Friday, September 2, 2011


On Finishing Up Jersey

Campbell's Field
Campbell's Field, 2011
Friday, September 2, 2011
Campbell’s Field
Atlantic League
Camden, NJ
7:05 PM

Outside of the Game:
With a four-day weekend lying out before me, finishing the last checkbox of my agenda to see all pro teams in New Jersey seemed a gimmie. But frankly, this completion just asked more questions than it answered. Okay, I did Jersey. By completing one state, I have merely opened the door to doing ever other state. Sure, places such as Connecticut and Delaware would be easy, but do you have any idea how big New York is, for example? These implications were better left for analysis at another time.

All I had to do was get down to Camden and the rest would have to follow. It was the Friday of Labor Day weekend, however, and the direction I needed to go was south, so there were some inherent problems. I got done with a bunch of chores, shopping, and whatnot earlier in the day, and, due to the events of Hurricane Irene, I needed to go out to my parents’ house to retrieve my car. During the train ride to their house, I discovered that NJ Transit now uses double-decker train on some of their service lines, which would have been useful for me twenty years ago when I went to school on that line, but it is still sort of neat today.

Car acquired, I decided to take off fairly immediately for Camden, about two hours south. I got onto the Turnpike and sat through some expected traffic until I got past the Garden State Parkway juncture, where things transitioned to fairly smooth sailing. It only took about two and half hours or so to reach Camden, and after some TomTom wrangling to get me to the actual stadium, I parked up across the street from the park.

Going home was without any sort of traffic, it being night and I being travelling in the opposite direction from 99% of humanity that evening. I got home and parked in a largely abandoned Hoboken and went back to my apartment in peace on a Friday, which is largely unprecedented in this berg.

The Stadium & Fans:
Home to center, Campbell's Field
Home plate to center field, Campbell's Field

Campbell’s Field is named for the titular soup company, which has been the only good thing in Camden for about 100 years now. The “Soup Kids” adorn statuary outside the main entrance to the park, and the signage would meet Andy Warhol’s approval, with the can splashed all over the place.

The park itself was quite well done all-around (except for certain seating signage, to be addressed a little lower). The landscaping and the outside of the park fit in nicely to the post-industrial area it inhabits on the riverfront, and the stately Benjamin Franklin Bridge between Camden and Philadelphia offers a scenic backdrop to the outfield. The park apparently won some design awards, as boasted by a big sign at the main entrance.

As with most indie parks, it is one seating area that extends below the entrance level, accessed by a promenade that goes from left field to right field. Left field is anchored by a party deck and a merry-go-round, while the right field walkway ends in a covered party area and an extensive “active fun” zone for kids (with things as exotic as a climbing wall) that looks directly out into right field. Between the two extremes are various concessions and the team store right behind home plate. There is an upper deck behind home plate on top of the broadcast booth that houses the luxury suites and a specialty bar and concession areas for adults.

Tucked next to the entrance (and doubling as the team offices) is an edifice called the “South Jersey Baseball Hall of Fame,” which is just about as specific a Hall of Fame as I’ve run across. New Jersey-shaped plaques near the entrance list the inductees, and a small exhibit area honors current and past teams in the area, as well as the achievements of ballplayers from southern New Jersey.
While it was the start of a holiday weekend, there was still a respectable crowd of a thousand or two in the seats, although they mostly sat on their hands unless there was something particularly of interest happening on the diamond. The between-innings activities were minor-league standard races, contests, and tomfoolery with the mascot Finley the Rivershark. (Get it? FINley?) There were some more unique location-specific events, such as the Party Patrol pretending to be a River Line train (which bounces back and forth between Camden and Philly over the Ben Franklin bridge in the background), and the particularly inexplicable “Trash Man”: a guy who comes out with a trash bag and dances badly for a while. There is probably some important back-story I’m missing on that one, to be honest. Or maybe it is just a guy with a trash bag – what do I know?

Finley... get it?

At the Game with Oogie:

On the holiday weekend, I pretty much had my choice of where to sit. Once again, I splurged for “expensive” seats behind the home dugout. One knock against Campbell’s Field is that the seat numbering needs some work. The lower seats by the field are on a different numbering system that the box seats above them, and once you walk down to the level of the field seats, there are no signs saying what section is what.

This led to a number of issues during the game, as people sitting around me were always trying to work out if they were in the right seats or not. Before getting settled in twenty minutes before the start of the game, I asked some stadium personnel to make sure I was in the right seat, so I was fairly certain I was in the correct place, but no less than three groups of people sat down and subsequently found out they were in the wrong section. (And, if you have a scorecard in your hand, people assume that you are an authority on things. All three of the groups at one point or another asked me what section it was, with some version of “you probably know this” added at the front or back of the question.)

When everyone finally got in their right seats, I was surrounded by families, as is often the case in indie and minor-league games. Since we were literally across the river from Philly, most of these families tended to be Phillies fans, which I tried very, very hard to not hold against them.

The Game:
First pitch, Barnstormers vs. Riversharks
First pitch, Barnstormers vs. Riversharks

This was a late-season contest between teams towards the top of their respective divisions in the Atlantic League. While the Barnstormers were in second place, they were below .500 in what I assumed to be the weaker division. Things seemed to be pointing towards the Riversharks, but things can often seem wrong.

The first went quietly for both teams, with some walks and hits scattered in. A leadoff walk in the top of the second would come back to bite the Riversharks, as a double sent the runner to third with one out, and a sacrifice fly brought him home, for a 1-0 Barnstormers lead.

The Riversharks only got a single hit in the bottom of the inning, and besides a bizarre error without proper backup that threatened a big inning in the top of the second, the Stormers couldn’t get him home. Both sides went more or less quietly until the bottom of the fourth. The Riversharks led with a double, but a weak pop-out to second temporarily put a damper on things. But the next batter walked, and the follolwing doubled, bringing home one run. The subsequent batter hit a sacrifice fly before a groundout to short ended the inning, with the Riverharks in command, 2-1.

It stayed that way through the eighth, as both teams scattered some base runners but did nothing substantive for the intervening time. In the top of the eighth, the Riversharks brought in another pitcher, and he was absolutely rifling through the Barnstomers, getting the first two outs on strikeouts looking. But the next batter got a single (that should have been caught if the center fielder was playing correctly), and the one after him crushed one over the wall in right, making it 3-2 Barnstormers.

The Riversharks tried to get some back in the bottom of the inning, with a one-out single and stolen base followed by a walk. But the rally ended with a fly out to center and a fielder’s choice to short. In the top of the ninth, the Barnstormers tacked on some insurance runs with a leadoff single, and then, on a grounder back to the mound, the pitcher threw the ball into right field. Again, the play was not properly backed up (no doubt leading to an increase in blood pressure in the Shark’s manager). The runner scored all the way from first, and the batter made it to second. A double brought him home before a new pitcher was able to close out the side with the Stormers leading, 5-3. The Riversharks weren’t up to the challenge, and the Barnstormers closer put them down 1-2-3, leaving the final score at that tally.

The Scorecard:
Barnstormers vs. Riversharks, 09-02-11. Barnstormers win, 5-3.Barnstormers vs. Riversharks, 09-02-11. Barnstormers win, 5-3.
Barnstormers vs. Riversharks, 09/02/11. Barnstormers win, 5-3.

The scorecard was a two-sided cardstock item, given away for free at one of the customer relation booths. They weren’t that easy to spot, and I had walked by them several times before I saw them (ready to go to the Eephus League Scorebook I carried around for just such occasions), but I eventually noticed them.

The scorecard itself was one of the more interesting designs I had run across in all my travels. It had a three/two row of boxes for balls and strikes on the left side of each scoring box, and then a small diamond on the right side. It made things a little on the cramped side, and I went with the line system for scoring instead of alphanumeric to make the most of the smaller space. I was more or less able to cram everything I needed in there.

Another truly bizarre play managed to work its way into this game. In the top of the third, a runner managed to hit into a 6-4-4-6 putout. It was as symmetrical as it was odd. With a man on first, a tailor-made double-play ball went to the shortstop, who fired it to the second baseman covering, who promptly missed it by a mile. No one was backing him up, so the second baseman completely lost possession, and then had to run after the ball to retrieve it, while the runner at first went to third and the batter turned first and went to second. The second baseman got the ball finally, and fired it over to the shortstop in time to cut down the runner, resulting in the scoring above.

In the home fifth, all the outs in the 1-2-3 inning involved the pitcher and first baseman (1-3, 1-3, 3-1), and the first out of the top of the sixth followed the pattern as well (1-3).

Truly odd things have been happening on the ball field recently.

The Accommodations:
Good ole Hoboken

2011 Stand-Alone Trip