A drive east on Atlantic Avenue in Marblehead or a trip to Rockport on the MBTA’s commuter rail can be worthy pilgrimages for true baseball fans.
Seaside Park, close to the jagged Marblehead shoreline, and Evans Field, just steps from the northern terminus of the Rockport commuter rail branch, are monuments to old-time baseball.
Each historic park has quirky features and design elements, that, while typically absent from a high school score list or a game recap, can affect the action in ways that cookie-cutter fields with average dimensions can not.
From Rockport and its iconic lobster shack, stretching south to the cranberry bogs of Middleborough, there’s a host of baseball diamonds in between that make for unique home field atmospheres.
For starters, Evans Field features a steep hill in right field, entirely in play, sloping to nearly 30 feet at its crest, and only 247 feet down the first base line.
“You’ve got to play the hill up top, and the balls hit below it you’ve got to come down and get [the ball],” said Rockport coach John Parisi. His 7-11 squad played its first game in the Division 4 North tournament Saturday against host Mystic Valley, in Malden. “But if you try to start down the bottom, it’s impossible to go up.’’
“Teams in our league [the Cape Ann], they seem to do all right with [the hill] because they seem to prepare themselves somehow, and good coaches will tell them don’t come down too quick, you’ll run by the ball.’’
Conor Kuykendall, in his first year playing right field for Rockport, says he still is not 100-percent comfortable with the hill.
“Running down, you’ve got to make sure you can’t go down to fast,” he said. “If you misjudge it, it’s real hard to get back up the hill after you already start to go down it.
“You can see where [opposing players] trying to run down the hill don’t have sure footing, and sometimes they slip and it goes by them. They start to run down and then they try to get back up the hill and they stumble.”
North Reading coach Frank Carey, quickly approaching 700 career wins as one of the elder statesmen in high school baseball, has prepared his right fielders for the Evans Field hill for years.
“When my kids go there, you can’t believe you’re playing on a 35-degree angle,” said Carey.
The hill extends deep into right field and a tree line runs along its crest. A light pole on top of the hill serves as a home run marker.
According to Parisi, any ball hit to the left of the pole is a home run, and anything to the right is a double. No fence at Evans also means that balls hit to deep left can roll as far as a softball field about 400 feet from home.
With the Rockport commuter rail station next to the field and a track running about 35 feet from home plate, games and practices can sometimes feel like a working scene from a model railroad layout.
Jeff Proposki, an auto shop repair owner with a son, Josh, who plays for the Vikings junior varsity squad, volunteers his time to maintain the infield.
There are not many rainouts or game delays at the field, he said, because of the quantity of stone used as filler during the construction process.
“We hardly have any standing water,” said Proposki. “We’ll get an inch of rain in two hours and guys are practicing on it in the afternoon.”
Another noticeable feature is the fieldstone grandstand built during the Depression as a public works project. It seats roughly 250 people, and ‘Rockport’ is painted on the roof.
In Marblehead, the Elliott Roundy Grandstand at Seaside Park has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Built in 1916, the wooden grandstand was named in 1990 for Elliott Roundy, a lifelong Marblehead resident who was a coach, teacher, and athletic director at Ipswich High from 1951-1983.
Roundy helped raise enough money to renovate and save the grandstand from demolition. He died in 1997 at age 80.
His son, Tom, a varsity assistant baseball coach at Marblehead High and former sports information director at Salem State College, helped the grandstand achieve National Register status.
“I’m obviously prejudiced toward the park because I grew up there and I’ve been around it all my life, but it is a breathtaking scene on a beautiful summer evening with a ballgame being played,” said Roundy, who grew up on Wyman Road next to the park and played there as as child.
Looking straight out from the grandstand’s seats offers a fine view of the park, which was laid out in 1905.
On the far side of busy Atlantic Avenue, with its sidewalk acting as the park’s fence, is the majestic Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic church. But what makes the field special is the number of obstacles lining the street, including park benches facing the field, trees, and a flag pole 350 feet from home plate.
“Everything’s in play up to the hard sidewalk,” said Roundy.
“If a ball is hit to the sidewalk in the air it’s a home run. If it rolls into the street it’s a double.”
While not nearly as steep or extensive as the hill at Evans Field, there is an incline in play that leads up to the sidewalk. Down the first base line, a basketball court sits in foul territory and a fenced parking lot is in the right field corner.
Roundy says it is between 315-and 320 feet to the poles and 375 to the power alleys. A tree also hangs in play in left field.
“It’s awesome to play there,” said Marblehead catcher Colton Dana, a 6-foot-2 senior catcher who will attend Deerfield Academy for a postgraduate year. “Sometimes we get a good crowd, and people are sitting on the benches on top of the hill. A lot of our friends come down onto the grandstand and watch us play. It’s always fun to play there and people are driving by. You always get a couple of friends beeping at us and yelling.’’
South of Boston at Louis A. Frothingham Memorial Park in North Easton, the home field for Oliver Ames High, a massive oak tree sits in right-center, acting as a wall, with playable grass behind.
East Bridgewater High plays home games at Strong’s Field, which channels Fenway Park’s dimensions. A 14-foot, three-inch high chain link fence is like a miniature Green Monster, only 315 feet from home. And like Fenway, deep center is 420 feet from the plate.
At Peirce Playground in downtown Middleborough, spectators can watch games from a parking lot above an old stone retaining wall in left field.
A common thread for all the quirky diamonds: None are located on a high school campus. And at many of those fields, with the use of synthetic turf at schools such as St. John’s Prep, Xaverian, and Catholic Memorial, players are dealing with a new quirk.
“You get very high hops,” said Salem High coach Jim Tgettis, whose team has played home games on Salem State University’s turf field this year. “You’ve got to slide much earlier or you’ll slide past the bag.”Michael Mancinelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.