Our Minor League Stadium Crawl chugged along last night with a visit to Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium in Newark. How sparsely attended was this 12–2 Bears loss to the Bridgeport Bluefish? It was quiet enough that from our seats behind home plate, we could hear the players calling each other off for balls hit into the air. Not infielders, mind you, but outfielders hundreds of feet away. There's a lot to like about this stadium, however; perhaps the forecast of rain scared everyone away. But is it pleasant enough to take the lead in our standings? On to the ratings!
Venue: Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium, Newark, New Jersey
Team: Newark Bears
Ticket Price: $10, for the third row behind home plate
Facilities: Just blocks from New Jersey Transit's Newark Broad Street stop, Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium was built with its home city in mind. Part of the ongoing, endless project to get downtown Newark up and going, the fences are painted as the eponymous brick of Brick City — we suppose it would be too dangerous and expensive to use actual brick — and the whole stadium is draped with remembrances of the old Newark Eagles Negro Leagues team, which featured Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, and Don Newcombe. It feels like a neighborhood stadium, built to fit into an existing community. (The "405 FEET" sign on the parking garage beyond the right-field fence made us happy.) We also love the net in deep left field, draped a decade ago because Jose and Ozzie Canseco were hitting too many balls onto the highway. The stadium's dimensions are rather cookie-cutter, but it's the details that count, and the designers did all the little things right. Grade: 8/10.
Quality of Play: Inspired by the appearance of Crazy Carl Everett and Elijah Dukes in the Bears lineup, we started a fun Twitter game before first pitch: "Fun baseball off-day game: Which current "established" players are most likely to play for Newark in 3 years? I'll start w/ Jeff Francouer." We got plenty of responses — the most popular were Milton Bradley, Dontrelle Willis, Rick Ankiel, and the 2010 Chicago Cubs — and it spoke to a larger truth: When big-league players crap out of the league, this is where they go. This raises the talent level substantially: There were all kinds of "big" names on the rosters last night, including Everett, Dukes, Daryle Ward, Jorge Julio, Antonio Alfonseca, Wily Mo Pena, Edgardo Alfonzo, Scott Spiezio, Brian Barton, and Esteban Yan, who, ominously, was listed as being on the "suspended list." These guys are past their prime, sure — Everett, now 39, appeared to have gained an amount of weight roughly equivalent to Tim Lincecum since we saw him last — but they can still play, and they're certainly better than lower-level team-affiliated minor leaguers. Though we will say this: If you've been in the big leagues and now you're playing in Newark, you are extremely unlikely to run hard to first base on a pop-up. Grade: 6/10.
Promotions: For a franchise looking to catch on with — and help elevate — a community, the Newark Bears have a depressingly low number of promotions. Their promotions are more of the weekly variety: Kids Eat Free Wednesday (hosted by Dr. Thomas Haveron, whoever that is and whatever that means), Sunday Is Family Fun Day (kids run the bases post-game), and so on. None of the goofy minor-league promotions we've all come to know and love: Unless we're missing something, we're not actually seeing any wacky bobbleheads or Sinatra Day or Cory Booker's Reality-TV-Show Extravaganza on the schedule at all. Come on, guys! Silly promotions are what the minor leagues are all about. Grade: 2/10.
Adorability: The between-innings games included two teenagers racing to unfold and don a frozen T-shirt; a dizzy-bat race between two grown men; and a sprint around the bases between two young children, one of whom, the crowd was informed, would soon be attempting to enter the Guinness Book of World Records as the youngest person to hit a 90-mile-an-hour fastball. (Sadly, this attempt did not happen last night.) A trio of children handled public-address duties during the bottom of the third, but otherwise, it was pretty standard between-innings fare. But considering our last outing involved people playing with cardboard boxes, that's maybe not so bad. Grade: 3/10.
Miscellaneous: You can get from Penn Station to the Newark Broad Street stop in under twenty minutes — less travel time from midtown than a trip to see either of the teams within the city limits. (Though fair warning: Once the 9:37 train back to Manhattan pulls out of Newark Broad Street, the next train doesn't arrive until 10:36, so with 6:35 weeknight start times, you may need to choose between leaving the game early or waiting a long time for your train.) Some other nice touches: The view of the New York skyline in the distance and the video introduction featuring Frank Vincent (a.k.a. Phil Leotardo). This is New Jersey, after all. Grade: 4/10
TOTAL: 23. The combination of aesthetics and setting vaults Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium over the homes of the Long Island Ducks and Sussex Skyhawks and into first place in our standings. Next up: A trip to Richmond County Bank Ballpark on Staten Island next Tuesday. We hope, for our own sanity, that it goes better than our last field trip to the borough.