When you think "minor league baseball," you think family-friendly, intimate stadiums that bring the old-time feel to an increasingly modern game. From that standpoint, Mercer County Waterfront Park in Trenton succeeds immensely. A cozy yet modern faĂ§ade greets you both driving up and walking from the parking lot. Food vendors fill the concourse with a multitude of options, showcasing both cities just an hour from Trenton to Philadelphia and New York. While not the easiest place to get to, the Thunder are worth seeing more for the stadium than the on-field product.
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Whoever designed Waterfront Park must have really enjoyed their ballpark food, because it is plentiful, diverse, and not TOO expensive. A Thunder Dog (unfortunately, just a regular hot dog) costs $3.50, but the Grille out in right field serves sausages and brats, though there was a bit of a line. There is a Chickie's & Pete's stand as well as a Boomer's BBQ, in addition to your usual stadium fare including hamburgers, chicken fingers, funnel cakes, and the like. They do have healthy choices as well; $5.25 will get you a fruit cup, $4.50 for a Caesar salad, and $5.75 for a veggie burger.
The worst part about the entire ballpark, aside from the parking situation, had to be the advertisements on the outfield wall. I know that's part of minor league ball, but those ads were EVERYWHERE, and could be very distracting. There were quite a few families at the game, as should be expected, and the crowd was fairly quiet. I know it's not major league baseball, but I felt there could have been more excitement for a matchup between the Yankees and Phillies affiliates, but it wasn't like the crowd was dead.
There's no easy way to sugarcoat this, Trenton is not exactly the nicest city. The ballpark is located rather close to the expressway, and there aren't really any walkable locations nearby. The sole point here comes from the stadium being set apart from the houses nearby by means of a major road, so you don't feel like you're at a stadium in the middle of Trenton. I would not plan on spending a lot of time in the area around the ballpark, as the only thing nearby is a club, a place I don't think most of the families at the stadium would want to go.
The Reading Phillies were in town, bringing with them the legions of Phillies fans, and skewing my results a little bit. It was obvious the crowd was more pro-Phillies than pro-Thunder (Yankees), though only a few teams (Phillies, Red Sox, Mets affiliates) draw that way, usually it's a more home-friendly crowd. Either way, the fans there were not very into the game at all, which is not as much of a surprise when you consider just how many children were in attendance. Maybe I'm spoiled by MLB fans, but I still think Trentonians could support their team in a more vocal manner.
Both of those points come from the parking price ($3) and the bathrooms (average, but clean), but major points are lost on the parking situation. If you drive to Waterfront Park, be prepared to funnel into one parking lot, hitting standstill traffic as far back as the interstate exit. If the parking lot fills up, they direct traffic into a garage, with the horribly unsafe habit of using both the "up" and "down" aisles as entranceways, making it impossible to leave until all the cars have gotten there, better hope for no emergencies! It took me nearly an hour to cover the last mile to the stadium, which is far too long for a stadium that only seats 6,400.
By the time I got out of my car I was so annoyed at the whole situation it put me off for the first two innings. I'd say park further away but it's not like you really want to be walking around Trenton at night.
$20 gets you a pair of seats basically anywhere in the stadium and in small minor league parks, there are really no bad seats. The food is plentiful (though the lines can be a little long), so you don't need to worry about eating beforehand. And, with the Yankees as the parent club, you're sure to see plenty of talented prospects who will eventually get traded to the Pirates, Athletics, or Royals.
One point for the visitor's batting tunes. As each R-Phillie would walk up to the plate, the PA system would blare something by the Backstreet Boys, Hanson, or other similarly annoying music. Also bonus points for it being Andy Pettitte bobblehead night as well as the Kids' Zone out in right field, featuring games for the youngins. If you have kids, the entire right field concourse is a good place to check out, with vendors selling Thunder hats and shirts in addition to a pitch speed game and other activities.
I wouldn't call going to a Trenton Thunder game a waste of time, but it's certainly nowhere I would want to drive further than an hour to. The parking situation is a mess which can easily add 30-45 minutes of frustration even if you get there an hour pre-game, as I found out. Once you get inside the stadium it's a pleasant experience but not an incredibly memorable one. However, seeing high-quality baseball with high variety in food selection makes for a stadium worth visiting, Yankees fan or not.
Visited once for an AA All-Star game. The best thing about this place was the food. The fans, parking, between inning entertainment were all average. The stadium wasn't so great and the neighborhood was pretty lousy. They best part of the All-Star game was the Home Run Derby. Two local high school kids got to participate and both ended up in the top three with one of them winning it. Pretty impressive. Too bad I forgot the kid's name. He's a monster already!
When Waterfront Park opened, it was considered one of the best minor league parks in the country. Some 18 years later, little has changed at the park, meaning it has not kept up with many newer parks in terms of amenities. While still a nice enough place to take in a game, the concourses tend to be crowded and the scoreboard/videoboard are desperately in need of an upgrade. The outside of the park still looks immaculate, but inside it is definitely looking a bit worn. With the team still a great draw, it is surprising that almost no improvements have been in recent years. Concessions are decent, but the variety isn't that great. I had a roast beef sandwich for $6 on a recent visit, which I though was reasonable. I've never had a problem with access, but I always get to the games an hour beforehand. Overall, Waterfront Park is just average and probably not a place you need to go out of your way to see.
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