community and beyond, it's been absolutely amazing. This has helped us get back into a routine, and we're all very thankful for that. It's been one tremendous day. Like I said, it's been great to get back to playing something you truly love.â€ť