Batter up! It’s Time for Real Baseball — Minor League Style
By Beth D’Addono
When was the last time you felt warm and fuzzy about baseball at a major league ballpark? Between high ticket prices, overpriced hot dogs and too many players who act like spoiled, misbehaved brats, it’s easy to be disenchanted with the big money big leagues.
Which is why minor league ball is such a pleasure. Family friendly, affordable and blessed with the true heart of the sport, the smaller ball clubs provide a slice of Americana that you just can’t buy for $20 a ticket.
The good news for baseball lovers is that there are new fan-friendly stadiums sprouting up all over the country. You can catch a game in smaller towns like Macon, Lynchburg and Hagerstown, or take in the minor league action in big cities like Nashville, Kansas City and Detroit. If you love baseball you can easily incorporate a minor league game into a pleasure or business trip – but you don’t have to go too far from home to have a memorable minor league experiences. Here are four nearby baseball destinations, three in New Jersey and one in Pennsylvania, that offer a dose of what makes baseball such a great sport. When you’re ready to go farther afield, pick up Fodor’s Baseball Vacations by Bruce Adams and Margaret Engel. The book offers a complete
list of baseball teams in the U.S. and Canada, as well as first hand info on more than 60 teams and stadiums.
Located in Reading, PA this AA team has produced some great ball players — including Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt of the Philadelphia Phillies. Watching a game in Memorial Municipal Stadium is a real treat — recently renovated to the tune of $2.5 million, this venue is exactly what a minor league stadium should be –from the welcoming landscaped plaza at the entrance to the red, white and blue concourse filled with baseball memorabilia and 8,500 honest-to-goodness seats inside — real seats beat benches every time.
Carol & Fran Halcovage, of Hatfield, PA, take their kids, Jonathan, 11, Patrick 9 and Jennifer, 5 to three or four Reading Phillies games a season. “We find that the size of the stadium and proximity to the field and players don’t intimidate the kids,” said Fran Halcovage. Mom and dad also appreciate the entertainment between innings — contests, competitions, giveaways — the organization really goes the extra inning when it comes to entertaining the fans. In other words, there is less time for the kids to get bored and squirmy.
“The game is really designed for the kids,” said Halcovage. “They can run the bases after certain games, there are fireworks, giveaway days — and the cost is reasonable. I can give my son a $5 bill and he’ll come back with a soda and a pretzel, and change.”
The Details: Games are played at 7:05 p.m., Mon.-Sat.,, 1:05 p.m. Sun., April through Labor Day. Tickets range from $8 for boxed seats to $5 general admission, $3 for kids 5-14 and 63 and older. Free parking. Best seat in the house: along the first base line — great view and easy access to the attractive patio area. The food is cooked to order and a bargain — hot dogs are $1.50 and the pizza is great at $1.50 a slice.
Rte. 61S. Centre Ave., Reading. For more information, call 610-375-8469, or click onto www.readingphillies.com
Wilmington Blue Rocks
Considering the fact that the Blue Rocks have only been playing for seven years, their record of four Carolina League Champions is pretty darn good. The team plays at Judy Johnson Field at Daniel S. Frawley Stadium, part of the new development that has sprung up along the Christiana riverfront. The stadium looks like a lot of other minor league parks with a few exceptions — there are 16 sky suites and a cafe which can be rented out for special events. Despite the fact that their son Liam lost in the diaper derby, Estelle and Bill Monahan love the Blue Rocks for a family outing. “The price is right, Liam loves the big blue furry mascot and there’s even a special seating section for families — no beer,” said Estelle Monahan of Newark. This year, in addition to the ever-popular Rocky Bluewinkle moose mascot, Mr. Celery is on the scene. Picture this — a guy dressed up in a celery suit comes out on the field every time the Blue Rocks score a run. The fans love it — despite the fact that it makes no sense at all.
Or maybe because of it.
The Details: games are played at 7:05 p.m., Mon.-Sat.,2:05 p.m. Sun., May through Sept. 3. Tickets range from $4-7 for adults $2 for kids 2-12 and senior citizens. Best bargain is $33.50 for four general admission tickets, four sodas, hotdogs and two pennants for the kids. Parking is free. Best seat in the house: seating outside the cafe is a great place for foul balls. To catch a great view of the sunset, sit high above right field. The food is standard but good, typical hot dogs, funnel cake, water ice and pizza. 801 South Madison St. For more information, call (302) 888-BLUE (2583) or click onto www.bluerocks.com.
When Trenton opened its Waterfront Stadium in 1994, the state capital hadn’t had a professional team since Willie Mays hit.353 for the Trenton Giants in 1950. The 6,606-seat stadium is now home to the AA Trenton Thunder, a farm team for the Boston Red Sox. Located alongside the Delaware River, the stadium offers clear views of the Champale factory, a throwback to the city’s industrial past. Although nothing beats the “Trenton Makes — The World Takes” sign on the bridge as you enter the city. Say hello to Boomer — the 6 ft. 4 in. blue Thunderbird mascot.
The Details: games are played at 7:05 p.m., Mon.-Sat., 1:35 p.m. Sun., May through Labor Day. tickets range from $8 for pavilion seats to $5 on the terrace, $3 for kids 5-14 and senior citizens. Parking is $1, with on street spots available. Best seat in the house: you’ll get a great view of the Delaware River over right-field wall from seats on the third-base side. The food is good — try the pork roll hero with sweet peppers, cheese and onions, $5, a hot dog is $3 and the French fries are above average, $2. 1 Thunder Rd., Trenton. For more information, (609) 394-8326 or click onto trentonthunder.com
Atlantic City Surf
The fun starts as soon as you enter this two-year-old ball park, built or the inaugural 1998 season of the Atlantic League. The colorful entranceway is covered on both sides with large collages of baseball history, including an oversized bat and glove and paintings of Aaron, Cobb, DiMaggio and Ruth. The Surf is the first professional minor league team for Atlantic City, although the city was home to a Negro League team, the Atlantic City Bacharachs. A bronze sculpture paying tribute to the black baseball experience stands just outside the stadium entrance. Bright teal-colored seats, seating sections named after the Monopoly game board and a large green sea serpent mascot, Splash, make the city’s beach front location hard to miss.
The Details: games are played at 7:05 p.m., Mon.-Sat., 2:05 or 4:05 p.m. Sun., May through mid-Sept. Tickets range from $12 for club seats to $6 reserved seating, $3 for kids 3-12 and $4 for senior citizens. Parking is free. Best seat in the house: the reserved seats, just past the dugouts, are a bargain. If you want a view of the Atlantic City skyline, head for the third-base side over the right-field fence. The Oriental Avenue reserved section is a no-alcohol family section. The best buy is a family fun pack – four reserved seats, four hot dogs and sodas and four Surf t-shirts for $50 — a $26 savings. 545 N. Albany Ave. Atlantic City. At GoNOMAD you can find budget hotels in Atlantic City. For more information, call 609-344-8873, or click onto acsurf.com.
Newark hasn’t had a baseball team since 1950 — a loss that was just another blow to a city in urban decline. But that’s changed. The city is on the rebound, and a new ball club, the Newark Bears, is just one of the good signs. The original Bears, the Yankee’s top farm club, were one of the best teams in the minor league. In 1937, they won the Triple A International League pennant by an amazing 25 1/2 games. Rick Cerone, a native son and former Yankees catcher, is the man responsible for bringing baseball and the Bears back to Newark. In 1999, Riverfront Park opened for business. Located on the river, just north oaf the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the 6,000 seat, $19 million stadium is both state-of-the art and fan-friendly. There are on-field contests, music between innings and a large video scoreboard above the right-field fence. And there’s also Rip’N Ruppert, the friendly bear mascot named after the original, long-gone ballpark.
The Details: games are played at 7:05 p.m., weekdays, 6:05 p.m. Sat., 1:05 p.m. Sun., May through mid-Sept. Tickets range from $8 for boxed seats to $6 reserved seats, kids 4-12 get $1 discount. Parking in nearby lots for $3, and $4. Best seat in the house: on a clear day you can see the Manhattan skyline over the center field fence. The food is mostly standard — the Italian sausage with peppers and onions is your best bet at $4.25. 10 Bridge St., Newark. For more information, call 973-483-6900, or click onto newarkbears.com.
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