To me, the sight of red pinstripes jogging out onto a green field is soothing, centering, grounding and a bunch of other adjectives usually bandied about by guys in ponytails who get into downward dog without appearing bovine or ironic. The summers of my youth are viscerally recalled when I look out onto those diamond cathedrals. However, the economics of the modern game at the major league level is sure to take a piss on a hallowed memory or two. Naming rights and PED’s and mercenary millionaires throwing tweet-tantrums are the noise in my nostalgic signal. And yeah, Mike Schmidt was prolly an asshole and Pete Rose, well, was Pete Rose. But one needn’t drop a cool hundred to take your girl to the park and watch the Comcast Phillies disappoint. Your stripe jones can be sated on the cheap, right across the river at Campbell’s field home of your Camden Riversharks of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, y’all.
After the jump, Philebrity’s newest resident anti-folk legend explains.
Within an hour’s drive of your home, there are no less than five minor league teams playing ball at all points along a baseball career.
The Wilmington Blue Rocks play A class baseball and since their daddy, the KC Royals, put the “small” in small market teams, you can pretty easily sit in the front row for $10, put your nachos up on the dugout and get an autograph from a ruddy faced buck who in two years or less may be in the show, and if he’s really good, will be a Yankee in five.
You can witness the next step in a baseball life up in Reading, where the R-Phils have retired the numbers of Ryne Sandberg and Mike Schmidt, or in Trenton, where you can do the same for future storm troopers who’ll be shagging flies at the death star in the Bronx in 2015 or so.
Similar experiences can be had in Lakewood, where the Blueclaws play single A ball for the Phillies. But the most proximal and emotionally complex experiences to be had are right across the river, where Campbell’s Field houses the Camden Riversharks of the unaffiliated Atlantic League of Professional Baseball. With the Ben Franklin Bridge providing the outfield backdrop, for about the price of a hotdog and a Miller Lite at Citizen’s Bank Park, you and your girlfriend and her kid can sit in the very front row, and if either of them is cute enough, a player can be easily convinced to toss’em a ball.
If a baseball career is an arc, the Riversharks are at the far right side, much closer to 2 o’clock than 10. Unaffiliated rosters are comprised of the almosts who never quite made it past double- or triple-A, (though some have a cup of coffee on their stat lines) and veterans like current Riversharks third-baseman Pedro Feliz, who’ve been playing ball since they were 4, and even after a dozen years in the show, can’t quite quit yet.
Even on the sunniest of July day-games, this pall coats like a thin grime of desperation that greatly adds to the pathos that is integral to the game of baseball in general, and the type of ball that makes a Philadelphia native feel at home.
A League Of Their Own is not just one of my favorite baseball films, but one of my favorite films. I do, however, take umbrage with Jimmy Dugan’s oft quoted assertion. He couldn’t be more wrong: There is, in fact, plenty of crying in baseball. “The game is designed to break your heart,” and in Camden, hearts crack with PATCO-like Regularity.
GM Adam Lorber and Manager Jeff Scott are in a literal no-win situation as any Rivershark under 37 who rises to the top of the team is almost guaranteed to be signed to an affiliated club and try to inch back up toward the apex of his arc. Seeing Riversharks like Felix Pie and Billy Rice keep their averages well above .300 is bittersweet. Both played with the Sharks early this year, and by June, were playing AAA and A ball with the Gwinnet Braves and the Kannapolis Intimidators, respectively.
It was a day game in late July, a “Baseball in Education” day with 11AM start time. The stadium was filled with summer campers wearing color-coded shirts that evoked Bert Convy’s Tattle-Tales (minus Dick Martin’s vodka fueled innuendos). To me, the best part of those games are the 7th, 8th, and 9th, since the little bastards are on a schedule and usually aboard busses by then. That leaves the last third of the game to a few diehards like me, my ballgame buddy, Jim (who writes a Riversharks Blog), and the following day’s starting pitcher, tasked with charting all of the Sharks’ pitches.
Jon Lujan pitching the ninth had loaded the bases with two walks and a wild pitch and frankly, this didn’t look good. But Lancaster Barnstormer’s 2nd baseman Bridger Hunt grounded back to Lujan who came home to Alvin Colina who threw to Burgamy at first. Just like that, a 1-2-3 double play and the Sharks had notched a W, and before 2pm. As Jim and I exchanged high-fives like we had a goddamn thing to do with the win, our broparty was crashed by Shark’s starter Kevin Reese. Reese’s charting duties completed, he had come down five rows and extended his fist for us to bump. We, of course, obliged and for a moment, I was nine again. That’s what I love about the Sharks. Their Red Pinstripes are just gravy.
– Adam Brodsky
Adam Brodsky, is, in no particular order, a World Record Holding Folksinger, Writer, Baseball fan, and Beer League First Baseman who hits for average. His Novel will be out when he fucking finishes it, so get off his back! You can follow him @adambrodsky
[Photos: Adam Brodsky]