We’ve come to the end, folks: The Sports Section’s summer-long Minor League Stadium Crawl concluded last night at TD Bank Ballpark in Somerset County, New Jersey. What a long, strange journey it’s been: Tractor-crossing signs in Augusta, a game of Flonkerton in Brooklyn, and a Carl Everett — Carl Everett! — appearance in Newark. Needless to say, these are exactly the kind of things we were hoping for when we began our trek back in April. So how does the home of the Somerset Patriots stack up? One last time, on to the scores!
Venue: TD Bank Ballpark. Bridgewater, New Jersey
Team: Somerset Patriots
Ticket Price: $12.50 for sixth row, adjacent to backstop netting
Facilities: Similar in many ways to the Long Island Ducks’ stadium, TD Bank Ballpark (a name that assures pictures of Regis and Kelly plastered all over the place) is an uninventive but perfectly serviceable ballpark. It doesn’t have a lot of special quirks, but it’s not falling apart either. The only notable curios from the design are a surprisingly large section of “luxury boxes” behind home plate — one of the boxes’ inhabitants, wearing a Brandon Jacobs jersey, was nearly brained by a foul ball; these luxury boxes are closer than most — and a “lawn” area that pales in comparison to the superior version we saw in Lakewood. (It’s essentially just a hidden corner of the stadium with some not-all-that-well-kept grass. We saw no kids on it.) We did enjoy the scoreboard, which was nicer than most stadiums’ we saw and features exhortations of “SOMERSET!” “PATRIOTS!” from mixed martial arts fighters like Randy Couture and Kimbo Slice. Neither is from the Jersey area, but they must have filmed their segments while in town for an event, like a celebrity doing a “This is Jack Kevorkian, and you’re listening to Big Hank and The Hog Dog on K-SHE 95.” Grade: 4/10.
Quality of Play: This category is difficult to add much new to, considering we’ve already seen these two teams play this year, in Long Island back in April. We gave them 6/10 back then, and all told, that seems a LITTLE high now. Perhaps we were entranced by Sidney Ponson, who shut down the Patriots for the Ducks in April; he is quite entrancing, after all. It’s also worth noting that the Patriots had clinched a division title the night before and weren’t exactly on the top of their game. (In the majors, this is the game that Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, and Cano all take off due to Champagne-drenched uniforms.) That said, the Patriots did still win, and they didn’t even have to use Bill Pulsipher. Grade: 5/10.
Promotions: We were pretty ecstatic when we learned we had arrived on Star Trek Night: A whole stadium full of dorks in Spock ears! Just like that nightmare we had! Alas, we found few people playing along for Vulcan night; all told, Bridgewater, New Jersey, might not be the ideal locale for trouble with Tribbles. They at least tried, though, which counts. Other fun themes this year have included Beatles Day, Star Wars Night, and Twins Day (buy one ticket, your twin gets one free), plus lots of standard giveaways like sunglasses and seat cushions. Grade: 4/10.
Adorability: The between-inning entertainment consisted of fun, if not overly creative games: Potato-sack races, the dizzy bat, and a race around the bases between a youngster and the mascot that absolutely should not have ended at home plate. (Thank goodness the catcher motioned to the pitcher to stop warming up while the kid crossed the plate.) One moment, at least, stood out: During the which-shuffling-cup-is-the-ball-under game, a man boasted that he could win without even looking at the screen. (Perhaps he liked his one-in-three odds, or perhaps the game was just rigged, considering he’d go on to guess correctly.) In any case, the man stood with his back to the scoreboard as the cups started moving, and when he turned around and waited for them to stop, Patriots manager Sparky Lyle hopped out of the dugout, and jokingly blocked his vision so he still couldn’t see. Perhaps you had to be there, but to this point, we’d yet to see a team’s manager join in on the shenanigans. Grade: 4/10.
Miscellaneous: A bunch of little things caught our attention here: The PA announcer at one point ad-libbed a pretty good line when, after a particularly violent game of musical chairs, he joked that the contestants did more hitting than the Jets defense had the night before. (Granted, their offense was more deserving of ridicule than the defense, but alas.) The team sold T-shirts with the name and number not of past-their-prime big-leaguers, but of guys who’ve excelled in Somerset. (One of them, Jeff Nettles, has twice been the MVP of the Atlantic League Championship Series. If the name’s familiar, he’s the son of former Yankee Graig Nettles.) And there’s a New Jersey Transit rail stop on site, though it’s a pretty long trek if you’re leaving from Manhattan. But we’re not going to lie: The reason Somerset is getting so many points in this category is because, after eight games — including one in Newark attended by approximately eleven people — we finally caught a foul ball last night! (In this case, “we” means “Joe.” On a hop, while roaming the concourse, in the bottom of the third.) Also, we ran the numbers of all the above scores, and realized that even awarding them the full ten here wasn’t going to put them over the top. Gotta keep things fair, after all. Grade: 10/10.
Total: 27. An all-around solid effort by TD Bank Ballpark, good for fourth place in our rankings. But it’s not enough to take the crown, so with that, we hereby present the winner of The Sports Section’s Minor League Stadium Crawl: Brooklyn’s MCU Park! Considering the Cyclones were eliminated just last night, in the New York–Penn League Championship Series, they could use a little cheering up today. So congratulations all around!