BRISTOL - Tonight will be a historic night in Bristol. In a pregame ceremony before tonight’s Bristol Blues game against the Worcester Bravehearts at Muzzy Field, the Blues will be retiring Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Rice’s No. 14.
After tonight, Rice’ number will join Babe Ruth’s iconic No. 3 as the only two numbers retired at Muzzy Field.
Rice spent the 1973 season as a member of the Bristol Red Sox, the Eastern League affiliate of the Boston Red Sox - the team’s first of 10 years in the city after moving from Pawtucket, R.I. He made his debut with the big league club the next summer.
During his time with the Bristol Red Sox, Rice played in 119 games. In that span, he picked up 134 hits, scored 66 runs, drove in 93 runs and recorded 27 home runs, including one on the first pitch he ever faced at Muzzy Field. His batting average on the season was .317, which earned him the Eastern League batting title.
“He’s got to be in the top five,” Blues manager Rick Muntean said about where Rice ranks in Muzzy Field history. “He hit 27 home runs and a lot of them had to be at Muzzy. It is a tough ballpark to hit a home run over the wall. He’s got to be in the top five, including Babe Ruth and Vince Lombardi. There are a bunch of guys who could be there.”
There are plenty of reasons for the Blues to bring Rice back and honor him. Rice was just barely 21 years old when he made his Muzzy debut and, from there, he ascended the minor league ladder and had a 16-year, Hall of Fame career with the Boston Red Sox.
“He’s an inspiration to the local kids and anyone who crossed paths with him,” Muntean said. “He showed you can go on to the major league and have a Hall of Fame career.
“Another thing about this is the Blues want to honor those from years past, and present, for baseball accomplishments. Here’s a guy who played at Muzzy Field, hit a home run in his first at-bat and is a baseball Hall of Famer. Now we can bring him back and show the local fans, ‘Maybe your kid can make it too.’ We are going to build a baseball powerhouse in Bristol and this is a step to get that done.”
Rice is one of Bristol baseball’s most successful alumni, if not the most successful. His impact has been felt on the community for decades and, with him coming back to where his Red Sox career began, it appears that Bristol is still a part of him as well.
“[Bristol] must’ve made a pretty good impression or he would not have come back,” Muntean said. “He must have enjoyed his time here. It’s a good thing to raise the flag about in Bristol.”
Tonight’s celebration of Rice is a great testament to the lasting impact he left on Muzzy Field and Bristol baseball.
“There’s been some good baseball at Muzzy,” Muntean said. “He played here in ’73 and we’re still bringing him back.”
For Muntean, the opportunity to host and recognize such a star and one whose trajectory to stardom began in Bristol is something special.
“I was sitting on my back porch yesterday saying, ‘Holy cow, a real one.’ We are really fortunate,” he said. “In my 43 years of doing this and being part of internationally covered events, [this is big]. It’s not international but it has generated a lot of buzz around New England. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The Blues have been promoting this event non-stop since before the season began and the exposure has not gone to waste.
“This has generated the most buzz of anything we’ve done other than opening night,” Muntean said.
As excited as the Blues organization is to recognize Rice, the Blues fans and fans of Rice from all over the region are just as enthusiastic about the opportunity.
“It’s going to be the biggest [crowd] in Blues history. I’m pretty sure of that,” Muntean said. “The phone has rang and we’re almost out of seats in the reserved grandstand. It’s just going to be general admission left. We’re not going to turn anyone away.”
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or email@example.com