As a kid growing up in East Providence - a city that has an especially dense ethnic Portuguese population - a neighborhood friend told me that the Braga Bridge was the bridge to Portugal.
"Yeah, it takes you straight to Portugal," said my buddy Keith, in a convincing tone.
"What?," I retorted. "I thought Portugal was across the ocean?"
"It is," said Keith, in a matter of fact fashion. "And the bridge crosses the ocean to bring you there."
"HEY MOM..!" I yelled upstairs from the sidewalk in front of my house.
I rushed up the stairs into the living room. I paused to catch my breath.
"Keith told me that the Braga Bridge is a bridge to Portugal. I thought you told me that Portugal was on the other side of the ocean?"
"It is on the other side of the ocean. The Braga Bridge takes you to Fall River, not Portugal," said my Mom.
Later that day, before we set the table for dinner, I overheard my mom tell my dad, "I don't think I want our son hanging out with that Keith kid."
Years after, I moved away from that neighborhood, and last I heard, Keith stepped on rake in his backyard and opened up a sizable gash on his forehead. A scar just below his hairline remains.
So it was with that memory that I crossed the Atlantic via the Braga Bridge to enter Portugal, and quickly exited the country of my late grandparents before hitting North Tiverton, RI to check out Sam Mark's Stadium - or more accurately - what remains of Sam Mark's Stadium.
I was there to begin a story on the former epicenter of soccer in the southeastern New England. But before I scribbled some notes, and snapped some shots on the camera phone, I did what any fan of the game had to do: spring out the Nike T-90 soccer ball residing in my trunk, dribble around the neglected pitch, and take a few shots into ol' onion bag. After all, I had to somehow connect myself with former soccer greats like Billy Gonsalves, Archie Stark, and John Souza, all of whom played on this very site.
Unfortunaely, the pitch itself is largely overgrown with weeds and crabgrass, though curiously, two perfectly stable goalposts are stationed at each end. It's hard for me to make an accurate estimate of when the field was last used for competitive soccer. It appears as if a few laps on the John Deere would do the pitch wonders. But the ground - well-soaked from rain that fell on the area the night before - is particularly bumpy, with potholes abound from end to end.
But, for all of its deficiencies, the area surrounding the field provides a remarkable glimpse into the past. The field is just off a dense residential neighborhood that has two and three story apartment houses lining the streets. An abandoned gray-bricked mill looms just beyond the field, with a 60-foot smoke stack hovering above. A small lounge - presumably the actual home of the Ponta Delgada Portuguese Club - has seen better days, as graffiti litters the sides of the small, one-story building. All of these images speak to a period of time in which it seemed the entire neighborhood congregated here to watch some of the best soccer in the country during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. The Fall River Marksmen, the Shawsheen Indians, and Ponta Delgada all played matches at this field. As if I were experiencing a Hollywood flashback, a low mist hung over the field, as if an added sense of mystique were even required.
The feature on this historic pitch is still in its formative stages. Needless to say, alot of research has to be accomplished before it's finished.