Saturday, August 27, 2016

Augusta (NJ)

On This Uber Thing the Kids Are Talking About

Skylands Stadium, 2016
Saturday, August 27, 2016
Rockland Boulders vs. Sussex County Miners
Skylands Stadium
Can-Am League (Independent)
Augusta, NJ
7:05 PM

Outside the Game:
So, I found out belatedly that the stadium in Sussex County had a new occupant starting last year. The stadium was the previous home of the long-tenured NJ Cardinals minor league team, whom I had visited years before I started the “official” baseball trips as an adjunct to visiting the NJ State Fair, which has its grounds right next to the park. In the interim, Skylands Stadium had only been occupied briefly by an indy-league team that folded after a couple of seasons. A new Can-Am franchise decided to try its luck in rural jersey: The Miners.

My only problem is that I had been without a car since mine died in early May, and with the Yard Goats playing their season on the road thanks to construction issues, there wasn't a pressing need to get a new one just yet. So, when I realized that I had another team to see within driving distance, I had to rent a car for the weekend.

Which is easier said than done. There is an Enterprise lot in the depths of Hoboken, as well as one I found in the Heights, but they were both not open on Sunday, which would make me return the car either Monday morning or evening, not only paying for an extra day, but making things quite inconvenient. I was thereby forced to rent from a place just outside Newark Penn Station, but I had to get there. It was only a short drive, but, well, you know the problem with that by now. I could take the PATH, but with all the weekend construction, it wasn't reliable or timely, plus I would have to get to the PATH trains, which was more difficult with the light rail to Hoboken not running. The obvious choice was a cab, but it was quoted at something like $30.

I had downloaded the Uber app a while ago when I literally had no other way to get home from work late one night (the corporate car service eventually came through at the last minute), but I had never used it. I decided to bite the bullet here, and Saturday morning, I put in for my first ride. I got one nearly immediately for $4, cheaper than a local Hoboken cab just within Hoboken. The guy picked me up and dropped me off, and it was amazing. I was wondering why all the people who had told me about the app in the last couple of years had never told me about this app before. It was a revelation.

I picked up my car after waiting in a bit of a line (apparently it is a big stop for visiting doctors at the nearby Newark hospital) and went on my way, driving back to Jersey City with no trouble. Since I had a car, I immediately stopped at the grocery store and bought all the canned goods that would fit in the trunk, as I finally had a way of getting masses of metal back to my apartment without actually lugging them by hand. Then, after a congratulatory nap, I headed out to the wilds of north-west Jersey.

Unsurprisingly, there was no traffic of any kind, because who goes to northwest Jersey? I got to the park quickly, bought my tickets, took my pre-game photos, and then... had literally nothing to do. Because there is nothing in that area in Jersey. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. There were the fairgrounds (which wasn't hosting anything for a couple weeks), and... fields, I guess. I drove around for a while trying to find something interesting, but I came up blank. I was driving just to drive at that point, but I realized I was out of sunscreen, so I drove the ten minutes to the closest CVS, bought sunscreen, and drove back. And then I just sat in the parking lot until it was time for the gates to open.

Night moves
Leaving Skylands

After the game, it was another uneventful ride home. I parked by my apartment and went to bed. The next morning, I drove out to the rental place, dropped off the car, and then got another convenient Uber ride home. Uber: Why Are You Not Using This Thing?

The Stadium & Fans:
Home to center, Skylands Stadium
Home plate to center field, Skylands Stadium

Skylands Stadium started its life back in the 90s when the NJ Cardinals were in town. It has undergone renovations since then, most recently before the Miners moved in before last season. The outside of the park has stairs up to an entrance plaza, with the gates in between the team store and the ticket booth. A giant globe firepit ball sits in front of the plaza and gets lit up after night games.

The park has the old-school inner and outer walkways, with the concessions and stores on the outer walkway behind the seats, and the inner walkway between a lower and upper seating area that extends from outfield to outfield behind home plate. Luxury boxes and the press box are right at the top the upper seating rows from home to first base, and a modest mid-90s video scoreboard is perched out in left-center.

Right field ends in a large group picnic area and the Wheelhouse restaurant, which serves game goers and local patrons during the game. There was even a concert going on the night I went. Right field ends with a large grass area that stops out behind the stands. There is a themed railroad train ride for the kids and a panning for gold station. For fan appreciation night, there was an all-day fair (with separate admission) in this area, with pony rides, water activities, and fair games.

Herbie the Miner

Herbie the Miner (one of the few mascots you'll see wearing jeans on purpose) was the crowd wrangler at the park. Your minor-league standard diet of races and contests filled up the spaces between innings. The pre-game festivities were a demonstration by an overly serious rural martial arts class taught by--I suppose to be--the one Asian guy in Sussex County.

It was fan appreciation night, in addition to the pre-game festival, so there was a respectable crowd out for this meaningless late-season game. It was mostly families for a night’s entertainment, but there were a couple of old-timers rocking NJ Cardinals gear to give it a certain baseball cred. That said, nearly no one seemed to care about the game on the field as much as the between-inning frolics.

At the Game with Oogie:
Indie scoring

I got seats behind the first base home dugout, as the idea of "safety netting" thankfully hadn't reached the Can-Am League yet. Not surprisingly, it was wall-to-wall families all around me, and given the location, there were a lot of signature hounds.

Chicken fingers and a corn dog
The concessions were all cafeteria-style favorites: cheap but strangely tasty. I ended up with chicken fingers, a corn dog, and a Powerade. They'll live on fondly in my colon for years to come.

The Game: 
First pitch, Boulders vs. Miners
First pitch, Boulders vs. Miners

If "playing out the string" had a face, it would be this game. The second-place Boulders had already punched their ticket to the playoffs, and the second-to-last Miners were having their fan appreciation day, but the players certainly didn't seem to appreciate it.

The story of the Miners is four hits and six total base runners the entire game, being set down 1-2-3 in 4 innings. They didn't get a man into scoring position until the bottom of the ninth, where a leadoff walk finally made it to second on defensive indifference and made it to third on a wild pitch, briefly stirring the crowd up before they gave up the ghost.

On the other hand, the Boulders had baserunners every inning, and runners in scoring position or brought home in all but two innings. The first two runs came in top of the third with a walk and two doubles. Another run came in the fourth, with a walk, single, and sacrifice fly. In the top of the seventh, a leadoff hit batsman stole second, made it third on a fly out, and then was brought home on a single. The fifth and last run came in the ninth, with the same batter from the seventh earning a leadoff walk and stole second again, to be brought in by a two-out double.

Final score was 5-0, Boulders, and I don't think a soul in that place cared.

The Scorecard:

Boulders vs. Miners, 08-27-16. Boulder win, 5-0.Boulders vs. Miners, 08-27-16. Boulder win, 5-0.
Boulders vs. Miners, 08/27/16. Boulder win, 5-0.

The scorecard was a regular two-sided printout of an online scorecard stapled to the rosters. It was a good size and not marred by advertisement, so that was nice.

As with the play on the field, there wasn't really anything all that interesting on the stats front, either. A double in the top of the third was really just the center fielder losing the ball in the lights. The pitcher came blatantly up and in on the batter with two outs in the top of the fourth, but he didn't get run for it. It was clear headhunting. He would eventually get tossed the next inning after arguing his second of back-to-back walks. One supposes the umps had heard enough at that point.

The Accommodations:
Sweet home, Jersey City