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Island Hopping: Nighthawks make first-ever trip to Martha’s Vineyard

  • Nighthawks Manager Keller Bradford, right, speaks with player John Hosmer while riding the ferry to Martha's Vineyard on July 19, 2019. Also aboard the stern deck are players, from left, Jack Zyska, Henry Gladson and Kellen Spann. The team played on the island for the first time against the Sharks. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Bradley University senior Dan Bolt, of Morton, Ill., loads equipment onto the bus before the Nighthawks’ morning departure for Martha’s Vineyard on July 19, 2019. Over 15 hours later at 3 a.m., the team returned to the Maxfield Sports Complex in White River Junction, Vt. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • While traveling with the team by bus on Interstate 495 in Massachusetts, Nighthawks Assistant General Manager Matt Wright, left, and Manager Keller Bradford work to coordinate the ferry trip to Martha's Vineyard to play against the Sharks on July 19, 2019. Due to traffic, the team missed their planned ferry ride but caught another over an hour later. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • While waiting for the ferry in Woods Hole, Mass., Nighthawks Hitting Coach Brandon Eady dabs up the last of his chowder with a piece of bread on July 19, 2019. The team traveled nearly seven hours to play against the Martha's Vineyard Sharks. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Nighthawks teammates John Hosmer, left, of Charlotte, N.C., and Kellen Spann, of Meridian, Miss., check out the Martha's Vineyard neighborhoods in Oak Bluffs, Mass., during a bus ride to play the Sharks on July 19, 2019. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Nighthawks' Henry Gladson, of Clarkson Valley, Mo., greets the Sharks' Jack Sheehan, of Brielle, N.J., as the teams prepare for their game in Oak Bluffs, Mass., on July 19, 2019. Gladson and Sheehan are teammates at the University of Notre Dame. In the foreground is Notre Dame teammate and Nighthawk Jack Zyska, left, of Berkeley Heights, N.J., and Nighthawk Adam Smith, of West Chester, Penn., who plays for the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Nighthawks' Devin Beckley pitches to the Sharks' Nander De Sedas as Andrew Cossetti catches in the fifth inning of their game in Oak Bluffs, Mass., on July 19, 2019. New to the New England Collegiate Baseball League, the Sharks hosted the Nighthawks for the first time. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Nighthawks' Brian Moore tags out the Sharks' Kai Nelson as Nelson was trying to stretch out his hit into a double in the third inning of their game in Oak Bluffs, Mass., on July 19, 2019. The Sharks, who had been part of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, play at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Sharks' third baseman Jackson Raper and the Nighthawks' Jeff Costello watch an overthrown ball sail wide, enabling Costello to score in the seventh inning on their game in Oak Bluffs, Mass., on July 19, 2019. Last year Costello played for the Nashua Silver Knights against the Sharks in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. "This ferry ride is bringing back memories," he said on the way to the game. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Midway through their 13 hours of traveling to play baseball, the Upper Valley Nighthawks board "The Patriot" fishing trawler, departing Martha's Vineyard for Woods Hole, Mass., and eventually returning to White River Junction, Vt., following their game with the Sharks on July 19, 2019. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/22/2019 9:58:57 PM
Modified: 7/24/2019 6:47:57 PM

Slowly and methodically on a cool and sunny Friday afternoon, the Upper Valley Nighthawks trickle into the Maxfield Sports Complex for the longest road trip of the summer.

It’s been 13 hours since the fourth-year New England Collegiate Baseball League squad last took the field, a 12-11 loss to the Sanford Mainers at Maxfield that took 10 innings and nearly four hours to complete. The next morning the team is back at it — part of the everyday grind that one comes to expect in summer ball.

Long road trips are also part of the process. Upper Valley takes at least six each summer to the league’s Southern Division destinations.

This trip, however, is a little different. The Nighthawks are making their first-ever visit to Martha’s Vineyard for a game against the Sharks, the NECBL’s newest team. A lengthy bus ride to Cape Cod, a ferry over to the island and another bus to the field lie ahead. The players settle in for the first leg of the trip, a 4½-hour ride on a Premier Coach bus that’ll take them to the ferry port at Woods Hole, Mass.

In all, the trip will cost the nonprofit Nighthawks $3,000 for 16 hours of travel for a single baseball game in a 44-game season. It is, by far, the most expensive road trip of the season.

11:30 a.m.: Most players are dressed in sandals and shorts, armed with headphones for the long bus ride. Some have to-go sandwich bags from Subway and a bag filled with snacks that probably won’t survive the drive down. It never does.

There’s just one problem.

“Who brought movies?” Nighthawks head coach Keller Bradford says to the crew, which is still waiting on late-to-arrive outfielder Jeff Costello.

The bus goes quiet.

“Nobody?” Bradford asked again. He checks his phone, looks up the message he sent the team. “I told you guys yesterday: Bring something to watch.”

“I don’t have any DVDs,” Nighthawks catcher John Hosmer says.

Upper Valley hitting coach Brandon Eady looks around. “I’m trying to think if I have any DVDs in my car,” he says

Costello finally climbs on the bus and takes his seat.

“Forget it,” Bradford says.

The Premier Coach bus finally pulls away from Maxfield 15 minutes behind schedule, its four televisions still blank.

12:30 p.m.: The bus carrying the second-best team in the NECBL’s Northern Division pulls into a Premier Coach garage in Warner, N.H., for a short driver change at one of the company’s buildings. A new driver gets on, introduces himself to the coaching staff, and gets the team back on the road.

1:25 p.m.: Finally, the Nighthawks reach the Massachusetts border.

Matt Wright, a Springfield, Vt., native and Upper Valley’s assistant general manager, starts making calculations on his phone and taps Bradford on the shoulder to go over some logistics.

No way is the team making its reservation for the 3:45 p.m. ferry to Vineyard Haven, Mass.. The 4:05 p.m. ferry to Oak Bluffs, Mass., is also probably out of the equation; there’s some limited traffic around Boston and, more ominously, a 30-minute delay over the Bourne Bridge to reach Cape Cod.

Wright, who keeps statistics for the coaching staff and serves as the team’s coordinator on long road trips, calls Nighthawks president Noah Crane. The 5 p.m. ferry to Oak Bluffs — a 45-minute voyage across Vineyard Sound that’ll put the Nighthawks on the island a little more than an hour before game time — might work.

That’s cutting it close, but it’ll have to do.

1:34 p.m.: Word reaches the bus that Martha’s Vineyard had just lost to the Vermont Mountaineers, 6-4, in an 11:05 a.m. game at the Sharks’ home field, the Shark Tank. Vermont and Martha’s Vineyard were forced to reschedule their Thursday night game on the island due to weather, postponing it to Friday morning.

The delay forced the Sharks to play a two-team doubleheader with eight hours apart between games.

The Vermont win is bad news for the Nighthawks, who are in a four-team chase for three divisional playoff spots. The Keene Swamp Bats and the North Adams SteepleCats are scheduled to play later that night.

Almost everyone on the bus — including the coaches — is keeping an eye on the NECBL scoreboard. It’s that time of the year.

3:13 p.m.: The Nighthawks’ bus reaches traffic at the Bourne Bridge, typical for a summer Friday afternoon when trying to reach the Cape. Wright checks his phone. Nine miles until the traffic scatters; it’ll take 41 minutes to get there.

Beyond the first three rows — where Wright, Bradford, Eady, pitching coach Mike Coss, team broadcaster Dan Byford and bat boy Easton Wykes all sit — the players have sprawled out. Some are asleep, spread out over two seats, feet in the aisle. Others are watching movies or listening to music. The ride has been mostly quiet, players still slowly waking up from the night before. The stop-and-go pace has started to roust some of the players from their slumber.

Next up for Wright is coordinating the ride back from Martha’s Vineyard. He checks the schedule: The last ferry back to the mainland is at 9:30 p.m. — no way the team makes that, not with a 7 p.m. contest that will likely start later than anticipated. So Wright starts making arraignments again: a phone call to Patriot Party Boats, Inc., to schedule a fishing trawler to bring the team back later that night.

4:15 p.m.: “Everyone’s got money, right?”

Upper Valley files off the bus just in front of the Steamship Authority Ticket Office and unloads bats, gloves and bags near picnic tables. Bradford jokes with the group, looking for money to pay their way across, then brings Coss along to buy ferry tickets for the 28 players and coaches. The ferry leaves at 5 p.m.

In the meantime, the Nighthawks fan out in search of food. Some head to Pie in the Sky Bakery & Cafe to reload on snacks and coffee. Others head to Quicks Hole Tavern and Jimmy’s Classic Eats for some food and ice cream.

Costello, meanwhile, orders some seafood tacos from Quicks Hole Taqueria, a Mexican-seafood fusion restaurant. The Upper Valley outfielder is used to this trip; he was with the Futures League last summer, playing with the Nashua Silver Knights. The Sharks moved from the Futures League to the NECBL in January.

“It’s not so bad,” he says of the journey.

The players regather in front of the ticket office, food in hand, and get into a heated debate about the better Mexican fast food restaurant — Qdoba, Moe’s or Chipotle. Andrew DeRoche, the Nighthawks pitcher from Trinity, is insistent Chipotle is better than Moe’s. Most on the team concur.

5:02 p.m.: The ferry from Woods Hole backs out of the port and takes off. The Nighthawks post up on the top deck of the multilevel ferry, holding onto their hats and anything else loose lest it fly away into windy Vineyard Sound.

Bradford takes a look at the coast of the Cape, the colonial houses that look out onto the water.

“I could totally come back here,” he says.

Others agree. The Nighthawks have livened up since hopping off the bus, sharing stories from baseball teams back at school, talking to other passengers about the game tonight. Jordy Allard and Costello invite some to the game.

Nearly 45 minutes later, the ferry pulls into the dock on Oak Bluffs. The team files — a line to return from the Vineyard greets them. The Nighthawks are going the other direction, meeting just outside the ferry terminal.

“What time is the game tonight?” asks Upper Valley catcher and infielder Anthony Quirion.

“It’s supposed to start at 7,” Wright says. He again checks his phone. It’s 5:50 p.m.

6:05 p.m.: “Let me see what the deal is,” Bradford says.

The Nighthawks are gathered just outside the terminal. Around them, everyone is on vacation — beachgoers still in swimsuits and towels, tourists with cameras taking in the sights. Word is a school bus is supposed to be taking the team to Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, where the Sharks play their home games. Problem is the bus is nowhere to be found.

Eventually the Nighthawks find the transportation they seek, a white school bus with “Martha’s Vineyard Sight Seeing” written in rainbow colors on the side. The players file onto the bus and start readying for the game. It takes 15 minutes to get to the field.

6:20 p.m.: Finally, the Nighthawks are where they’re supposed to be.

Bradford and the team file off the bus and take the to visitor’s dugout. He wrote out the lineup on the bus over from the ferry terminal to the field. The Sharks are all warming up in the outfield, hours separated from their morning loss to Vermont. Upper Valley tries to catch up quickly, just 40 minutes until the scheduled first pitch.

Scratch the pregame batting practice or the infield warmup. No time. The Nighthawks do some light throwing in the outfield. The Sharks begin their pregame festivities, welcoming the few hundred in attendance, announcing the lineups for both teams, playing the national anthem. Then Martha’s Vineyard head coach Jay Mendez halts thing proceedings to give Nighthawks starting pitcher DeRoche enough time to warm up.

Sharks starting pitcher Bryan Ketchie throws the game’s first pitch at 7:21 p.m., about eight hours after tonight’s foes White River Junction.

9:56 p.m.: Sharks pitcher Thomas Spinelli forces Costello into a ground out to end the game, a 5-4 come-from-behind win for Martha’s Vineyard. The teams shake hands and begin packing up the dugouts. The Nighthawks head just past right field for a food, spaghetti and chicken served by Sharks’ game-day staff.

Allard, the Hartford High graduate and Babson College pitcher, hasn’t put the game away yet, at least not in his head. He gave up the game-winning three-run home run in the seventh inning on a fly ball that snuck just over the right-field fence.

“I thought it was a fly ball,” he says.

The Nighthawks grab some plates, a few bites to ea, and then head back on the Martha’s Vineyard Sight Seeing bus back to the dock. Greg Hardison, the returning Nighthawk from UNC-Greensboro, stays behind with his family, which made the trip from North Carolina and is staying overnight at a hotel on the island. Costello and Devin Beckley, from the Citadel, are parting ways with the team once they make landfall. The bus leaves for the dock at 10:25 p.m.

Wright calls Patriot Party Boats, Inc., coordinating the fishing trawler that will take the team back to the mainland. The bus drops them off next to the ship and the team shuffles on, taking seats on the floor or on benches in the open-air cabin.

The players hold on as the trawler pulls away from the dock. The sun went down hours ago, and fog has started to waft over the island. The boat roars its engine and takes off into the darkness. It’s 10:38 p.m.

11:40 p.m.: The team is back on its coach bus, waiting some time for the families of Costello and Beckley to find the dock so they can picked up. The bus pulls away from the dock in Falmouth, Mass., and heads north.

The lights on the bus are turned off. Most of the Nighthawks are quickly asleep.

2:50 a.m.: Blue lights turn on as the coach turns left off the highway and onto US. Route 5. The team and its coaches start to stir, then are fully awake as the bus pulls back into Maxfield 10 minutes later.

Little is said as the players file off the bus, back to their cars to return to their temporary beds for the summer.

Most don’t get to bed until an hour later. Luckily, the next day is an off day. After that, the grind begins again.

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.




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