As a baseball fan, I often looked at movies like Bull Durham and the like, and had a hankering to visit small-town America and go to a Minor League game.
Like most sports, the real guts of it is not in the vast cathedrals that house elite teams every week like Yankee Stadium or Old Trafford. The energy that flows through all sports starts at municipal grounds and lower league venues. The Saturday mornings when the kids are waddling around with their little boots on, or are swinging rackets that are too big for them is where the magic of sport begins. From there, dreams are made, and thoughts are put in motion to emulate their heroes.
As a latecomer to baseball, I only really started to understand who my baseball heroes were in the mid-to-late 2000s when I discovered my passion for the game. Thereafter, I actually rolled back to players of the past and wished I could have seen them. I then bought a book called Roads to Redemption, which painted an even more nostalgic picture of baseball greats like Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle. The romantic side of me was even more hooked.
As this love affair with all things baseball grew, I knew that one thing would cement my fandom forevermore; a trip to a Minor League game.
So in 2015, when I was free and single, I booked in a 10-day trip to the US, which would see me stay in New York, Philadelphia and Boston. I had friends in each city, and I had been to them all many times before. This was going to be a summer trip to end all summer trips.
In New York, I met up with some friends from Kansas who decided we should all go to the New Yankee Stadium to take in a game. As a Red Sox ‘fan’ this was a bit odd, but you know, it’s still Yankee Stadium.
It was however my trip to Philly that allowed me to indulge my baseball passion in a way that lots of UK fans would be envious of.
A bunch of my friends met me in downtown Philadelphia, and we jumped on the Amtrak, heading to Camden, New Jersey.
Now I didn’t know much about Camden apart from a pretty high crime rate and that it was one of those kinds of forgotten towns of New Jersey that had lost its identity over the years.
What I did know is that it was home to the Camden Riversharks.
The Riversharks (sadly no longer with us) played in the Atlantic League and played their ball at Campbell’s Field, a former home of Rutgers-Camden college baseball team. It was named Campbell’s Field after the famous soup company, who had bought the naming rights to the ground back in the day.
The view from the stands at the ballpark was nothing less than breathtaking. The background of the Ben Franklin Bridge as the floodlights kicked in brought me to a level of Americana that I didn’t think was possible.
The smell of the hot dogs, the reasonably flat beer and the local speciality, funnel cake, were somehow interweaved with such tradition that I was truly transported to another place.
My pals and I sat around drinking beer, watching pitchers try their best to impress the local scouts who were checking up on potential talent. We observed the starting pitcher’s girlfriend getting as many selfies as possible before the light started to fade.
The local groupies were also there, gathering near the dugout and cheering each and every move their intended targets made. It was truly a magical sight to see the ecosystem of this small but perfectly formed ballpark at work.
The quality of baseball was not quite up to the standard I had seen earlier in the week at Yankee Stadium, but frankly, I couldn’t care less. The skyline of the bridge, the floodlights and the sound of the ball being hit around the park had me in my element. Perhaps more than any moment in my life, the image of that place takes me back in an instant to a place I’d like to be again one day.
The ballpark is being demolished to make way for a new version, so I very much hope to take in the view again one day, perhaps with my son or with that same bunch of friends that I went with in 2015.
It has done nothing but totally ignite my passion for Minor League ball, and I have trips planned for the next couple of years to more places that I had never heard of. I can only recommend dear reader, that you do the same if you possibly can.
Oil Harris is a guest writer for Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @sportsblog23