So how did I come to find myself in Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium, home of the independent Atlantic League’s Newark Bears, drinking an ice-cold cup of Miller Lite at 11 a.m. on an overcast Thursday morning? Follow along with me, dear reader, and I shall tell the tale.
The previous night, my lovely fiancée and I were driving to check out a possible location for the wedding. As often happens while driving, she went into auto-pilot and missed our turn, as she was following the same route she takes to work every day.
While trying to backtrack through Newark and find an entrance to 280 West, we happened to pass the ballpark, and the sign outside said, “Game Tomorrow, 11 a.m.” I personally had never been to that early of a game, but I know it’s common practice on getaway days in the minor and independent leagues, as most of the teams travel by bus, and not charter flight.
Even though I’m working two part-time jobs, August is a very slow month in terms of breaking news, so I’ve found myself in a pattern where the bulk of my work gets done either very early in the morning or very late in the afternoon. So an 11 a.m. game was actually a perfect diversion. And although the weather was very dicey, it didn’t really feel like it was going to downpour. Play ball!
Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium is a fun little ballpark, much like many minor-league parks. The food was affordable, the beer was cold, and I sat in the third row behind the Bears dugout. The “crowd,” and I use that term loosely, could not have possibly been more than 400, but the ominous gray skies and the 11 a.m. start time most likely contributed to that.
The Bears have a lot of familiar faces, including several ex-Yankees. Former All-Star outfielder Tim “Rock” Raines is the manager, former Yankees pitcher Mike Torrez (probably best known for his days with the Boston Red Sox, when he allowed one of the most famous home runs in baseball history, to Bucky Dent, in a one-game playoff at Fenway Park in 1978) is the pitching coach, former White Sox slugger Ron Karkovice is the hitting coach and the bench coach is Tony Ferrara, who held coaching positions with both the Yankees and the Mets.
As far as players, the most familiar Newark Bear is probably Carl Everett, a psychotic outfielder who played on several Major League teams, including the Mets. I still hate his guts for breaking up Mike Mussina’s bid for a perfect game at Fenway Park with two outs in the ninth inning on a cheap bloop single. D’Angelo Jimenez, a former big-time Yankees second-base prospect who played for Cincinnati and (I believe) San Diego is also on the roster, as is former Pirate Rob Mackowiak, former Pirate Tike Redman, former bum Mets closer Armando Benitez, former Yankee middle reliever and key member of championship squads Ramiro Mendoza, former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Scott Williamson and former pitcher for several MLB squads Willie Banks.
Thursday’s opponent, the Lancaster Barnstormers, didn’t have as many marquee names. Former Cardinals second baseman Tommy Herr is the manager, and the players included former closer Antonio Alfonseca.
The baseball was pretty crisp. I won’t compare it to the Major Leagues, but, a couple of sloppy errors aside, it was still good quality baseball. It was a fun experience on an otherwise dull Thursday, and I will definitely go back to a Bears game, hopefully with a larger crowd.