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.
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 food available at the stadium is your standard ballpark fare. It's fairly cheap with a hot dog going for $2.50 (they have dollar dog deals throughout the season as well) and a burger going for $4. The burger was good and you can combo it with fries for $6.75. They also offer chicken tenders and fries ($7.25). Standard ballpark snacks like pretzels and nachos are also available.
The Cricket Hill Brewing Company out of Fairfield, NJ has a beer garden along the 3rd base line concourse. The Bears offer 2 for 1 beers for selected dates and season ticket holders. The microbrewery offers several varieties of beer at the game, and is very popular in the New Jersey area.
There are few cities in the minor leagues that have the baseball history that Newark has. The first baseball team to play in Newark was the Newark Domestics in 1884. The city had a Negro League team (Newark Eagles) in the 1930's-40's that was owned by Effa Manley, the first woman to own a professional baseball team. The Newark Bears franchise started in the International League in 1926. After not having baseball for several decades, former Yankee Rick Cerone brought baseball back to Newark in 1998 with the Bears. The current ballpark is named after both the Negro League and International League franchises.
The ballpark fits in neatly with the area around it. If you sit on the 3rd base side, you'll see the large buildings of downtown Newark overlooking the stadium. The Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan is very much visible beyond centerfield. The ballpark borders on a major highway so they have two screens set up behind the left field wall. There are two screens because when Ozzie Canseco played for the Bears he hit too many cars with home runs that would eclipse the first screen. Just beyond the right field wall is a giant parking garage that is marked at 405 feet from home plate.
The Bears have the typical between innings fan games, with an on field hostess. There's a t-shirt toss and sumo costumes. They also have a female dance team (The HoneyBears) that perform between innings. So that's kind of different.
Here's the rub on the neighborhood around the stadium. It's downtown Newark so during the day - it's busy with a lot of foot traffic. At night, it's desolate. It literally feels like a ghost town when you leave the ballpark. Because there's no one around it feels a little unsafe. 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.
This is tough because the game I attended was a rainy and cold September night. The stadium didn't have a lot of people in it, but those that were there followed the game and were very vocal in their support of the Bears. The reason why they were given four stars was what happened after the game. The fans are actually allowed to go on the field and have a postgame Q and A and autograph session with the team. It kind of resembles a family reunion; players play catch with the fans, take photos with them and sign everything in sight. You could see on kids' faces how thrilled they were to run around the outfield and try on catcher helmets. It really broke the invisible wall between the fans and the players. The session went on for over an hour after the game ended and it seemed like neither the fans nor the players wanted to leave. It really was a special thing to take part in, and I hope more minor league franchises will do the same.
Bears & Eagles Stadium is really easy to get to either by driving or on public transportation. The NJ Transit train from Penn Station in NYC drops you off at the doorstep of the ballpark at the Newark Broad Street Station. The round trip ticket is $10. If you're traveling by car, the ballpark is located right next to Interstate 280 (Broad St. Exit). You can park in the parking garage next to the stadium for $5. Off street parking is available, but not recommended.
The Bears play in the independent Can-Am league, which is not affiliated with any major league clubs. The quality of baseball is around the single A level, and the Bears do have two former major leaguers on their roster in 2012 (D'Angelo Jimčnez and Daryle Ward). There is one price for all Bears tickets ($10). However, if you follow the Bears on Facebook or Twitter, they have trivia contests all the time in which you can win free seats (@NewarkBears on twitter). The Bears are trying to develop a rivalry with the New Jersey Jackals who play nearby at Yogi Berra Stadium.
The grass is in wonderful shape and the Newark grounds crew has won awards for their tending of the playing field.
The scoreboard has a video screen, but it was not operational during my visit. The bullpens are right beyond the left field wall and are tiny.
**Lead photo courtesy of Charlie O'Reilly of Charlie's Ballparks.
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