Even before you settle into the Mudville Pub, you can tell it is not just another raucous sports bar. The low-beamed room, situated cozily on the ground floor of a caramel-colored 1850s frame building, is a few blocks from the wharves in Newport, R.I. On one wall are photos of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Larry Bird, reflecting co-owner Kevin Stacom's boyhood passion for the New York Yankees and his playing years with the Boston Celtics, 1974-79. But you have to pass through the back door to see what puts this bar in a league of its own.
Just behind the pub, a tiny outdoor cafè looks onto the arc-lit green expanse of a ballpark, circa 1908. The field is so near you can flick a peanut and hit the rightfield line. Where else in this favored land can a fan sit in a bar with a beer and a burger served up by waitresses in baseball caps, under a night sky scented with honeysuckle and sea breezes?
Bernardo Cardines Field sees a steady parade of high school, college, Babe Ruth League and American Legion games during the summer, but it is the historic Sunset League—teams made up of amateur players mostly in their 20's—that fills the bullpen. When the house team, the Mudville Nine, is playing, you often have to wait for a table. It's worth the wait just to see the lads, most of them from Fall River, Mass., in the baggy, Casey-style uniforms that Stacom bought them last year.
On a steamy July evening, an hour before the Mudville Nine is to play the Town Dock Mariners of Kingston, R.I., Stacom is sitting in his pub, nursing a Coke. On the wall is a curious and comical photo. A cherubic Stacom, circa 1975, in curly black locks, is hounded on the Boston Garden parquet by a shaggy Laker with broad muttonchops: Pat Riley.
Stacom loves sports, but the last thing he wanted when he opened the Mudville Pub in 1986 was a hard-core sports bar. "I've always liked Runyon's in New York, an old-time saloon, only one or two TVs, a lot of guys who played Catholic City League ball, maybe a Big East coach passing through town," he says. "I wanted to make things comfortable for women, too. You do that by emphasizing food and having a nice staff."
Indeed, among the first patrons to sit down in the bullpen tonight are Tanya Haugen and her friend Kerrie Tremblay. Haugen's boyfriend, Clint Little, pitches for Town Dock, so the two are quietly rooting for the Mariners.
Mudville hasn't been to bat and already the situation looks bleak. The starting pitcher is gone, knocked out by a volley of hits off the rightfield wall, a tall wire fence entwined with honeysuckle and privet. It takes a search party—two outfielders and an ump—to locate a ground-rule double. The score is 5-0 after two innings, and yet a Mudville fan can't mope, not with a pint on the table, seven innings to go and those lovely, out-of-it uniforms with their roll collars and striped caps on display.
By 8 p.m. the bullpen is full. There are couples, a group of women and some bonding buddies. "I'd call this a field-level bar," says Dave DeStefano, who is up from Hamden, Conn., with his friend Bill Hinchey. Suddenly the air is shattered, as if by the force of Casey's blow. It's the nightly nine o'clock horn from a nearby fire station. Patrons fumble their beer glasses, and a grounder slips past the Mudville second baseman (who will later deny he was unnerved by the noise).
At 9:30, declared losers by 12-1, the Mudville lads, still in uniform, pour into the pub. It starts to drizzle, then the art-lights are shut off and the bullpen goes dark. But the players stay on. Player-manager Jeff Coffey, forever upbeat, says, "We were missing our middle infielders tonight—they had another game. We're 8-3, and we aren't hanging our heads."
Win, lose or rain, there is joy in the Mudville Pub.
Stacom bought Mudville duds for (from left) Ray Di Santo, Craig Cupiec and Chris Wood.
David Butwin, of Leonia, N.J., has written several stories for Sports Illustrated.