Looking for some live baseball action in a summer where COVID-19 has changed the landscape for sports teams and fans everywhere?
While you may not be able to step foot into Fenway Park to watch the Boston Red Sox in a delayed season that began at the end of July minus fans, you can sit in the stands at Bullens Field in Westfield to cheer on the Westfield Starfires.
The Westfield Starfires played the first game of their second season on July 3 against the New Britain Bees, followed by their home opener on July 8 against the Worcester Bravehearts at Bullens Field.
“I had chills. Celebrating America’s favorite pastime in the middle of a pandemic, well, it was pretty special to see,” said Christopher Thompson, owner and co-founder of the Westfield Starfires about watching their first game this season.
The Westfield Starfires is a franchise of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL), founded in 2011, made up of elite collegiate athletes - currently enrolled in a NCAA of NAIA sanctioned college - competing in a minor league style format. The wood bat league has seven teams from Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire.
Thompson, who has 20 years of sport marketing experience, made the pitch to the league for an expansion franchise back in 2018 with co-founder Donnie Moorhouse.
“Baseball is such an important part of Westfield’s history, and we are honored to be part of that legacy,” Moorhouse said.
Thompson said he is thankful that the FCBL decided to play this summer despite the coronavirus pandemic, while other collegiate teams nationwide have cancelled their seasons. “From a business perspective, we were willing to comply with a reduced capacity of fans in the ballpark. Getting back on the field for 2020 was crucial to the long-viability of our franchise. We have a 15-year lease with the city, so we’re in it for the long haul and taking a year off was not an option,” Thompson said.
“The ownership groups within the Futures League remained focused to ensure a season while working extremely close with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s Task Force on Economic Development
to better understand the protocols and guidelines for Phase 3 in Massachusetts,” he added.
The City of Westfield has also approved the Starfires’ Covid-19 Readiness Plan for Bullens Field, which includes steps and initiatives to prepare and mitigate threats to staff, players and fans. Among the precautions include social distancing, encouraging face coverings, limiting the number of persons in a rest room, good hand hygiene with sanitizers located throughout the ballpark, and more.
The Starfires roster is loaded with local talent and features West Springfield natives Nick Dombkowski (University of Hartford) and Andre Marrero (Quinnipiac University), Westfield’s Jimmy Hagan (Quinnipiac University) and Carter Cousins (Georgetown University, Alec Baker of East Longmeadow (Dallas Baptist), Andrew Roman of Monson (Salve Regina), Devin Kellogg of Florence (University of Hartford), Ramon Jiminez of Chicopee (Boston College), as well as Pittsfield natives Drew DeMartino (University of Hartford) and Cedric Rose (UMass Lowell).
“We launched the franchise 90 days before opening day last year. We got the brand off the ground, built a roster, and in our eyes had a successful inaugural season, but is was rushed. So, we’ve spent the last year gearing up for season two by planning all kinds of promotions, different fan experiences, and developing community partnerships - all with the intent of growing our brand in the community and marketplace - then COVID-19 hit,” Thompson said.
Those group outings and fan experiences never got off the ground this year because of the novel coronavirus. If everything had gone as planned, Thompson noted there would have been an opportunity for fans to participate in on-field promotions, to hang out with the Starfires in the dugout, for schools and churches to perform the National Anthem at the game, and so much more.
For fans taking in an evening of baseball, Bullens Field offers full concessions along third base as well as in the Starfire IPA Beer Garden down the right field line. The team launched its Starfire IPA through a joint venture with Amherst Brewing Company in 2019 and it is the top selling beer at the ballpark, Thompson noted.
Historic Bullens Field, home of the Westfield Starfires, also hosts baseball and football teams for Westfield High School and Westfield Technical Academy. Built in the 1930s as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” Bullens Field over the years earned the title of “Westfield’s Field of Dreams.” The popular complex got a complete makeover in 2016 to accommodate the Babe Ruth World Series.
“The process has been extremely gratifying because a lot went on behind the scenes to make this season a reality for our players and their fans. Our players lost their entire spring season and really deserved the opportunity to get back on the field, Thompson said.
“Our staff has worked tirelessly to ensure we have protocols in place with respect to keeping everyone safe during the pandemic,” he added. Still, Thompson said he realizes that “it’s a family decision” to head out to the ballpark.
After welcoming their two millionth fan in history last summer, the Futures League looks to maintain its momentum as the most popular summer collegiate league in New England, according to Joe Paolucci, the league’s commissioner.
“Our team owners and operators put a tremendous amount of work into positioning our ballparks to open as safely as possible in order to provide fans with our unique brand of baseball and entertainment,” he said. This year’s 10th season of the FCBL will feature the defending, four-time champion Worcester Bravehearts, Brockton Rox, North Shore (Lynn) Navigators, Westfield Starfires, New Britain (Connecticut) Bees and Nashua (New Hampshire) Silver Knights. The Pittsfield Suns will not operate in 2020, but will bring baseball back to Wahconah Park next summer.
GENERAL ADMISSION TICKETS AT $10 ARE AVAILABLE AT WESTFIELDSTARFIRES.COM.