During a brief return to NJ in the early 2010s, I became aware of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball‘s (ALPB) franchise in Camden NJ. Dubbed the Riversharks, the team played its home games at Campbell’s Field, located near the Delaware River. Campbell’s Field was the northern extent of the Camden Waterfront, a revitalization project which includes the Adventure Aquarium and the BB&T Pavilion, an outdoor amphitheater. Opening in 2001, not only was Campbell’s Field home of the Riversharks, it also hosted baseball for Rutgers University, St. Joseph’s University, and Temple University. The field served as the home of the Riversharks between 2001 and 2015.
Living less than 20 miles away, the trip to the ballpark was relatively simple, taking state roads to the Waterfront. Parking was also simple, as there was generally many available spots in the main lot adjacent to the stadium. Driving through Camden, it was clear that the city was still in the process of recovery, with reclamation projects in progress. Not that many years before, people actively avoided Camden, as it had a reputation for violence, and that reputation kept the city from rebounding. With the opening of the Camden Waterfront, positive changes occurred, and by the time we visited Campbell’s Field, it was a much more pleasant environment.
Being an independent league, ALPB rosters often include ex-MLB players, minor leaguers out of options with their MLB club, and young players not drafted into the MLB pipeline. It is not unusual for teams to have a few notable ex-MLB players, and being able to seem them in a much more intimate setting can be a boost for the ALPB team’s attendance. Due to the mix of experienced players and young talent, the level of play at Campbell’s Field was good, rivaling the level of play in AA, and the pitching tends to be perhaps just a bit better. Pay in the ALPB is not great, so players in the league have motivation to perform well, as ex-MLBers play for one more shot at The Show, and younger players try to get noticed by MLB organization.
Walking up to Campbell’s Field, the view is dominated by the Ben Franklin Bridge, which connects Camden to Philadelphia, PA. Regardless of what we might find inside, the magnificent view of the suspension bridge superimposed on the ballpark was worth the trip itself. Entering the ballpark required climbing a not inconsequential set of concrete stairs (as shown in the first picture), which would pose an issue for those with mobility issues. Stairs climbed, we were deposited on the upper concourse. Almost all of the concession stands were located on the upper concourse, as well as a small team store. Unlike most ballparks we have visited, there were not any specialty cuisine locations available, but the “essentials” for a baseball dinner were available. Strolling along the upper concourse toward right field, there was not much to see, outside of the gorgeous view of the bridge. Doubling back to the left field line, there was Picnic Pavilion, a picnic area toward the foul pole. Just above the Picnic Pavilion was the Kid’s Zone, a place designed for younger fans.
During our tour, we discovered that Campbell’s Field had two levels of seating. Separated by a lower concourse, the lower level seats extended from mid left field behind home plate to mid right field. The upper level seating mirrored the lower level in coverage, and luxury boxes stood atop the ballpark near home plate. All told, the park held 6,700 fans, though the seating area did not appear to be big enough to accommodate that many fans. Like most minor league/independent league ballparks, advertisement boards extended from foul line to foul line just above the outfield wall. A small and seemingly dated combination scoreboard/videoboard was placed just behind the right centerfield wall. My overall impression was that Campbell’s Field was a functional but unimpressive modular ballpark, lacking many of the amenities seen in parks built during the same era.
Of course, the star of the stadium was the view of the bridge, which seemingly towers above the park as it stretches from just beyond left field (where one of the concrete supports sits) to out past right centerfield. Even during game action, I found myself transfixed by the view, and the effect was amplified at night when the bridge was lit. From most of the park, it was not that easy to see the Philadelphia skyline, but seats in right field afforded the best view. Even pictures don’t do the view justice, as the superstructure announces its presence with authority. To be honest, the remainder of the park pales in comparison, and in 2004, Baseball America named Campbell’s Field the Ballpark of the Year. Based on the view alone, I can understand why the honor was bestowed.
Apparently, the view at Campbell’s Field was not enough to entice fans to the ballpark. During each of our visits, attendance was disappointing. For a doubleheader in July of 2011, there were fewer than 750 fans in the park, making it look nearly deserted. Granted, the first game of the doubleheader started at 510 pm, which is just about the time most people in the area leave work, but the weather was warm and dry for July. Attendance statistics indicated that Camden drew about 3,200 fans per game, but we never saw anything close to that in the park. Having the Phillies just a few miles away might have had an influence on attendance, and perhaps the location had a deleterious effect on getting fans to the game (as the reputation of Camden seems to be slow to fade).
Even though Campbell’s Field was fairly close to my home in 2011/2012, we did not go to the ballpark very often. Competition from other baseball options meant that Camden was typically a last choice, especially when all other teams were out of town. Plummeting ticket sales meant that Camden would have difficulty holding onto its place in the ALPB. Sadly, Camden eventually lost its franchise, as the team folded after the 2015 season. Replacing the Riversharks in the ALPB was the New Britain Bees, which only lasted a couple of seasons before folding themselves. Between 2015-2018, all three colleges that called Campbell’s Field home found other accommodations, meaning that the stadium no longer had full time residents. With the prospect of attracting new teams looking unlikely, the ballpark was demolished late in 2018.
Aside from the amazing backdrop, Campbell’s Field held no charm for me. It was, after all, a modular stadium in a location that many felt was difficult to reach, or didn’t feel comfortable visiting. While I do not miss the park, I mourn the loss of baseball in an area that could have used it as another attraction to help a city on the rise.
Moving to the DC area in 2013 opened up quite a few baseball opportunities, including MLB baseball, minor league baseball (at just about all levels), as well as access to an Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB) team. Located in Waldorf, MD, I was aware of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, but their ballpark, Regency Furniture Stadium is a distance from my home. While the drive is only about 40 miles, traffic along the preferred route can be very difficult, especially during the evening commute. Colleagues living in that area report that the trip to Waldorf during the drive home can take as much as 90 minutes. That prospect caused my curiosity to wane, as there are many other baseball options closer to home. As a result, we did not visit Regency Furniture Stadium for the first time until 2015.
Our first trip to Waldorf occurred toward the end of the 2015 campaign, on a Sunday afternoon. That game was chosen as it promised to be a much less vigorous drive. Even so, the trip down to Waldorf took about 50 minutes, with travel conditions being nearly idea. Nestled away in a more rural portion of southern Maryland, we needed to consult Google Maps to find the stadium, which routed us through some bucolic scenes before reaching the ballpark. As we approached the stadium, it was clear that parking would NOT be an issue, as there is a large lot in front of the park. Though the Blue Crabs website stated that parking in the lot was $5.00, we did not see any attendants collecting fees, so we simply found a suitable spot and walked up to the stadium. In subsequent visits, we noticed that there never seemed to be anyone dedicated to collect payment for parking.
With very little to see around the ballpark, we headed to the ticket window to purchase seats for the game. It seemed as though few people were performing many tasks at the window, giving the place a mom-and-pop store feel. After securing seats, we entered through the main gate (located behind home plate), which featured an old-style turnstile. Attendants at the main entrance were friendly, reminding me that we were in southern Maryland, a much different environment from the DC area, where stadium attendants can be far less cordial (yeah, I’m looking at you, Nationals Park). Seeing the interior of Regency Furniture Stadium, it was clear there was something different about this place. Though it was obviously a modular stadium, there were aspects of the park that appeared to be an intentional departure from the cookie cutter minor league/independent park form.
Upon entering the park, we walked along the main concourse. Virtually all of the concession stands are located there. In addition to standard fare, there were many seafood based offerings available. Also located on the main concourse is the Blue Crabs team store. Relatively small when compared to other ballparks, it offers hats, jersey, jackets and other apparel, with very friendly and helpful staff that understand when you are “just browsing”. Walking down the right field line, we encountered Pinch’s Playground (named after the team’s mascot, Pinch), a fairly large area with games and attractions (including a rock wall for climbing) designed for younger fans.
Unlike most minor league/independent league parks, the main concourse encircles Regency Furniture Stadium, allowing us access to the outfield. From behind the centerfield wall, we were able to take in the entire ballpark. There is one main seating area in the stadium, extending from mid right field behind home plate to mid left field. Curiously, the seating area shrinks to just a few rows directly behind home plate, with luxury boxes sitting just above them. This is a configuration we had not seen before, but this would not be the last unique aspect of the park we would discover. In total, Regency Furniture Stadium holds about 4,200 patrons, which is a bit smaller than average for minor league and independent ballparks we have visited
Extending from mid left/right field to the foul poles are large yellow walls adorned with Wawa advertisements. A convenience store chain based in PA, we are very familiar with the chain, but were surprised it was advertising this far south. Like the seats behind home plate, we had not seen high walls like this in many ballparks, and I couldn’t help but focus on them. Bullpens for each team are located next to the Wawa walls in foul territory. Seating for the bullpen pitchers is located a bit further toward home plate. Placing the bullpen seating in these locations was a curious decision, as they are in prime areas for line drive foul balls, which could result in bodily harm. Not surprisingly, bullpen pitchers don’t actually sit there during play, preferring the relative safety of the dugouts. Following the concourse to left field, we found Crabby Cove, an artificial pond with paddle boats (though we never saw anyone actually using the boats). Near the left field foul pole stands the Legends Club. This facility is designed for private events, and we had not seen this facility open during the baseball season.
Following our brief tour of the stadium, we obtained a baseball lunch from the concession stand behind third base and headed toward our seats. From there, we saw on the large green left field wall a hand operated scoreboard, which is somewhat reminiscent of the scoreboard at Fenway Park in Boston. That final touch solidified, in my mind, that Regency Furniture Stadium was the quirkiest ballpark I had seen. However, rather than feeling forced, the eccentricities of the park seemed more organic, lending an air of authenticity to largely modular ballpark. There was enough to look at during breaks in the action to keep fans interested, and I found that refreshing.
Attendance was light for this game, and we had most of the section to ourselves. At first, I though it was odd that there were some many empty seats for the game, but after visiting a number of times, I learned that the Blue Crabs don’t draw very well. Perhaps it’s the location of the ballpark; getting to the stadium from the north during the evening commute can be brutal. Perhaps baseball just isn’t as popular here as it is closer to DC. In fact, we have never seen the ballpark more than one-quarter full, and there have been times when I’ve seen less than 500 people in the seats. It saddened me to see such little support from the community for the team, and I wondered how the seemingly poor attendance could justify keeping an ALPB franchise here.
Being an independent league, ALPB rosters often include ex-MLB players, minor leaguers out of options with their MLB club, and young players not drafted into the MLB pipeline. It is not unusual for teams to have a few notable ex-MLB players, and being able to seem them in a much more intimate setting can be a boost for the ALPB team’s attendance. We didn’t see any familiar names during this game, but given the fluidity of the ALPB team rosters, there is always a chance to see a former MLB star on the field in Waldorf. Due to the mix of experienced players and young talent, the level of play at Regency Furniture Stadium is surprisingly good. For those with knowledge of minor league play, the ALPB is close to that of AA, and the pitching tends to be perhaps just a bit better.
Pay in the ALPB is not great, so players in the league have motivation to perform well, as ex-MLBers play for one more shot at The Show, and younger players try to get noticed by MLB organization. Since the MLB and ALPB have a working relationship, it is not unusual for MLB teams to pluck players from teams like the Blue Crabs and place them in their minor league system. Right hander Chris Mazza, a Southern Maryland Blue Crab alum, has recently pitched in the MLB for the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox. As part of that relationship, the ALPB tests rule changes that the MLB is considering for the future, and because of that, my brother and I were in Regency Furniture Stadium when the first steal of first base occurred. Another important change is the use of an automated strike zone. Though I did not see the automated system in Waldorf, my brother has seen it in action in Somerset, home of the Patriots.
Most of the games we have seen at Regency Furniture Stadium seemed to have a weather memory associated with them. During the spring, cold air wedged against the mountains to the west results in cloudy, cool weather with drizzle and fog, and we have seen our share of those games. During the summer, heat and humidity is common at the ballpark, with a semi-regular threat of thunderstorms. On one occasion, thunderstorms east of the stadium lit up the night, but did not affect the game. While details of that game escape me, the images of the lightning pealing across the dark sky revealing storm clouds remains etched in my memory. Luckily, most of the games we’ve seen at the ballpark have been rain free.
Following night games, the drive back home to the DC area can be as peaceful as drive down during the evening commute are painful. Winding through the rural roads from the stadium is a dark drive with little in the way of street lights. It is not unusual for fog to develop, and we often see as many deer as we do cars on our way back to the highway. On these nights, the drive home can take as little as 45 minutes, with traffic light until we reach the DC suburbs.
Due to COV-19, the 2020 ALPB season was scrapped, raising fears that the league might not survive. Two of the flagship franchise left the league during the offseason to become minor league affiliates, further stoking concern about the viability of the ALPB to play a 2021 season. However, three new teams joined the league after being released as minor league affiliates, and the league is planning to play a 2021 campaign. This means another season of Blue Crabs baseball is in the offing. If you are within range of Regency Furniture Stadium when the team is in town, make sure to go and see the Blue Crabs, if for no other reason than to see one the quirkiest ballpark we have seen in our travels.
The first mini road trip on the 2019 baseball season in the United States took place on the weekend of June 15th/16th 2019. My brother came down to Maryland the night before, and our trip began after 900 am Saturday morning. Google mapped out a 250 mile trip in a little more than four hours, placing us at the hotel outside Durham, NC in the early afternoon. Following lunch in VA about halfway through the trip, we stopped at Target store to purchase a clamp for my GoPro Hero 7 Black camera.
We found the clamp quickly, but waited for what seemed like an infinity on line to buy it. Lines simply weren’t moving, and nobody in the store appeared to know why. There were whispers of problems with the registers, and we were informed by management that Target’s online presence was also offline. Not wanting to waste any more time waiting, we left the store. Google informed us there was another Target nearby, so we headed there. Before we could get to the door, someone told us that the store was closed, due to register problems. We read later than Target’s entire system was down for nearly two hours, just as we tried to buy a part.
We found the part at an adjacent Best Buy, and we were on our way. The delay placed us nearly an hour behind, and we didn’t reach the hotel until nearly 400 pm. Luckily, the weather was wonderful, warm with relatively low humidity. Not being a fan of heat or humidity, my worst fears went unfounded.
The stadium was about 15 minutes from the hotel, ensconced in downtown Durham. Like most urban ballparks, there was parking offsite, and we found a garage that was reasonably priced. Typically, we are wary of parking in multiple level garages, which can result in a VERY long wait at the end of the game. Since we had some time before the gates opened, we explored the environs adjacent to the ball park. As is the case with urban parks, the area was filled with shops, bars and restaurants, and it seemed as though this location was in the process of renovation.
Before going into the park, we looked through the team store. On the wall next to the store were plaques of retired Bulls numbers. Of course, not being a Bulls fan, we did not recognize the numbers and the significance behind them. However, there WAS a number we did recognize. Any fan of the movie Bull Durham would know this number instantly.
Once inside the team store, there were MANY references to the movie (not surprisingly), with Crash Davis and Nuke Laloosh jerseys on display. To be sure, I expected some nod to the movie, but this was more than I anticipated. However, I’m sure that the merchandise with these names sell very well here, as fans take home a little piece of the movie.
We entered the ballpark at the home plate gate, and conducted our typical pre game tour of the stadium. While this is NOT the same stadium from the movie, Durham Bulls Athletic Park is a beautiful park nestled in an urban setting. Even though this wasn’t the park from the movie, there WAS a familiar site in left field.
In Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the snorting bull is located in left field; in Bull Durham, the bull was in right field. There were no other obvious nods to the past, but this park didn’t need them. It stands on its own as a great minor league experience.
Typically, we select seats for baseball games in a particular manner. The preferred location is in the lower level between home plate and third or first base. These seats are best for taking pictures, and depending on the stadium, the best view of the field. If these seats are not available, we prefer to be higher, as close to home plate as possible. This usually occurs at major league parks with strong fan bases.
For this park, we chose seats in the lower level, right behind home plate. Because of the netting, these seats are worse for taking pictures, but here, it offered an amazing view of a beautiful ballpark. Like many urban ballparks we have visited, there were condominiums in left center field. If I worked in the area, I’d certainly have to investigate the feasibility of living in one of these homes.
While we knew the Bulls’ opponent for this game would be the Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (the AAA affiliate of the New York Yankees), what we didn’t know is that there would be two major leaguers on rehab assignments tonight. Both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton were in the lineup, batting first and second, respectively. Based on the buzz from the crowd, they were fully aware these players would be here. Of course, the two players were fully cognizant of the attention they would garner, and made sure they were in view of the crowd at every opportunity.
In fact, Judge signed autographs near the on deck circle before each at bat. Normally, even at the minor league level, this behavior is either strongly discouraged or outright forbidden. Given the situation, it seemed as though the Bulls’ management was content to look the other way, especially since it did not interfere with play. Each hitter had four at bats, with Judge DHing and Stanton in left field. Though neither player had a hit tonight, most fans didn’t seem to mind. Their mere presence was enough to make the fans’ night.
The RailRiders had a couple of other major leaguers in the lineup, as well as a few players that have been rising through the Yankees minor league system. My brother lives near Arm and Hammer Park, home of the Yankees AA team in Trenton, NJ, and he saw a few of these players there recently. We did not recognize many of the players in the Bulls lineup (the Durham Bulls are the AAA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays) . The game itself was a tight affair, with the RailRiders starter Raynel Espinal allowing one runs in six innings of work.
The Bulls starter, Jake Croneworth, pitched the first inning, followed by four reliever. The quintet blanked the RailRiders on just two hits. The Bulls tacked on a run in the 7th, winning the game 2-0.
After the game, we headed back to the hotel, ending a long day of travel and baseball.
Sunday, June 16th
Our next stop on the abbreviated road trip was High Point, NC, home of the High Point Rockers. The Rockers are the newest franchise in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball. High Point is about an hour from Durham, and since the game didn’t start until 205 pm, we had time in the morning to explore the area. Our target was Eno River State Park, located in Durham. Walking paths located adjacent to the parking lot made for easy access to the park. The portion of the park we visited contained the remains of the Cole Mills, along the banks of the river.
We walked along the river, reaching a waterfall. Beyond the waterfall, the river continued upstream into a field ringed by pine trees. While we didn’t see much in the way of wildlife on our journey, we did find some turtles sunning themselves on fallen tree trunks. These particular turtles were very skittish, plopping into the water whenever we made sounds, or wandered too close to the riverbank. Following several attempts to get better looks at the turtles (during which time all of the remaining turtles jumped into the water), we headed back up the trail, leaving the turtles in peace.
Wandering down the path, we enjoyed the warm but dry morning, splashed by wall to wall sunshine. Despite the beautiful weather, there were few others in the park. Before we knew it, we’d spent more than an hour there. After crossing a bridge spanning the river, we headed back toward the parking lot. Before leaving, we made one last visit to the waterfall. The serenity of the waterfall was inviting, and we spent some time there before getting back on the road. If there was more time, we could have spent the morning there. If you are in the area, I highly recommend a visit.
Driving along Interstate 40 toward High Point, we realized we would be passing fairly close to Greensboro. Originally, we attempted to fit Greensboro into the schedule for this weekend, but the Grasshoppers were out of town. Since we were nearby, we decided to make a quick stop to see the stadium. Located in downtown Greensboro, First National Bank Field is the home of the Grasshoppers, the South Atlantic League single A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
When we arrived, that portion of Greensboro was very quiet at noon. Even though the Grasshoppers were away, the ballpark was in use, and apparently open to the public. Assuming that to be true, we entered the park to see a game in progress. There were no outward signs of the names of the teams playing, nor what league they were in. Like any other park we’ve visited, we wandered around the ballpark, taking pictures along the way.
After spending about 30 minutes at First National Bank Field, we continued on our way to High Point, reaching the stadium about an hour before the scheduled start time. BB&T Point is the home of the High Point Rockers, the newest addition to the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball. The ballpark is located on the edge of downtown High Point, surrounded by commercial property .
Parking was a bit confusing, as there did not seem to be a dedicated parking lot at the park. We arrived early enough to park on the street, but even that option came with some question marks. We opted to park in a private lot across the street, and parking was reasonable ($5.00). We walked over to the nearest gate to enter the ballpark not long after arriving, as gates open about an hour before game time.
However, the gates did NOT open on time. With an increasingly restless crowd waiting at the gate, fans were finally allowed to enter less than 30 minutes before first pitch. The late entrance left us little time for our pre-game ballpark tour, but we managed to take pictures before heading to the seats. The obligatory stop at the third base concession stand provided standard ballpark fare. My hot dogs were fried, but ultimately tasty, without the aftertaste common to ballpark dogs.
One of the aspects of the ballpark that caught our attention was the playing surface. Many newer ballparks have some version of turf, but BB&T Point had something we’ve never seen before. Not only was the “grass” made of AstroTurf, so was the “dirt” portion of the field (including the mound and batters boxes). Presumably an attempt to mitigate maintenance costs, the unique field was as attractive as it was interesting. The weather was pleasantly warm for the 205 pm start, as we took our seats in the lower level on the third base side. Much like we’ve seen elsewhere, the Sunday afternoon game was lightly attended, which is odd considering this is the inaugural season for the Rockers.
The Rockers’ opponent this afternoon was the Long Island Ducks. The Ducks have a strong connection to the New York Mets (our favorite squadron). The connection starts with manager Wally Backman, the 2nd baseman for the 1986 world championships, and Ed Lynch, a starter for the Mets in the 1980s. The starting lineup for the Ducks featured former Met outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and former Met farmhand LJ Mazzilli (son of perennial fan favorite Lee Mazzilli).
The game was tied 2-2 entering the bottom of the 10th. The Atlantic League, like Minor League Baseball, starts every extra half-inning with the batter who made the last out in the previous inning placed at 2nd base. This rule change was implemented to spur scoring in extra innings, in hopes of shortening games. In this case, the rule change worked, as the runner placed at 2nd base scored on a single, giving the Rockers 3-2 win.
With a long drive back to Maryland ahead of us, we did not linger at the ballpark long. Overall, the experience was enjoyable; a very good game at an interesting ballpark. If you find yourself in the area, the ballpark is worth the visit, if for no other reason than to see the unique playing surface. However, the sustainability of Atlantic League baseball in High Point may be difficult, even with a brand new ballpark. There are other baseball options within driving distance, and from just one visit, it was tough to determine the level of baseball interest in the area.