In a ceremony just before the first pitch between the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks and the Danbury Westerners on Wednesday night, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School held a ceremony on the field to honor former MVRHS baseball coach Gary Simmons with a plaque. The plaque was in dedication to Simmons’ and Vineyard Baseball Inc.’s “hard work and dedication in building the Vineyard Baseball Park at MVRHS.” The plaque will be mounted at the field soon.
MVRHS athletics director Mark McCarthy handed the plaque to Simmons during the ceremony.
“Without their efforts, some 15 years ago, we would not be here today enjoying summer baseball on Martha’s Vineyard,” James Notor, a Sharks game announcer, said in opening the ceremony. Vineyard Baseball Park, known as the Shark Tank during the summer, has brought a “positive impact and quality baseball to the Island.”
Simmons said receiving the plaque was “fantastic.” He said it was nice to build a field where thousands of athletes have played and will play baseball.
Simmons moved to the Island in 2000, and there was only one full-size baseball field at the time. Recognizing a need for a high quality baseball field, Simmons and a small group of people (mostly coaches) formed the Vineyard Baseball Project Committee in 2006. This organization would later become the Vineyard Baseball Inc., a nonprofit focused on fundraising for the field’s construction. Private donations, financial support from MVRHS, and initial labor donations from local companies such as John Keene Excavation led to the development of the Vineyard Baseball Park’s establishment in 2008.
Currently, fundraising for the field maintenance and summer collegiate baseball is done directly by the Sharks through the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks Foundation.
The Vineyard Baseball Park has served as the MVRHS baseball field since 2008, and exhibition matches by teams from the Cape Cod Baseball League were also held until 2010 as fundraising efforts. Martha’s Vineyard would not have its own collegiate baseball team until 2010 with the Sharks. The Torrington Baseball Group reached out to Simmons in 2009 with hopes of building another baseball team, which led to the formation of the Sharks.
Simmons said the field being used by both the MVRHS and the Sharks help to grow baseball on the Island. Little League athletes would see high school and Sharks games, inspiring them to improve and perhaps play for them one day. “That was my long term vision. I wanted to grow baseball more because I know little kids come and watch these guys play,” said Simmons.
Simmons said baseball was his “first love” among sports. Simmons’ father introduced baseball to him and he has played since he was young. A 1987 graduate of MVRHS, Simmons also played during high school. He has since played briefly in college and in adult leagues, but eventually came back to the Island to be the MVRHS JV baseball coach in 2000. Five years later, Simmons coached varsity baseball for 13 years.
“You have a passion for it so you try to be the best you can be and do the best you can for the community and for the kids,” said Simmons. “That’s kind of what drove me to keep going with it.”
The field was a great addition for the Martha’s Vineyard community, not just for baseball players. “It’s all about giving back. I fortunately had a lot of support as a young kid playing Little League and all that stuff. You remember all of those people and especially on the Vineyard where everything is so community supported very well, so you want to give back. This field was my contribution to the high school. I’ve been here for 20 years, so you want to leave a mark on something like that,” said Simmons.
Simmons currently coaches the MVRHS JV ice hockey team, but he would like to be more involved with coaching baseball in the future if possible.
The night concluded with the Sharks having a tie game against the Westerners.