Baseball: Hopkins Academy ‘happy to be home’ as new ballfield christened against Pittsfield (PHOTOS)

The new baseball field at Hopkins Academy hosted its first game on Tuesday as the Golden Hawks played Pittsfield in Hadley.

The new baseball field at Hopkins Academy hosted its first game on Tuesday as the Golden Hawks played Pittsfield in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Hopkins Academy’s Dom Aloisi connects with the ball against Pittsfield during the Golden Hawks’ 10-0 loss on Tuesday in Hadley.

Hopkins Academy’s Dom Aloisi connects with the ball against Pittsfield during the Golden Hawks’ 10-0 loss on Tuesday in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Hopkins Academy coach Dan Vreeland (center) makes a mound visit with Liam Flynn (1) and Alex Weagainst Pittsfield during the Golden Hawks’ 10-0 loss on Tuesday in Hadley.

Hopkins Academy coach Dan Vreeland (center) makes a mound visit with Liam Flynn (1) and Alex Weagainst Pittsfield during the Golden Hawks’ 10-0 loss on Tuesday in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Hopkins Academy’s Liam Flynn delivers a pitch against Pittsfield during the Golden Hawks’ 10-0 loss on Tuesday in Hadley.

Hopkins Academy’s Liam Flynn delivers a pitch against Pittsfield during the Golden Hawks’ 10-0 loss on Tuesday in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Hopkins Academy pitcher Liam Flynn (1) fields a bunt attempt against Pittsfield during the Golden Hawks’ 10-0 loss on Tuesday in Hadley.

Hopkins Academy pitcher Liam Flynn (1) fields a bunt attempt against Pittsfield during the Golden Hawks’ 10-0 loss on Tuesday in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Hopkins Academy catcher Alex West fields a throw from the outfield against Pittsfield during the Golden Hawks’ 10-0 loss on Tuesday in Hadley.

Hopkins Academy catcher Alex West fields a throw from the outfield against Pittsfield during the Golden Hawks’ 10-0 loss on Tuesday in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Hopkins Academy third baseman James Fitzgibbons tries haul in an errant throw against Pittsfield during the Golden Hawks’ 10-0 loss on Tuesday in Hadley.

Hopkins Academy third baseman James Fitzgibbons tries haul in an errant throw against Pittsfield during the Golden Hawks’ 10-0 loss on Tuesday in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Hopkins Academy’s JJ Scanlon-Dean delivers a pitch in the third inning against Pittsfield during the Golden Hawks’ 10-0 loss on Tuesday in Hadley.

Hopkins Academy’s JJ Scanlon-Dean delivers a pitch in the third inning against Pittsfield during the Golden Hawks’ 10-0 loss on Tuesday in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

By CONNOR PIGNATELLO

Staff Writer

Published: 05-14-2024 8:51 PM

HADLEY – Hopkins Academy shortstop Chace Earle had been counting down the days until May 14.

First of all, it’s his birthday. But it also served as the opening day of play at the Golden Hawks’ brand-new baseball field.

“I’ve been waiting months to play on this field,” Earle said. “Now, to finally do it on my birthday, it’s great.”

Earle was one of many who had been waiting anxiously for Hopkins Academy’s home opener. The Golden Hawks knew the project would force them to backload their home schedule, but additional delays caused them to push back their home opener by two weeks and play their first 15 games of the season on the road.

Head coach Dan Vreeland works at the school, and every day, he stepped outside to take a look at the progress construction workers had made. When he stepped out on Tuesday afternoon to play on the field for the first time, it hardly felt real. Before Tuesday’s game, Hopkins Academy hadn’t even practiced with the new setup.

“It did feel a little extra special,” Vreeland said. “Because I came out of the door and I was like ‘can I touch it now?’”

Hopkins Academy hosted Pittsfield to debut the new field on Tuesday afternoon, but the Generals spoiled the home opener festivities with a 10-0 mercy rule win. They piled on nine runs in the third inning to break the game open and Hopkins Academy never advanced a runner past second base all game. The Golden Hawks struggled with errors and walks and the Generals threw three of their six baserunners out on the bases.

In Tuesday’s state power rankings, Hopkins Academy was ranked 10th in Division 5. The club holds an 8-8 record after Tuesday’s loss. Pittsfield moved down from Division 3 to Division 4 this season, and the 12-5 Generals sit at No. 10 in Division 4.

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Hopkins has two games left on its schedule and will play its lone remaining regular season home game against Ware on Friday. The Golden Hawks’ nine seniors have been waiting to play on this field for months, if not years.

Senior third baseman James Fitzgibbons said Tuesday’s game didn’t even feel like a home game because he was so used to playing with the old field’s orientation. He said he still needs to familiarize himself with home plate’s new location next to the farm behind the school.

No matter how long it’ll take to get used to the new field, it’s a welcomed change for Golden Hawks practices, which has been held at Hadley Elementary School for months.

“Just even being able to practice on a real field is super good for us,” center fielder Cooper Beckwith said.

Hadley Elementary School’s baseball diamond has little league dimensions – with bases 60 feet apart instead of the regulation 90 feet. When Hopkins Academy does fielding practice, they have to move the bases into the grass.

And when they want to do batting practice, they have to make sure to not to hit the nearby elementary schoolers playing soccer and touch football at recess. They also have to be careful not to hit the JV softball team, which has also been practicing at the elementary school while the varsity team uses their field. The new varsity softball field will not open before the end of the season.

The Golden Hawks have practiced at Beachgrounds Park in South Hadley a couple times, but those are the only occasions they’ve been able to use a regulation-sized field.

“Our hitting has always been great,” Fitzgibbons said. “But I think the main issue is our fielding, because we haven’t really practiced on an actual field.”

For the rest of the season and for seasons in the future, Hopkins Academy will practice on its own grass.

Fifteen consecutive road games to start the season have also been difficult, and construction delays have forced them to play “home” games on the road. When they beat Greenfield 10-9 on a walkoff on April 30, they were actually on the road.

“It’s tough,” Earle said. “Always on the road, always traveling, always tired. It’s been tough for us, but I think we’ll be alright now that we have a home field to play at.”

Though the Golden Hawks christened the field on Tuesday, it still isn’t completely finished. Hopkins Academy has yet to install a temporary outfield fence, and the infield sod is long. Multiple players mentioned how much the grass slowed down ground balls.

But no matter how many kinks are left to be ironed out, players were thankful to finally be home. No more lumps in the infield, no more practices at the elementary school and no more 15 road games in a row.

“Playing in front of our home crowd is a completely different feeling,” Fitzgibbons said. “I think we have some of the best fans in Western Mass. and everybody came out today, we had a big crowd. I think when we have our home crowd in Hadley we definitely have an advantage.”