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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Not every league has a team called the Tories. For nearly 70 years the Intertown Twilight League on Cape Ann has fostered the national pastime on a small-town scale in one of the most beautiful corners of the country. Here's an article from a few summers back:
The Boston Globe
August 1, 1999, Sunday, City Edition
SECTION: NORTH WEEKLY; Pg. 1
HEADLINE: In twilight, they play on;
Quirky baseball parks add charm to Cape Ann league;
BYLINE: By Mark Sullivan, Globe Correspondent
ROCKPORT - To play right field at Evans Field, home of the Rockport Townies baseball team of the Intertown Twilight League, it helps to have a little mountain goat in your blood.
About 200 feet from home plate down the line in right, the field begins a sharp 45-degree ascent, climbing perhaps 25 feet before meeting the woods that form a natural outfield fence.
Imagine a fielder perched on a ledge halfway up the Wall at Fenway, with trees instead of netting behind, and you have an idea of the tableau facing a batter as he peers into right at Evans Field.
"It's our Green Monster," said Townies rightfielder Bruce Emerson, 38, who for more than 20 years has patrolled the Rockport outfield like an Alpine chamois. "You have to get used to playing it."
Quaint fields and quirky ground rules are part of the charm of the seven-team Intertown Twilight League on Cape Ann, at 66 one of the oldest amateur baseball leagues in the country.
There's a tank in the outfield at Patton Park, home of the Hamilton Generals, and pitchers rue the 300-foot short porch in center at the Manchester Mariners' field, where pop flies travel for homers when the wind is blowing out.
And then there's Rockport's cozy 70-year-old Evans Field, where the outfield hill in right field might remind old-timers of Duffy's Cliff in left at Fenway. Fly balls hit into the woods in right count for ground-rule doubles, and where the difference between a two-base hit and a homer can be a bush or a swath of high grass.
"Sometimes when you have 'invisible lines,' you have to make 'invisible calls,' " said league umpire-in-chief Cal Grimes, 53, an Essex police officer when not calling balls and strikes.
But if the occasional rhubarb is not unknown, said Grimes, a sense of sportsmanship prevails in the league, which includes teams from Ipswich, Essex, Rowley and Topsfield as well as Hamilton, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Rockport.
"What I like about this league is the town-team concept of us against you," said Grimes, a former player and coach with the Essex Shipbuilders.
"The players have a couple of beers or soft drinks after the game, but when they're on the field, they're very competitive," he said. "There's an old-town-team tradition of spirit on the field and camaraderie off it."
While Rockport may have the nickname, all in this league are "Townies." Players are current or former residents of the towns for which they play, though Rockport, Essex, and Manchester-by-the-Sea are allowed also to take players from the city of Gloucester, which doesn't have a team.
"Many families have fathers, grandfathers and uncles who have played," said league scorer Terry Poste of Gloucester, who as a girl would join her grandfather on the bench as he coached the Hamilton team. "It's nice to see that."
Local pride and a love of baseball run as deep as lobster pots along this craggy outcropping of the Massachusetts coast.
"Fishermen and lobstermen have put in a full day of work and are looking for relaxation," said merchant Dale Herdman, a Gloucester native who sells Townies hats and shirts at his Sports Fan Emporium on Bearskin Neck in Rockport.
"Baseball is their outlet," Herdman said. "You can't make it to the pros, but every man has his dream. They play for the love of the game, pure and simple."
Natural rivalries abound in the neighboring seaport towns of the Cape, observed Rockport catcher Dominic Nicastro, 21, of Gloucester. "You have the bragging rights," he said. "Who's got the best clams? Who's got the best baseball team?"
Winning the title is cause for civic rejoicing. Rockport general manager James "Jade" Donaldson played second base for the Townies when the team copped its first championship in 1980 and still counts the experience among his greatest thrills.
"They took us all around town on the fire trucks," he recalled. "It was a Saturday night, and the town was mobbed. They carried us all the way down Bearskin Neck."
Rockport has since won six championships, to nine for league powerhouse Manchester, which has gone to the playoff final for 14 years straight. But Donaldson noted: "The first is always the most exciting."
First place was on the line and thundershowers threatened as Rockport and the Ipswich Chiefs met at Evans Field last Sunday. Host Rockport won in come-from-behind fashion, 6-4.
The field's turreted granite grandstand, which resembles an Adirondack hunting lodge and is so close to play that fans wisely remain on guard for ricocheting foul balls, provided shelter when the skies opened in the first. Players took cover under the roof and in the clubhouse.
When the showers passed, the players themselves took up the protective tarpaulins from the field, and wielded rakes and long-handled squeegees to remove water from the basepaths. "This is the only town in the league where you'll see guys doing this," mused Donaldson, 57, puffing a stogie as he looked on with his rain-soaked dog, Coco.
The rain was not going to deter Rockport manager Mike "Mex" Frontierro, 38, a stocky former catcher for the Townies. "We're going to play," he declared, surveying the raindrops. "I don't care; we're going to play."
A passion for the American pastime binds these players, who include clam-diggers and computer programmers. Several work as athletic instructors in local schools.
Cape Ann is known as a haven for artists, and the Rockport nine was guided for many years by the late Aldo Hibbard, an acclaimed landscape painter. Writers, too, have found a place in the league.
Nicastro is a stringer for the sports desk of the Gloucester Times, while Townies left-fielder Jay Lindsay is a reporter in the Boston bureau of the Associated Press. Both scribes homered in the Rockport victory.
"I've always loved the game," said Lindsay, 29, who lives in Hamilton. "You play it as long as you can."
Most of the players in the league are college or former college and high school players, and the caliber of baseball is high.
Rockport in recent years has fielded team captains from Salem State, Northeastern University, Bryant College, and the University of Massachusetts at Boston, said Donaldson. One-time Ipswich star Gardner O'Flynn has been a standout pitcher with the Massachusetts Mad Dogs of the independent Northern League.
"I'll tell you - defensively, sometimes we look like major leaguers," Donaldson said. "These kids can play."
Ipswich player-coach Bob Greenleaf made a catch in left field last Sunday worthy of a highlight reel. Like Willie Mays in the old Polo Grounds, he turned his back to the plate and galloped back, making an over-the-shoulder grab of a 330-foot fly.
"It's not a fool-around thing," Donaldson said. "It's serious."
Said Nicastro as he strapped on his shin guards and chest protector: "We've got players [ in the major leagues] getting paid billions of dollars to play this game, and all the contractual disputes. We play for the fun of it."
At 5:30 tonight, the Topsfield Tories visit Rockport to take on the Townies at Evans Field.
The league's 24-game regular season, which began Memorial Day weekend, ends this Friday. The top four teams in the standings will go to the playoffs, with a best-of-three semifinal series starting next Sunday and running through Aug. 13, followed by a best-of-five championship series Aug. 15-22.
The season is too fleeting for Frontierro, whose field of dreams lies between the Rockport commuter-rail tracks and the most unusual outfield hill around.
"This absolutely is heaven," he said as he surveyed the green of Evans Field.