It’s a warm summer evening. My family is enjoying that great American pastime, baseball. And while our loyalties lie with one particular New York team, we also like the friendly atmosphere and cozy stadiums of New Jersey’s minor-league ball clubs.
On this particular night, we cheer for the Somerset Patriots at TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater as we munch hot dogs and sip cool drinks. We smile as fans participate in goofy between-innings contests with mascots Sparkee and Slider. We applaud wildly as our son joins his Cub Scout pack in singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch. And we end the evening watching a splendid display of fireworks.
“Why attend a minor-league baseball game?” asks author Mitch Kaplan in his travel guide, 52 Weekends in New Jersey. “Plenty of reasons. Many of these teams, like the Jersey Jackals and Newark Bears, are ‘unaffiliated’ or ‘independent,’ which is to say they have no working agreement with a major-league team. The players are generally free-agent prospects, ‘on their way up’—or so they hope—and are not being rewarded with huge money and celebrity. Untainted by trappings of wealth and fame, they hustle. They play with verve, desire, and a love of the game.”
A few teams are distant relations of the major leaguers. The Trenton Thunder, for example, are a Class-AA affiliate of the New York Yankees; the Lakewood BlueClaws are a Single-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. And there have been a few changes in recent years. The Sussex Skyhawks took up residence at Skylands Park in Augusta after the New Jersey Cardinals moved its franchise to Pennsylvania. The Atlantic City Surf, unable to draw enough crowds, ceased operations earlier this year.
But despite the vagaries of the game, these clubs share an optimism and enthusiasm that Kaplan calls “contagious.” “Their enthusiasm spreads to the stands because the stadia are small and the players are seen up-close-and-personal,” he writes. “You can hear their grunts as they swing the bat or dive for the ball. You can see ‘em sweat.”
Should you care to see ‘em sweat, here’s where to go:
- Camden Riversharks: Campbell’s Field, 401 N. Delaware Ave., Camden; 856-963-2600.
- Lakewood BlueClaws: FirstEnergy Park, Two Stadium Way, Lakewood; 732-901-7000.
- Jersey Jackals: Yogi Berra Stadium, One Hall Dr., Little Falls; 973-746-7434.
- Newark Bears: Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium, 450 Broad St., Newark; 973-848-1000.
- Somerset Patriots: TD Bank Ballpark, One Patriots Park, Bridgewater; 908-252-0700.
- Trenton Thunder: Waterfront Park, One Thunder Rd., Trenton; 609-394-3300.
Enjoy the peanuts and Cracker Jack!
Mary Ann McGann is a New Jersey resident and mom to two baseball-loving kids.