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Official Review by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Martha’s Vineyard Sharks are the 2013 champions of the Futures League. They play their home games at the Vineyard Baseball Park, alternately known as “The Shark Tank,” on the campus of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. The playing field was built specifically for the Sharks, and is one of only two full sized baseball diamonds on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. The ownership of the Sharks have invested $415,000 in the building of the field and improvements to the facility. Before serving as home to the Sharks, the Cape Cod League would hold a few games per season on the island.
The Sharks came into existence when Chris Carminucci of the Brockton Rox and Drew Weber of the Lowell Spinners sought to place expansion teams in the New England Collegiate Baseball League in Martha’s Vineyard, and Nashua, NH, respectively. When the NECBL declined, they began their own league. The Futures League began in 2011 with four teams and has since expanded to 10 teams. In many markets the Futures League has set up shop in old ballparks formerly used in professional minor league baseball.
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There are three small shacks behind the grandstand that sell a variety of concessions for hungry Sharks fans. All the usual ballpark fare can be found here, such as hot dogs ($3.50), burgers ($5.50), chicken nuggets ($5), sausage and pepper sandwiches ($4.50), and French fries ($3). A little variety is achieved with pulled pork sandwiches ($6) and mozzarella sticks ($5). Fans looking for a snack can choose from nachos ($5), popcorn ($3/$5), or Cape Cod Chips ($2). A variety of ice cream novelties can also be found here.
There are no alcoholic beverages sold here, but there is a wide variety of beverages available, featuring Pepsi products ($3.50), and Nantucket Nectars ($3.50).
There are two large sheds on the third base line selling a wide variety of Sharks merchandise. If you are looking for any kind of t-shirt, hat, sweatshirt, or jersey with the MV Sharks logo on it, you will find it here. Selected novelties can also be found here, such as baseballs, a souvenir item that is missing at far too many of these summer league ballparks.
The Futures League attempts to stand out from its competitors in New England by presenting a game day experience more similar to the minor leagues than what you will find in the Cape Cod League or the New England Collegiate Baseball League. Here you will find numerous promotions, wacky between-innings contests (such as a hot dog eating contest) and a whole lot of music. The staff here at Martha's Vineyard do a good job straddling the line between entertaining the crowd and becoming intrusive. This is a vacation destination, after all, and people come to the islands to have fun. The Sharks staff do a nice job ensuring that a night at a Sharks game is indeed fun.
The signature element of the Vineyard Baseball Park is the new grandstand, built in 2013. It features four sections of individual bucket seats, each one consisting of seven rows of seats. All seats are located behind home plate, offering great views of the action. The remainder of the seating consists of metal bleachers scattered throughout the ballpark. There is also room available all around the field for fans to set up lawn chairs and blankets.
The Vineyard Baseball Park is located next to Martha's Vineyard Regional High School in Oak Bluffs, one of six towns on the island of Martha's Vineyard. The island has a year-round population of 15,000, and swells to over 100,000 people in the summer months. The ball field is located centrally on the island, in a rural, residential area. It is located about five miles from the tourist destination of Oak Bluffs and three miles from Vineyard Haven. Edgartown is about five miles to the southeast. Fans looking for things to do in the immediate vicinity of the ballpark will find nothing of interest to occupy them. Head to one of the tourist hot spots to make the most of your time.
Martha's Vineyard annually ranks in the middle of the pack in terms of attendance in the Futures League, averaging between 600-750 fans per game. The team markets itself towards the year round residents of the island, most likely figuring that tourists to the island are not coming here to see collegiate summer ball. Still, you can find some tourists mixed in with all the locals. After all, going to a Sharks game is a much cheaper alternative to many other activities available on the island.
With a budget that is much larger than any other summer league team, the Sharks require a great deal of community support. Their travel budget alone tops out at $40,000, as it gets expensive to get teams on and off the island every night. Luckily, the Martha's Vineyard business community has stepped up in a big way to support the Sharks.
Martha's Vineyard is the third biggest island on the eastern seaboard, and is the largest island without a bridge connecting it to the mainland (for those keeping score, Long Island and Mount Desert Island in Maine are larger). There is a small airport on the island, and planes come and go regularly. Jet Blue has even begun daily flights to Martha's Vineyard. But the most popular method for getting to the island is by boat. Ferries depart throughout the day from New Bedford, Falmouth, and Hyannis. The largest (and least expensive) ferry company is the Steamship Authority, which operates ferries almost hourly throughout the summer from Woods Hole.
The ease at which one gets to Vineyard Baseball Park depends almost entirely on whether said baseball fan is a native or not. For residents of the island, Martha's Vineyard High School is fairly centrally located on the island in southern Oak Bluffs, a short drive away from most points on the island, and close to the larger towns on the western side of the Vineyard. The ballpark is located on the campus of the high school on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road. Fans requiring public transportation can take bus route #1, which travels along this road from, you guessed it, Edgartown to Vineyard Haven. There is a stop directly in front of the high school. The ballpark is set back about a half mile from the main road along Sanderson Avenue.
If you are visiting the island for any length of time, chances are you brought along your car or have rented some sort of transportation. Mopeds, bicycles, and cars are all readily available to rent for the day or week. In addition, ferries transport hundreds of cars back and forth to the island daily. While the streets of Martha's Vineyard can be narrow and winding, it's very accommodating and accessible to those getting around on two wheels. If you are vacationing on the island with transportation and headed to a Sharks game, follow the instructions above.
If you are coming to the Vineyard for a day trip and are looking to catch a Sharks game, you have some planning to do. First you must get to the island. As mentioned earlier, the Steamship Authority is the most popular transporter of people and vehicles to the islands. The company operates several parking lots in the mainland town of Falmouth (and won't Cape Cod residents get a kick out of me referring to the Cape as "the mainland"), at a cost of $13 per day. From these lots, you will board a free shuttle to Woods Hole, where the ferries depart from. Do not try to bypass the shuttles and park in Woods Hole. There is no room there. Seriously. Don't try it. A one-way ticket to Martha's Vineyard will cost $8. There is no discount for a round trip. As you may imagine, if you travel to the Vineyard in the summer months, you won't be going alone. Be prepared for crowds, lines, and delays. Luckily, the folks at the Steamship Authority have done this a time or two, and will move you along as quickly as possible.
The ferry is a nice 45 minute ride across the Vineyard Sound to either Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs. Both are excellent destinations, I will not recommend one over the other. My job is simply to get you to the ballpark. If you rent a vehicle, whether motorized or human powered, follow the instructions above. Just keep in mind that the Sharks play their games at 7pm, and most rental places close around 6. Get used to this. If you are in Vineyard Haven you can always take the #1 bus to the High School. Getting to the ballpark from Oak Bluffs requires a couple of transfers. Take the advice of a local on how to most effectively use the local busses. If you are a day tripper, your best bet is to take a taxi to the game. Taxis are everywhere on the island, and will take you to the Shark Tank fairly quickly and cheaply. A one-way fare for three from Oak Bluffs to the Vineyard Baseball Park costs $16. Now remember, and this is important, that the Sharks begin their games at 7pm. The last ferry departs Oak Bluffs at 8:30, and Vineyard Haven at 9:30. The Steamship Authority recommends arriving at the dock 45 minutes before departure. Do the math. Even if you arrive at the last second for boarding the ferry, there is no way you can catch an entire Sharks game if you aren't staying overnight on the island. Day trippers are obviously not the target audience for Martha's Vineyard Sharks games.
Reserved Seats at Vineyard Baseball Park sell for $10. This may seem like a steep price for this level of baseball, but these reserved seats get you an individual seat in the grandstand. Bleacher seats are sold as general admission for $6. Seniors can purchase bleacher seating for $5, and children are admitted for $4. Parking is available on Sanderson Road at no charge. The Sharks sell loaded tickets good for a reserved seat and concessions for $19 and $15, depending on the package. Taking into account that everything tends to be more expensive on the island, these prices are not as outrageous as they may seem at first glance.
The Sharks offer extra incentives to draw in fans, such as 2 for 1 specials and giveaways throughout the game. The Sharks hold a 50/50 raffle each night to help raise funds to cover operating costs.
You may not think it, but there is actually a decent chance of bumping into a celebrity at tiny Vineyard Baseball Park. Many of the rich and famous own homes on the Vineyard, and it is a favorite vacation spot for many Hollywood types, as well as Presidents Clinton and Obama. It is rumored that Bill Murray, who owns a home in Oak Bluffs, is a regular visitor to the ballpark. He is also a minority owner in the club.
If you are planning a day trip to Martha's Vineyard, a trip to Vineyard Baseball Park will not be in your best interests, unless you are the most ardent of ballpark chasers. The schedules of the games and ferries just do not line up. However, if you are on the island for any extended period of time, be sure to include a trip to see the Sharks. The ballpark, while small and somewhat plain, is new, comfortable, and features a laid-back atmosphere perfect for any vacationer. This ballpark is in stark contrast to the old, abandoned minor league ballparks that dot the Futures League, but Martha's Vineyard is a welcome addition to the circuit.
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