The history of baseball in Newark is a long one that predates the Civil War. Beginning with the Eureka Baseball Club in 1860, the city of Newark has seen several leagues and teams pass through town. Teams such as the Domestics, Little Giants, Trunkmakers, Colts, Sailors, Stars, Browns, and Indians have at one time or another called Newark home. Major league baseball even resided in New Jersey as the Newark Pepper played in the short lived Federal League, a league most known for the its lawsuit against Major League Baseball leading to the antitrust exemption that exists today.
The Negro League Newark Eagles played from 1936 to 1950 and included such baseball figures as Larry Doby (the first black player to play in the American League), Effa Manley (the first woman to own and operate a professional sports franchise), Monte Irvin, Leon Day, Ray Dandridge, and Willie Wells. The team became the Negro League World Series Champions in 1946.
The first incarnation of the Newark Bears began in 1917 and lasted through 1950 when the franchise was sold to the Chicago Cubs and moved to Springfield, Massachusetts. For 38 seasons the city was left with no professional baseball until an ownership group led by former catcher Rick Cerone brought the ‘new’ Newark Bears into the independent Atlantic League, where they played until moving to the independent Can-Am League beginning in 2011. Players such as Rickey Henderson, Jose Canseco, Ozzie Canseco, Jose Lima, Carl Everett, Keith Foulke, and Jim Leyritz have played for the Bears since that time.
The Newark Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium has been the Bears home since its opening in 1999. It is one of several pieces tied in to the downtown development of Newark, NJ.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The Newark Bears offer up the very basics when it comes to ballpark fare and not much else. The two primary concession stands provide the things you would expect at a baseball game including hot dogs ($3.50), hamburgers ($4.50), cheeseburgers ($5), and chicken tenders ($5.50). For an extra $2.75 you can receive French fries with your order, or if you choose to order fries as a standalone item they're available for $3. Also available on the menu are nachos with cheese ($3.25), pretzels ($3.75), and Cracker Jack ($5).
For drinks they offer up bottled water ($2.75), assorted soft drinks ($3.25), domestic beers ($5 for 16oz.), and craft beers ($6 for 16oz.).
The best way to describe the atmosphere at a Newark Bears game is incomplete. It has all the elements of a solid ballpark: a downtown location with the sound of traffic throughout the game, three picturesque views (downtown Newark on the third base side; lower Manhattan in the distance of centerfield, and the I-280 bridge on the first base side), comfortable seating throughout with good views of the field, a scoreboard similar to what you'd find at a Double A or Triple A ballpark, and a nice homage to their baseball history.
Despite all that, it feels somewhat empty. The average attendance at a Bears game in 2013 was under 500 fans, and considering the stadium's capacity is 6,200, it makes for an experience that's lacking more. On top of that, independent baseball is not subsidized by MLB, meaning that the shortfalls in the ballpark are a little bit more noticeable. Throughout the concourse there are portions that need a new paint job or power washing. The gift shop, while comfortable in size and appearance, is missing such everyday items such as men's tee shirts, and programs. Certain restrooms are gated shut. The outfield walls are covered with a faux brick appearance that take away from the ambiance of a new ballpark.
The atmosphere would clearly be improved by larger crowds, and on the nights that can happen this would be a rather fun place to take in a game. Unfortunately these opportunities are few and far between.
Newark is a city in transition. While they have taken steps to revitalize portions of their downtown into a 24/7 destination with an entertainment district they are not there yet, and it may be several years before this changes. If you attend a Bears game your best bet is to arrive hungry and take advantage of the food options available at the stadium.
The one saving grace for the neighborhood is Rio Rodizio, just beyond the outfield fence. It's an awesome Brazilian steakhouse. For $30 you get many different varieties of steak, chicken, pork and alligator plus fried plantains and other goodies. It's a great place to stuff yourself silly and worth a trip before or after the game.
The Ironbound district of Newark has a variety of great restaurants (Italian, Spanish, Portuguese) if you're willing to leave the neighborhood a bit.
Despite the lack of a crowd presence, the fans who are in attendance have a wonderful time and add to the experience. Similar to most all northeast fan bases they actively follow the action on the field, wearing the team merchandise, and reacting appropriately to the good or bad play on the field. Similar to most minor league teams the cheer squad does their part throughout the game as well, whether it is throwing tee shirts into the stands, promoting upcoming games, or rallying the crowd to make noise in the bottom of the ninth inning.
While there may be existing issues with Newark Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium, getting to the game will not be one of them. Because of its location in downtown Newark and its proximity to New York City there are a variety of ways to get to and from the ballpark.
For those looking to take public transportation, the easiest method is using the NJ Transit system. The NJ Transit system connects destinations throughout the state, so feasibly someone looking to make the visit can take the rail system from Philadelphia, New York City, or anywhere in between. The Broad Street Station is half a block away from the ballpark providing easy access to and from your original starting point.
Although driving through the NY/NJ metropolitan area can be hectic throughout the week, there are also a number of ways to get to the park via automobile. Relatively easy access can be made to the park via the New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway, and I-280, and US Route 78. The Essex County Parking Garage is directly across the street from the stadium and has ample spaces allowing you to park your car and get to the game without any problems. Parking cost will be $5. In the event of a sellout there is also overflow parking adjacent to the stadium.
The $10 for admission to the game and $5 for parking is rather affordable considering the market they play in, but therein lies the problem. There are no less than six baseball teams within a 30 mile radius of each other and fighting for that entertainment dollar can be difficult. Newark itself is not a tourist destination and there isn't an additional draw to come to the ballpark unlike Brooklyn (Coney Island), Staten Island (Ferry access to NYC, Statue of Liberty), or Montclair (Yogi Berra Museum). With the Newark Bears, the game is the draw, and unfortunately until things change in the surrounding downtown area this is going to have to suffice.
The Prudential Center (New Jersey Devils, NHL) is approximately one mile from the Newark Bears Riverfront Stadium, and for those wishing to visit MetLife Stadium (New York Giants & Jets, NFL) it is nine miles to the north. Midtown Manhattan is 11 miles to the east.
Newark Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium is a good place to catch a professional baseball game; it's easy to get to, the sightlines are above average, and the history is exceptional. If the organization can find a way to improve attendance it will create a better overall atmosphere making it another facility worth visiting. Until then it's at the back end of stadiums to visit when making plans to watch baseball in greater New York/New Jersey.
The city of Newark, New Jersey is an underdog. Its location and easy access to New York City (only about 15 miles) should make it a popular place to live in or stay overnight. The city has an international airport that is the closest in the area to midtown Manhattan. Yet, Newark has either been ignored or cast aside as a forbidden zone by commuters and travelers. Newark's reputation for crime and urban blight precedes it.
Terrible riots in the 1960's turned downtown into a demilitarized zone. "There's nothing to see there" and "It's Dangerous" is what I hear when I bring up Newark in conversation with people these days. I'll tell you, Stadium Journey reader, that the Newark Bears baseball team and the Mayor and the residents of Newark are attempting to change the city for the better. They need our help though. Not enough people are showing up at the ballpark. The fans that do attend Bears & Eagles Stadium are few, but they have a special relationship with the team that is as good as any minor league club or independent professional team has with their fan base.
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