ANSONIA-The pitching mound has been rebuilt, a visitor’s bullpen has been built and the grass has been mowed.
“Nolan Field’s ready,” said Greg Martin, the city’s director of constituent services. “We’re hoping the turnout makes this an annual event.”
For the first time in nearly a century a non-high school baseball game will be played on Nolan Field when Sacred Heart University hosts the University of Albany.
Gates for the 5 p.m. first pitch will open at 3 p.m.
“The early birds will be able to watch batting and fielding practice,” said Martin
The Coastal Chordsmen will sing the national anthem, America The Beautiful and Take Me Out to the Ballgame.
“They’re going to serenade Sacred Heart when the Pioneers take the field by singing ‘You Got to Have Heart.,” Martin said .
And the first pitch? That will be thrown by Bobby Valentine, who took his Rippowam baseball exploits to the major leagues where he played for the California Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, New York Mets and Seattle Mariners during a 10-year career. After his playing days were over, Valentine managed the Mets, Boston Redsox and Texas Rangers. Valentine is now Sacred Heart’s athletic director
Donning catching rather than boxing gear will be Mayor David Cassetti.
So how does the former New England Regional Amateur Boxing Champion and boxing coach expect to make the transition?
“I’ll do very good,” Cassetti predicted. “I’ve got fast reflexes and honed very good defense methods.”
Besides he said “I’ve always been a fan of Bobby Valentine. I’m looking forward to meeting him.”
It’s been nearly 100 years since the St. Louis Cardinals, led by Rogers Hornsby, one of baseball’s greatest hitters, and reliever Lou North, an Ansonia resident, played a benefit game at Nolan with proceeds going to the field’s renovation.
“Back then Nolan was just a spartan field,” said Richard Marazzi, an Ansonia author, sports historian and major league baseball rules consultant.. “They raised some pretty good money to help make it the complex it is today.”
With Hornsby delivering two hits and North pitching three shutout innings (striking out seven), the Cardinals beating a team of Valley all-stars sponsored by the Ansonia Elks on Aug. 6, 1922.
But it was the arrest of Mayor John C. Mead that drew headlines.
Mead’s crime? He allowed baseball with paid admission on a Sunday.
The warrant was issued after 85 people, mostly ministers, petitioned for the game to be canceled which Mead refused.
The charge against Mead was dropped about a week after the game, when no one showed up to testify in court. As he left the courthouse, Mead said he hoped his case would change the law “which makes criminals out of people who attend Sunday baseball games.”
Sacred Heart lost its home field last summer, when Bridgeport decided to turn the Ballpark at Harbor Yard — where the Atlantic League Bluefish played — into an amphitheater.
“I’m hoping for a big turnout,” Cassetti said. “This will be the catalyst for an annual Division 1 college baseball game to be played here.”
This season, the Pioneers are playing home games outside of Greater Bridgeport, mostly at Central Connecticut State University and New Britain Stadium, which once served as home to the Eastern League’s New Britain Rock Cats.
And Sacred Heart’s roster has attracted the attention of major league scouts. Last summer Troy Scribner, a 2013 SHU graduate, pitched 10 games for the Los Angeles Angels, making him the first Pioneer in the major leagues.
“This is the next best thing to bringing a professional ball game to an intimate, hometown, backyard setting,” said Martin, who once served as general manager for the Pittsfield (Mass.) Colonials minor league team.
Michael Guastelle, SHU’s senior assistant athletic director, said the team is filled with state players, including P.J. DeFilippo, of Bridgeport, Anthony Capozziello, of Orange, Jake Frasca, of Darien, Jackson Aldam, of Danbury, James Taubl, of New Haven, and Dan Shock, of Cheshire.
“We see this as a unique opportunity to showcase our team to a local crowd,” Guastelle said. “We’ll see how it works out.”
Martin estimated the one time cost of field improvements at between $5,000 to $8,000. He hopes to recoup it by selling sponsor banners on the fences and admission. Tickets will be sold at the game with adults paying $5 and seniors at 60 and older and students paying $3.
“Our lights are as good as those in Class A Minor League, and our infield was totally redone last summer with new clay and grass,” Martin said.