Thursday, June 20, 2013


By Bob Golon
Special Contributor

        My life-long affection for baseball history began long ago on Sunday afternoons. My father would pack my mother and me into the car at our Kearny home. Our firs stop would be at his favorite Kearny Avenue deli to pick up a barbecued chicken (made with Lawry’s seasoning salt, a recipe that I use to this day) and, along with a container of my mom’s homemade iced tea, we’d head to a parking lot adjacent to Newark Airport. There I was allowed to engage in one of my favorite pastimes – watching the big planes taking off and landing at the airport, at very close range.
Ruppert Stadium, Newark, NJ
        Many times on the way home my Dad would stop at an abandoned baseball stadium with huge light towers in Newark’s Ironbound section, the old Ruppert Stadium. After parking the car, he would tell me stories about the Newark Bears baseball club of his youth in the 1930s – of Tommy Henrich, Charlie Keller, Joe Gordon, Marius Russo, and other stars, and of those magical times when the AAA affiliate of the New York Yankees was one of the dominate teams in minor league baseball. From those days on forward, I always wished for a rekindling of baseball in the city of my birth, Newark, New Jersey.
Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium, Newark, NJ
        In 1999 the “Bears” finally did return to Newark and a brand new, 35-million-dollar Riverfront Stadium, financed by Essex County. The stadium was the dream of ex-Yankee and Newark native Rick Cerone, who also sought to rekindle his father’s memories of the Bears.
        It has not gone well, however. Low attendance has plagued the Newark Bears from the very beginning. Playing in the high-level, independent Atlantic League, the Bears struggled to attain a thousand fans per game, while the nearby Somerset Patriots, also in the Atlantic League, were drawing five thousand or more every night.
        Forced to leave the Atlantic League, the Bears became members of the Can-Am League, another independent league whose quality of play is a grade below that of the Atlantic League. But in the minor leagues the level of play should not matter so much. The “affordable family entertainment” factor does, however, and even though the current Bears ownership and staff have done a good job of sprucing up the stadium and providing a bona fide minor league experience, the plain and simple fact is the community does not support the team.
James Gandolfini
        Last night, I sat, with 313 other dedicated souls at Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium, watching the Newark Bears lose a doubleheader to the New Jersey Jackals. Around 8:30 PM they announced over the public address system the death of James Gandolfini, star of the “Sopranos” television series. As they proceeded to play the Sopranos theme, I looked at the Stickel Bridge towers beyond left field, the backdrop of so many Sopranos Essex County based scenes. I was immediately overwhelmed by the empty seats, and the eerie feeling of the loss of some of my personal New Jersey icons – the Bears, James Gandolfini, and my Dad’s memories.

        But, I’ll keep going back. 

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