Newport Gulls Hall of Fame Dinner Set for Oct. 22

Six inductees, silent auction will highlight Fourth Class Hall of Fame banquet

NEWPORT, R.I. – Five team alumni and one long-time volunteer will be inducted into the Newport Gulls Hall of Fame on Saturday, Oct. 22, in a dinner ceremony at the Hyatt Regency Newport. Tickets for the event are on sale now at www.newportgulls.com.

The event will include a dinner, silent auction, and video presentations, and begins at 6 p.m. with a cocktail reception, followed by the ceremony at 7 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom. Tickets are $60 each, and $600 for a table of 10. As the primary off-season fundraiser for the non-profit Gulls, the event’s proceeds help fund the team’s operations throughout the year.

“Every two years, the entire Gulls family gets together to honor contributors to the storied history of our organization, which makes this event special not only for me but for everyone involved,” said Newport Gulls General Manager Chuck Paiva. “Our host families, fans, sponsors, coaches, volunteers, and countless former players have made each of our past three Hall of Fame inductions feel like true family reunions, and we look forward to seeing so many familiar faces again this October when we induct six more outstanding gentlemen.”

The Fourth Class of the Hall of Fame will include two stars from the inaugural 2001 team, Billy Graiser and Michael Bohlander, in addition to 2004 and 2005’s Michael Affronti. Stephen Peterson, who played three seasons in Newport in 2007, 2008, and 2009, and Mike Melillo, from the 2008 and 2009 teams, round out the player class.

Also being inducted is long-time scoreboard operator Al Weisman, who has rarely missed a game since joining the Gulls for the team’s first year of operation in Newport in 2001. The longest-tenured volunteer in the organization, Weisman will join three other non-player contributors in the Hall of Fame, with one inducted with each class since the inaugural ceremony, including former Chairman of the Board Lou Gorman (2010), retired Newport Daily News sportswriter Rick McGowan (2012), and Don O’Hanley (2014), who has been Newport’s public address announcer at Cardines Field, sitting next to Weisman at every game, since 2002.

Michael Bohlander, who also played for the franchise when they were known as the Rhode Island Gulls in 2000 (playing their home games at Cranston Stadium), had a break-out year in his second NECBL season in 2001, jumping from a .235 to a .325 batting average between the two seasons to earn the NECBL’s Most Improved Player award. The first baseman led the league with 10 home runs and was third with 29 RBI, slugging .556 with a team-leading 49 hits. He remains in the NECBL Record Book as the only player to have been issued five intentional walks in a season.

An NECBL All-Star, he was the 2001 NECBL Home Run Derby Champion and named to the All-Division team, and the NECBL All-Star team that faced the Cape Cod Baseball League All-Stars. Helping his team win the Fay Vincent Sr. Cup in 2001, Bohlander also had a storied career at Pace University, and remains second all-time on the school’s record books for home runs and RBI. Drafted by the Chicago White Sox, he played professionally for two seasons in their minor league system in 2002 and 2003.

Billy Graiser, a 2001 outfielder for Newport, led the team with a .341 batting average through 36 games, and thanks to 29 walks, owned a .468 OBP. Graiser, who played his college ball at St. John’s, remains the most dominant Gull in team history along the base paths, stealing 32 bases in 35 attempts over 36 games, a franchise record which still stands. An NECBL All-Division selection, Graiser was also named to the All-NECBL team and NECBL All-Star team in Newport’s 2001 inaugural, championship season.

Inductees Graiser and Bohlander join three of their teammates in the Gulls Hall of Fame, to bring the 2001 team’s representation up to five players. Joel Kirsten (2001), Rafael Lara (2001 and 2002), and Michel Bergeron (2001, 2002, 2003) were all inducted with the 2010 Inaugural Class.

Michael Affronti, a shortstop out of LeMoyne, reached as high as AAA in enjoying a five-year professional baseball stint from 2006-2010, mostly in the Oakland A’s organization, following his two-year Gulls career in 2004 and 2005. Defensively, Affronti turned 18 double plays in 2004 with 113 assists (third in the league), while he hit .227 with a homer and 16 RBI in 39 games, adding a home run and three RBI through nine playoff starts, as the Gulls lost a heartbreaker in Game Three at home in the NECBL Championship Series to the Sanford Mainers.

Affronti returned for the 2005 campaign and improved both his bat and glove, notching 25 double plays turned and 127 assists (both second in the NECBL) to just 4 errors – a .978 fielding percentage – while batting .255 with a homer and 12 RBI. After going 3-5 in stolen bases in 2004, he was a perfect 6-6 on the base paths in 2005, a season where the Gulls swept six-straight playoff games to win the franchise’s third Fay Vincent Sr. Cup.

Stephen Peterson, meanwhile, is one of just a handful of three-time Gulls. The left-handed pitcher out of the University of Rhode Island played for three-straight division championship teams in 2007, 2008, and 2009, being denied a championship twice before finally taking home a ring in his final season in Newport. Signed by the Milwaukee Brewers organization as an undrafted free agent, he’s risen through the minor league ranks since 2011, and was recently promoted to AAA during the 2016 season.

In 2007, Peterson owned a 1-1 record, splitting time as a starter and reliever for Newport, working 20 1/3 innings between the regular and postseasons. With a year of experience under his belt, Peterson returned in 2008, dropping his previous season’s ERA four points to 2.91, going 2-0 in 12 appearances (three starts) while striking out 39 to just 10 walks in 34 innings. He added 13 strikeouts in nine innings of postseason work, owning a 1.00 ERA and 1-0 record in a start and two relief appearances, while walking just two.

Peterson came back for the 2009 season as a true leader on the team, hungry for a title. His 2009 ERA of 0.71 was third best in the NECBL, as he worked 25 1/3 innings through two starts and 10 relief appearances, earning five saves out of the pen, while striking out 31 to just nine walks, owning a 2-1 record. He added 2 2/3 innings of work in the postseason, striking out two and allowing just an unearned run.

Mike Melillo was Peterson’s teammate and Newport’s primary catcher in 2008 and 2009. Hailing from Annandale, New Jersey, Melillo played his college ball at Elon and was drafted in 2010 by the Brewers organization. A leader both on and off the field, Melillo was integral to Newport’s 2009 championship season, where the catcher hit .440 through eight consecutive playoff starts, launching two home runs, three doubles, and eight RBI, owning a .545 OBP, while playing perfect defense behind the plate.

In the regular season, Melillo hit .234 through 35 games with four homers and 13 RBI, walking 18 times while going 3-3 in stolen base attempts. In 2008, he was third on the team with a .315 batting average in the regular season through 33 games, knocking two homers and 29 RBI along with eight doubles. He was likewise red-hot in the 2008 playoffs, hitting .423 in six straight starts with a home run, three doubles, a triple, and seven RBI.

Defensively, he earned regular praise from skipper Mike Coombs with his management of the pitching staff in games, while he gunned down 17 would-be base stealers, including nine caught stealing in 2009. In 2008, he picked off four, good for second most in the NECBL. He threw out a further six runners attempting steals in the playoffs, including four in 2008. The Southern Division’s starting catcher for the 2008 NECBL All-Star Game, he won the game’s MVP award after going 2-2 with a double, run scored, and two RBI.

Melillo later moved to Newport, and in 2012 was instrumental in working with the organization to plan the Gulls successful St. Baldrick’s “BaseBald” fundraiser – raising over $16,000 at a Gulls playoff game to fight childhood cancer, as the entire team, coaching staff, and dozens of others shaved their heads to garner donations for the cause. His brother, Jeff, played for the Gulls in 2011 and 2012, and likewise later moved to the City-by-the-Sea.

For tickets, donations, or more information about the 2016 Hall of Fame Dinner and Auction on Oct. 22, contact Director of Baseball Operations Nick Lima at 401-845-6832 or operations@newportgulls.com.

The Newport Gulls, members of the 13-team New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL), are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, founded as the Rhode Island Gulls in 1998 in Cranston, R.I., before moving to Newport in 2001. In addition to recruiting, fielding, and developing a team of the nation’s top collegiate baseball athletes and attracting 50,000 fans annually to Cardines Field, the predominantly volunteer organization strives to benefit the youth of Newport County via summer camps, reading programs, fundraisers, scholarships, and charitable donations – totaling over $1 million since 2001. The Gulls are six-time champions of the NECBL – the winningest franchise in league history – and were ranked as the overall No. 1 summer collegiate baseball team in the country by Perfect Game USA in 2012.

For more information about the Newport Gulls, visit facebook.com/newportgulls, follow the Gulls on Twitter @NewportGulls or visit www.newportgulls.com.

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Ryan M. Belmore

Ryan M. Belmore is the Owner & Publisher of What's Up Newp. Ryan is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers. Send questions, tips, and story ideas to Ryan@whatsupnewp.com.