Over the last decade, the Trenton Thunder have become the class of the Eastern League, which is fitting for a team that is affiliated with the New York Yankees. The Thunder have made the playoffs seven of the last nine years and have taken home the league championship three times, including their most recent title in 2013. During that time, many Yankees (like Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez) have made rehab appearances in Trenton. The only home Thunder players have ever known was built in 1994 as Mercer County Waterfront Park (now known as Arm & Hammer Park), and it finally opened after several construction delays. It was an odd start for the franchise, as they spent many of their first years oddly affiliated with the Boston Red Sox, a team not particularly liked in the State Capital. Now, the team is in a good spot paired with the Yankees and racking up the wins. Their 6,000-plus seat ballpark is typical of many across the region built in the same era and it offers a decent experience.
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Trenton is only a half-hour drive from Philadelphia, and the food offerings include some of that area's specialties. It starts with the Chickie's and Pete's stand that offers their Philadelphia-based Crab Fries ($6.00) and cheese steaks ($6.00). Though the ice cream is local from Goodnoe's Dairy, the better option in my opinion is Philadelphia Water Ice ($4.00 for a 10-ounce cup). I had the mango, and it was delicious, as this type of Italian Ice was more like a version of Gelato. The team does not forget about its home state, and a product offered that is distinctly New Jersey is the Pork Roll. This type of smoked flavored ham comes in a sandwich ($5.00) and is pretty darn good.
Over on the third base side is "Boomer's BBQ", a stand that offers pulled pork ($6.50), brisket ($6.50) and ribs ($8.00). The traditional favorites (along with a Healthy Choices menu) can be found at two main stands, though one of those offerings was the blandest I've had at a ballpark. The roast beef sandwich ($6.00) was nothing but four slabs of roast beef on a bun. No toppings or sauce, just a dry and plain sandwich. To wash that down, there are several choices of draft beer ($5.75), including Flying Fish, Hofrau and Yuengling.
The ballpark was built over 20 years ago and it has held up nicely, especially with the clean look to the concourse upon entering. It does have the classic brick design with green outlines that so many other parks in the region have. Inside, the single-level seating bowl is split by a walkway in the middle, and the gentle slope to the rows means that it is worth the extra dollar to sit in the lower club seats. These are also the only sections with cup holders. Picnic areas can be found beyond the seating bowl on the third base side, while the opposite area beyond first base houses a kids play section. Suites are perched up, sitting over the concourse.
Looking out towards the outfield, there are stacks of advertising boards. While the ads are shorter in right field to allow a partial view of the Delaware River running alongside the park, it becomes apparent that the river view is under-utilized. The Thunder have added a new videoboard in the outfield, and the wide screen does a nice job showing graphics and occasional game highlights.
Trenton has a reputation of a crime-ridden, run-down city, and while this is partially true, there are certainly some safer, nicer parts, including the immediate section around the ballpark. Though the riverfront is not exactly developed, they have built up the nearby area into a sort of business park. This means nothing to the casual fan, but at least this initial introduction to the ballpark is not an eyesore. Game attendees may struggle to find nearby restaurants, but there are hidden gems around Trenton. There are just not many that close to the ballpark, despite the downtown location. One spot worth a look if coming early to a game is the State Capitol complex, which is highlighted by the main building's gold dome. They do offer tours, and you can see right where all of New Jersey's historical corruption has gone down! In all seriousness, there is a nearby state museum that is excellent and worth a visit for both adults and kids.
The Thunder draw well within the Eastern League, and the team is typically in the top third of the attendance rankings. These numbers are helped a few times a year by rehab appearances that tend to sell out the stadium. I attended a playoff game, which usually does not bring in big crowds for minor-league baseball. The same could be said here, as a couple thousand showed up for Game 2 of the championship series, which is characteristic of other leagues and cities that played in a similar situation on a weeknight. Fans in attendance were very quiet at the start, as it was more of a reactionary crowd; however, by the later innings, they started to make some noise and really got into the game during the critical points.
Many highways lead right to Trenton, with the freeway known as Route 1 going through the heart of the city. Arm & Hammer Park sits along the river downtown, and while Route 1 will get you there, it is a much easier drive to come from the north and take I-95 or the south via I-295. Both of these approaches bring cars to Route 29, and the ballpark is on that road, with parking lots and a garage in front of the stadium. While regional traffic can get dicey, I had no issues driving around Trenton at 6 PM on a weeknight. Getting out of the parking lot may take a bit of time when the stadium is full, but staff is there to direct people out. In addition to driving, public transit is available, with a local light rail making a stop on Cass Street, four blocks from the ballpark. NJ Transit trains arrive at the Trenton Transit Center, and riders can grab the light rail from there. Be advised that this only runs until 9:30 PM on weeknights.
Inside, while the concourses are wide and easy to walk around in, there is only one bathroom each for men and women. Despite the park being large inside, it was surprising to just see one spot available to use the bathroom in a ballpark that holds over 6,000.
Prices are average for minor-league baseball, and it is worth taking a trip to Trenton for a Thunder game. Parking at the stadium lot is $3 and ticket prices are $11 or $12. Concessions are priced a bit high, but it is nice to see beer sold for less than $6.
Perhaps the most popular member of the Trenton Thunder is not a ballplayer, but a dog. For a decade, the lovable golden retriever named Chase would fetch discarded bats on the field and bring them back to the home dugout. He was much more than that, though, and beloved Chase was an integral member of the team family and community. Sadly, shortly after retiring in 2013, Chase passed away at the age of 13. While he is missed greatly, his son Derby can be seen fetching bats and happily enjoying himself around the ballpark.
Hanging from the ceiling throughout the concourse are many banners chronicling the long list of achievements by the Thunder organization. Included are league championships, attendance records and successful players. The best players are honored with a retired number on the press box, which includes Nomar Garciaparra, Tony Clark and David Eckstein.
The Trenton Thunder are a class organization in the Eastern League, and the team has provided a terrific on-field product, with future Yankees and multiple championships. Arm & Hammer Park, typical of many other ballparks across the Northeast, features a decent experience and is worth a visit. Make sure to arrive on time to watch a family tradition carried on during the first inning, as Derby goes into action after each at-bat.
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 faÃ§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.
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.
17 East Front St
Trenton, NJ 08608
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