Our Minor League Stadium Crawl entered the home stretch this weekend with a visit Saturday afternoon to Yogi Berra Stadium in Little Falls, New Jersey. But unlike our previous trek across the Hudson, we weren't blown away by the home of the New Jersey Jackals. Where does it rank in our standings? On to the scoring!
Venue: Yogi Berra Stadium, Little Falls, New Jersey
Team: New Jersey Jackals
Ticket Price: $11 for Row 4, adjacent to the backstop netting
Facilities: Of the seven stadiums we've visited thus far, this is the first one that truly, desperately needs a renovation. It's nice enough from the outside, where iron gates are adorned with a silhouette of Yogi Berra. But once you descend the steps onto the concourse for a better view, you'll see that the ads are literally peeling off the outfield wall (a wall that may or may not intentionally be missing some panels in center field), the field itself has its fair share of divots, and the seating bowl isn't covered at all, meaning if it rains, you'll need to take cover in the team store or the five-game kids arcade. They've got enough to work with — lawn seating in right, a nice location next to the Yogi Berra Museum on the hilly campus of Montclair State University — but as it stands now, there's far too much chain-link fencing for our tastes. Grade: 2/10.
Quality of Play: Along with Saturday's foe, Sussex — whom we've already seen play once — New Jersey plays in the Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball. This is the lowest level of professional baseball we've seen on our trip, and these were the two worst teams in that league. This was self-evident. The Skyhawks started a man named Chris Nolan, whose eponymous similarity to the Dark Knight director has made it difficult to find much information about him online, but we'll say that it's very possible he won some sort of contest that allowed local eccentrics to take the mound for a few innings. He threw an amusing impersonation of a knuckleball, walked seven players in two innings, and gave up nine runs. The Jackals weren't much better; we saw maybe ONE player who looked worthy of a paycheck, and only then a very small one. This was, without question, the most dreadful game we've seen. Grade: 1/10.
Promotions: We arrived for Pack the Stands day, which must not have received too much publicity, considering the stands were far from packed. They're otherwise big on theme nights — Vampire Night, Mardi Gras Night, and the New Jersey pop-culture superfecta of nights dedicated to Springsteen, Sinatra, Bon Jovi, and Jersey Shore — though it's possible this is the only place on earth that would have a Joel Bennett bobblehead. (He was briefly a major leaguer and pitched for the team for six years, leading them to retire his number. He threw out the first pitch at the game we were at, which would be impressive if we weren't vaguely suspicious that he throws out the first pitch EVERY game.) One promotion we'd both enjoy and be terrified of if we were parents: Scout Sleepover Night. Considering the condition of the field, we'd be afraid our kid would roll over in the middle of the night and accidentally fall into a deep, unreplaced divot. Grade: 5/10.
Adorability: The mascot for the Jackals is Jack the Jackal, a fairly standard-issue mascot: a Jackal wearing a baseball uniform. (Strangely, this Jackal wears shorts; maybe they worried the thin layer of cloth below the knees would be too hot?) Jack the Jackal does most of the crowd-pleasing heavy lifting, heading out between innings to play games with the kids, including tug-of-war, third-base race, and catch the item the Jackal catapults high in the air. Mostly, Jack the Jackal proves the theorem that if a kid sees a mascot, he will try to hurt the mascot. Poor Jack was tackled, punched, kicked, and altogether abased at every opportunity. We won't get into specifics, but we'll say that if Jack the Jackal is played by a male, that male needed plenty of ice on his unmentionables after the game. Grade: 4/10.
Miscellaneous: The true draw here is less the ballpark itself than the Yogi Berra Museum, a venue that is currently undergoing renovations. Parts are still open to the public, however, and since it's baseball-museum critique day here at The Sports Section, we submit a major qualm. One of the highlights is a dark display case that includes all ten of the World Series rings that Berra earned as a player. And stuck under the glass of that dark display case is a dead bug. As for the stadium itself, we liked the sole skybox, attached to the museum, overlooking the field. We think we like that the campus's (free) parking garage is called CarParc Diem, though we're not sure we understand the significance of this particular play on words. And while there's a play area for kids in right field, it's not exactly the playground-quality equipment we saw in Lakewood. Among the activities: a Huffy basketball hoop with a chain net hanging on for dear life from the back of the rim. Grade: 2/10.
Total: 14. The Jackals just edge out their Can-Am League rivals for sixth place in our standings. With just one stadium to go, the Cyclones' MCU Park remains atop our leaderboard. Our final stop: TD Bank Ballpark, home of the Somerset Patriots, on Tuesday, September 14.