Old Daniel Webster baseball field brought back by Rivier

Let the record show the first pitch was thrown Saturday at 1:06 p.m. by Norwich University’s Tanner Raymond.

That is, the first pitch in nearly two years at Harvey Woods Field, on the otherwise empty campus of closed Daniel Webster College.

There was no ceremony, no speeches, no pomp and circumstance. It was the first game of a doubleheader between Rivier University and Norwich, originally scheduled to be at Norwich were it not for a snowstorm that rendered the Cadets field useless well over a week ago.

But just because there was nothing special done pre game didn’t make it a special moment. Just ask Rivier associate head coach Louie Bernardini, who spent two seasons at the DWC helm, caring for the field as others did before him. Others like former longtime Eagles assistant Mike Henzley. Or former head coach J.P. Pyne.

They all cringed at the thought – and the all-too-real sight – of a field where championships were won turning into a hay field, overgrown with weeds. But that was the reality.

Bernardini would drive up to the parking lot beyond the outfield every once in a while just to gaze out a field he thought he would spend several years at after getting his first college head coaching job.

“It was almost like visiting a gravestone,” he said. “I was coming over to pay respects, take a look at it, and say ‘Thank you’ to it. The weeds just kept growing, man.”

So with the blessing of his one time rival whose staff he is now on, Rivier, he put the wheels in motion to see if Harvey Woods Field could be resuscitated. Some work and $20,000 later, on Saturday, it came back to life. Baseball life.

Bernardini made the walk Saturday, and again on Sunday, from the parking lot down the left field line to the home dugout. A special walk.

“It was emotional showing up,” Bernardini said. “I never thought I’d make that walk again. I thought the field would overgrow, and we’d have to wait and wait until something special might happen on this campus.”

Something special did. As we told you 10 days ago, former DWC president Mike Diffily, who presides over the abandoned campus as a caretaker under its mysterious new owner, Chinese national Sui Liu, was quite receptive to Bernardini’s and Rivier’s overtures. It made sense, given that Riv doesn’t have a baseball diamond on campus and searches for home spots until Holman Stadium is ready.

Bernardini remembers the last time he walked away from Harvey Woods. It was right after the final DWC graduation in May of 2017, which was held on the soccer field below. A group of players, coaches, almuni came up to the baseball field afterward. And just sat in the home dugout and stayed for a while.

“We talked about the good times,” Bernardini said. “We talked about J.P.’s teams, the championships that were won. We talked about heartbreak. We laid it all out there.”

One by one, people left. And Bernardini stayed as it got dark. He probably would have slept there if he could.

“A couple of hours later, I was alone, just sitting here,” Bernardini said. “I had to. It was my first head coaching position, I was planning on making it my home for awhile, for my family. To have it taken away was, it was just something I had to learn from and move on from.

“But being back? It feels great.”

It should.

“I got in touch with Mike, we started to come up with a plan, work around all the logistics about what it would be like to be here, fix up the field, and play here again,” Bernardini said. “We ironed it all out and made it happen.”

Riv secured a property company in Haverhill, Mass.to do the heavy lifting/landscaping, but the Raider players and coaches came over to do some work on it as well as part of their practice time. Now, it was still March, and the ground was still soft and mud was still around as well as some ice on the hill above the field, and areas of standing water were fenced off. But that’s everywhere this time of year, right?

Former Raider player Tyler Ferdinand, now an assistant coach, was on the field for one of the games two springs ago in the final week the field was last used.

“It’s awesome to be back here,” Ferdinand said. “We wondered what would happen with the field. But especially with Coach Lou being back here. It’s something we take pride in.”

The only downer was a Norwich 8-7, 2-1 sweep. What happens next is anyone’s guess. Riv was also slated to play a twinbill at HV Field on Sunday vs. UMaine-Presque Isle. Riv AD Joanne Merrill called the field “a hidden gem here in Nashua. I would be so sad if this turned into anything other than a baseball field. It’s part of history.”

But it’s tenuous, not knowing the future, as Merrill said. Bernardini said he’ll continue to work with Diffily to see if the field can be used even further down the road by others, not just Riv. Any outdoor athletic field that is available is such a plus, which made it so senseless that it was empty and overgrown.

“We turned it around and here we are playing a college baseball game on it,” Bernardini said. “There’s two different kinds of walks. There’s the walk I’d make to visit, and then there’s the walk I made (Saturday) in uniform.

“That was special. I got emotional. It was a slow walk. Memories pop into my head. Remember the people before me, too, which is imporant.

“We have life on this campus. It feels really good.”

Yes, in the case of Louis Bernardini and other DWC Eagles, you can go home again.

Welcome back, Harvey Woods Field. You’ve been missed.

Tom King may be reached at 594-1251, tking@nashuatelegraph.com, or @Telegraph _TomK.