BRISTOL - Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Rice made his triumphant return to Bristol on Thursday night to have his number retired by the Bristol Blues at Muzzy Field.
Rice played his entire major league career with the Boston Red Sox but made his way to the MLB through various minor league stops, including Bristol where he played for the Red Sox’s AA affiliate.
“I think it’s good to visit any city you played in,” Rice said. “I was lucky, maybe six or seven years ago, I went back to Williamsport, PA. That was a thrill. That ballpark is still there, this ballpark is still here. I had memories of that ballpark. It was my first year in organized baseball and here it is, it’s my third year here at this point being in Bristol.”
The Blues honored Rice in a pre-game ceremony and unveiled a sign out on the left field wall at Muzzy with Rice’s number, effectively retiring No. 14.
“It means that the Blues know talent,” Rice said with a smile about what it meant for the Blues to honor him.
For Rice, Bristol will always be a part of him and his career because of what he did on the field and who he met off of it.
“I think the key thing here is being able to have friends in cities that you played in,” he said. “That’s the most important thing right there because when you go to a city you don’t know anyone and then all of a sudden you accumulate friends.”
He still remembers the people he came to know back in 1973 when he played here and the local spots where he liked to go.
“My biggest memories here are I met a young man [named] Whitehead right over there and he was my friend when I was here,” Rice said. “And another thing I remember is Chippy’s right across the street but I don’t think it’s there anymore. [I] have memories here and I had a great time here in Bristol.”
Rice ultimately played 16 seasons in the MLB, all with the Red Sox, but the time he spent in the minor leagues, including Bristol, provided him with the motivation to both get to Boston and to stay there long term.
“I think any time that you spend in any city is important because you want to get out of that city and make yourself better to get to the big leagues,” he said. “It was just a stepping stone.”
He played three and a half seasons in the minors before being recalled by the Red Sox and he compared his journey to that of one current young Sox player.
“It depends on who you are,” Rice said about how long players spend in the minors in today’s game. “Now we’ve got some of these kids, [like this kid] playing right field called Mookie Betts, that made the big jump so, a lot of times, you don’t have to go through stadiums like I did. I went through four cities and sometimes some guys are aggressive.”
While he was at the stadium, Rice took time to speak with the Blues players at length and he explained what advice he had for these young college players.
“The best one in the game was Ted Williams and what did he say? ‘Trust yourself,’” Rice said. “You don’t need to do any more. Just trust yourself. That’s what I try to accomplish. That’s what I did.
“But also I think if you’re a major league player, if you know that you’re a bad breaking ball hitter, you got to hit breaking balls. If you’re a bad fast-ball hitter, you got to hit fast balls. They have to opportunity to work on their faults.”
For the Blues team, having Rice at the game and being able to impart his wisdom to them was an extraordinary experience.
“It was phenomenal. It was incredible,” Blues manager Pat Riley said. “We’re very thankful that he came. I think he appreciated what the Blues organization did for him and it’s a great opportunity for these guys to see a big ex-major leaguer. It’s special and something that a lot of these guys won’t forget. I won’t.”
It has been about 43 years since Rice last took the field in Bristol as a player but the city and Muzzy Field still hold a special place for him and he can look back fondly on his time here.
“I always ask about Muzzy Field,” he said. “One reason is because I have friends here and this was a good ballpark to hit in. It was more like a family. That’s what it was all about. I had a great time here.”
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or email@example.com