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2007: The Best of Times
for New Jersey Baseball Fans

The traditional major league allegiances of the New Jersey baseball fan, for the most part, center around the neighboring Yankees, Mets, and Phillies. In 2007, those allegiances were rewarded with stirring late-season drives and post-season appearances by the Yankees and Phillies, while (sorry, Mets fans) the Mets provided their fans with a season of hope before suffering their late season collapse that had everyone on the edge of their seats.

But the biggest news in 2007 for New Jersey baseball fans took place within the boundaries of the Hudson and the Delaware, as the eight minor league and independent professional clubs that call New Jersey home treated their many fans to competitive and, in some cases, championship seasons. In fact, no less than six of the eight professional clubs made their post-season league playoffs, with two of them, the Trenton Thunder and the Newark Bears, winning their respective league championships. New Jersey turnstiles clicked to the tune of 1.986 million fans during the regular season, followed by an additional 51,324 who attended the post season playoffs. That’s a cool 2-plus million witnessing the joy of the professional game in New Jersey! What was it that attracted this many people to ballparks from Sussex to Atlantic Counties?

Even though these clubs compete with each other for fans, and while the levels of baseball in the four professional leagues represented in New Jersey are different, the New Jersey teams share one common characteristic; providing affordable family entertainment in clean and safe environments. The atmosphere in the ballpark appeals to both the serious baseball fan and the casual one who is looking for a relaxing night out with friends and family. So, besides the animated mascots and the zany between-inning promotions, what are the New Jersey fans watching on the field? The answer is as diverse as the regions of the state itself. The New Jersey baseball map offers a combination of affiliated minor-league baseball and two different levels of independent professional ball, all providing entertaining competition for those in attendance.

New Jersey is the home to two affiliated minor league clubs with ties to Major League Baseball. The Trenton Thunder is the AA-level, Eastern League affiliate of the New York Yankees, while the Lakewood BlueClaws are an A-level, South Atlantic League affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. Affiliated minor league baseball has great appeal to the baseball “purist” who likes to follow a prospect’s progression through the minor leagues, and views these players with great pride when they make it to the majors. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the recent past with the New Jersey minor league clubs, as budding stars like Robinson Cano, Philip Hughes, Shelley Duncan and Joba Chamberlain (Yankees), Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard (Phillies) played for the Thunder and the BlueClaws, some as recently as 2007. Players at the AA-level are considered to be prospects nearing the majors, while the A-level features younger prospects still trying to prove their worth to their major league organizations. Needless to say, their hunger to advance provides for terrific competition on the field. The 2007 Trenton Thunder, under the leadership of General Manager Brad Taylor and Manager Tony Franklin, rolled through the Eastern League while becoming the first team at the AA-level or below to draw over 400,000 fans for thirteen consecutive seasons. Meanwhile, the Lakewood BlueClaws entered the 2007 season as the defending South Atlantic League champions, and even though they were unable to successfully defend their crown, over 440,000 fans enjoyed baseball at FirstEnergy Park, leading the state in attendance.

Lakewood Blue Claws

Trenton Thunder

Independent professional baseball has no formal affiliation with the major leagues, but it became very popular in the early 1990s, providing additional communities the opportunity to host pro baseball while giving players a place to showcase their skills while trying to climb the ladder to major league affiliation. In New Jersey, we are fortunate to have six independent teams, with clubs in Newark, Camden, and Bridgewater representing the Atlantic League, and Sussex, Little Falls (Montclair), and Atlantic City represented in the Can-Am League.

Cole Hamels

Joba Chamberlain

League founder and executive Frank Boulton refers to his Atlantic League as a “boutique league” modeled after the old Pacific Coast League of the pre-1957 era. His objective is to provide baseball at the “AAAA” level by attracting a more experienced professional player who was probably just released by a major league organization, but who certainly still has aspirations to make it back to “the show.” Since the league came to New Jersey in 1998, we’ve been treated to players like Rickey Henderson, Jose Lima, the Canseco brothers, and Ruben Sierra playing in the Atlantic League, as well as younger professionals like Bobby Brownlie of Edison and Jeff Nettles, who successfully used their Atlantic League time to work their way back to major league affiliates. In fact, over 130 Atlantic League players were re-signed to affiliated contracts from the time of the league’s inception through the 2006 season, with an additional 41 being signed to minor league teams in 2007.

The Camden Riversharks represent the Atlantic League at the stunning Campbell’s Field, at the foot of the Ben Franklin Bridge. Under first-year manager Joe Ferguson, the Sharks rode a strong first-half performance to the playoffs, where they were defeated by the Somerset Patriots. Steve Kalafer’s Patriots, the highest-drawing independent club in New Jersey, play at Commerce Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater. Under manager Sparky Lyle, the Patriots have given their fans three Atlantic League championships since 2001, but fell short in the 2007 championship series to the Newark Bears. The Bears, skillfully built by General Manager John Brandt and Manager Wayne Krenchicki, increased their attendance at Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium while providing a consistent, hard-hitting lineup, led by Victor Rodriguez, Javier Colina and Piscataway native Corey Smith. The Bears and Patriots gave fans an all-New Jersey Atlantic League championship series, with the Bears prevailing in the best-of-five series, three games to one.

Opening Day 2007 at
Commerce Bank Park

Campbell’s Field

The Can-Am League provides New Jersey with a true grass-roots baseball experience. Playing in Atlantic City, Frankford Township in Sussex County, and at Montclair State University, Can-Am clubs give younger players, many former collegiate players who were undrafted by major league organizations, a chance to develop their skills and eventually be noticed by major league scouts. The Can-Am League limits the amount of “veteran” players that can be on team rosters, giving the younger professional player a chance to perform, while providing for a hungry and energetic brand of entertaining baseball. As of mid-September, nineteen former Can-Am League players were playing for affiliated minor league teams, including ex-Jackal John Lindsey, who batted .333 with 19 home runs for Las Vegas, the AAA affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Businessman Floyd Hall brought the New Jersey Jackals to the campus of Montclair State University (MSU) in Little Falls in 1998. They play in picturesque Yogi Berra Stadium, next door to the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the MSU campus. A true New Jersey baseball experience is to visit the museum in the late afternoon, then follow that up by walking down the stairs for a Jackals game in the evening. The Hall family also provided Can-Am League baseball for the Sussex County area when the affiliated New Jersey Cardinals moved to State College, PA, in 2006, replacing the Cards with the new Sussex Skyhawks. Even though the Skyhawks have yet to enjoy great success on the field, they provide baseball in a relaxed, rural atmosphere that keeps fans coming back to Skylands Park at Ross Corner.

New Jersey Jackals

Yogi Berra Stadium

The Atlantic City Surf switched affiliation from the Atlantic League to the Can-Am League for the 2007 season, and promptly rewarded the loyalty of their fans with a Can-Am League playoff berth. Under the ownership of the innovative Mark Schuster and the leadership of New Jersey baseball veteran General Manager Brendan Fairchild, the Surf promise their fans more exciting baseball and entertainment in the years to come, in the shadow of the Atlantic City skyline at Bernie Robbins Stadium.

Atlantic City Surf

Bernie Robbins Stadium

Certainly, there is something for every baseball fan in New Jersey, and the 2007 season provided the best of times for those fans. Is it April 2008 yet? The next baseball season in New Jersey can’t get here quick enough.

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