Holy Saturday Doubleheader in #CamdenNJ

Campbell’s Field

In 2001 a magnificent baseball stadium was erected in Camden, New Jersey in the shadow of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. From 2001 to 2015 it hosted the Camden Riversharks, a now-defunct and never-that-successful professional baseball team who belonged to the “Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.” Sadly, the Riversharks are gone. This is really too bad, because Riversharks games were GREAT, and the stadium is LOVELY. If I made a list of my Top 10 Favorite Baseball Stadia, Campbell’s Field would be on it for sure.

But.

Unlike Christ’s tomb, I am happy to report that Campbell’s Field is not vacant. Having seen it today with my own eyes, I can tell you that the Rutgers-Camden Scarlet Raptors play all their home games at Campbell’s Field (and have since 2001), that the games are open to the public, and that admission is FREE.

What is the past tense of FOMO? I’m asking because that’s how I feel that I haven’t been going to Rutgers-Camden baseball games since 2001. No matter, though, at least now I know. And I want you to know too. I want everyone to know.

Today’s second game of a Holy Saturday Daytime Doubleheader was about as pure as watching baseball gets. While Jesus Christ, according to the prevailing mythology, was harrowing Hell, the Rutgers-Camden Scarlet Raptors played host to the Ramapo College Roadrunners. The weather was overcast, with a slight northeasterly breeze, the temperature was 66 degrees.

As my infant daughter and I walked into the stadium, I observed a Ford Taurus station wagon pulling into the stadium. Its driver and sole passenger were uniformed Scarlet Raptors bearing paper-bagged lunches from a local eatery. We walked into the stadium together, through no turnstiles, past no ushers, just walked right in.

The scene inside was, essentially, a picnic. Players were eating lunch in the stands with their families and teammates between games. The menu was not Powerbars, kale smoothies, pasta, or bananas, but take-out pizza, burgers, french fries, and Wawa hoagies.

It was a lovely, if sparse, scene. The stadium (capacity 6,500) held only 77 fans: 50 were for Rutgers-Camden, 26 were for Ramapo, and one undecided woman wore a St. Francis Terriers puffy jacket. The soundscape harkened to little league life as the athletes moved around in their cleats on concrete stairs and walkways. That sound, as gametime neared, gave way to a public address system that was fired up to play regrettable contemporary hip-hop numbers alternated with Stevie Wonder’s greatest hits.

When gametime arrived, the players were playing toss with one another in the outfield. An enthusiastic announcer warned we spectators there’d be a zero tolerance policy about criticizing the umpires. He then poetically introduced the home plate umpire as the “stern but fair voice who you’ll soon hear say the words: PLAY BALL!” He also, throughout the entirety of the game, pronounced Raptors as “wrap-tores.”

I spent some time wondering if the Scarlet Raptors were velociraptors or birds of prey. There was nothing anywhere in the stadium to help me answer that question, and it remains unanswered.

The Rutgers-Camden Scarlet Raptors took their positions in the field wearing all-white uniforms with red numerals and the word “Rutgers” in red on their chests in a blocky serif font. Their caps were red with a black bill, the front emblazoned with a white letter “R.”

The first batter for the Ramapo Roadrunners came into the batter’s box wearing grey trousers and a burgundy top emblazoned with a black script “Roadrunners” on the chest. His cap was black with a burgundy bill, the front emblazoned with interlocked letters “RC” in burgundy.

I would like to take a moment to register just how much I loathe baseball uniform tops that are not white or grey. Baseball is a summer sport, and while baseball uniforms are certainly silly and outdated, two things they have going for them is that they are light in color and that they are the same two colors all over the United States. I’m generally not a very traditional person, but I don’t think we should give that up.

Ironically, the ‘stern but fair’ umpire did not in fact holler “PLAY BALL!” Nevertheless, the first pitch was thrown and baseball was underway.

The top of the 1st was 3 up and 3 down, two flyouts and one 4–3 putout.

The 4–3 putout reminds me, all of a sudden, how glorious is the sound of a metal bat striking a baseball. The only more glorious sound I can think of is the sound of a wooden bat striking a baseball.

In the bottom of the first, the Scarlet Raptors started off with a single to right. That runner then stole second, and then scored on a subsequent single to left, but the singler was tagged out when he got greedy and tried to stretch his single into a double. A flyout to right followed, then a single to center and another flyout to right.

Rutgers-Camden’s third base coach is a short stout man who hollers encouragements to his hitters and baserunners that are 100% unintelligible even to baseball enthusiasts like myself.

Between the first and second inning, the PA announcer warns us to be wary of foul balls leaving the field of play, and THEN informs us that if we catch a foul ball that we cannot keep it, but must return it to the home team dugout.

The second inning is scoreless, but there are two things I want to call your attention to.

First, one of the charms of Campbell’s Field is watching the PATCO train travel along the Ben Franklin Bridge just above the outfield. An added charm is that if you sit on the first base side you can also see the Market-Frankford El traveling between the north- and south-bound lanes of Interstate 95 in Philadelphia.

Second, the Roadrunners’ Designated Hitter’s trousers are badly torn and I can clearly see the place where his thigh becomes his bottom.

The top of the third inning sees a leadoff triple, then a bloop single which scores the baserunner and ties the game. A bunt moves the blooper from first to second, and he subsequently scores on a double to left. During the next at-bat the runner on second steals third, which is good for him because the DH with the torn trousers is up and he hits a sacrifice fly to score the runner from third. A flyout to right ends the inning, but the scoreboard shows only two runs. Baffled, I wonder what I’ve missed, maybe a runner was sent back because of a ground-rule double or something? Nope, just wrong. They corrected it in the fifth inning.

This whole time I’ve been listening to the Phillies game on my phone. It’s Jackie Robinson day and the Phillies had a 1:05pm start in Washington. They win by a score of 4–2, which Larry Andersen remarks is appropriate for the day (and I agree).

The bottom of the third inning is a parade of singles until the bases are loaded. Then an error by the third baseman moves everybody up one and adds a run to the Raptors’ total. A magnificent 6–4 putout follows, but another run scores. A 4–6–3 double-play ends the inning and now we’re tied at three, although the scoreboard is showing 3–2 Raptors [sic].

In the scoreless fourth I think to myself that the Repository of Acceptable Hairstyles is larger in the baseball community than it is in normal society.

In the top of the fifth inning the Roadrunners took the lead on a 2-out infield single that was fielded but with no throw by the shortstop. From there, they would never relinquish the lead.

For the remainder of the game it looked like it would rain any minute, but never did. The Roadrunners went on to score seven more runs and the Raptors’ bats quieted. The final score was 11–3.

Why don’t more people go to these games?

Tomorrow, in accordance with prevailing mythology, Jesus of Nazareth will arise from the dead. Tuesday, weather permitting, the Scarlet Raptors will host the Keystone College Giants at 3:30pm. My coworkers and I plan to hang a “gone fishin” sign on the door of our shop and take in a baseball game. Join us?

[In accordance with the Hide-it-Under-a-Bushel-NO! Doctrine, please be sure to share this with other baseball and/or #CamdenNJ aficionados who you think might appreciate it.]

“Thrilling play, Dad”