NJ’s 3 minor league teams with MLB ties open season Tuesday night
We've already provided you with a primer for what New Jersey's minor league baseball season will look like as COVID-19 restrictions continue, but there are no limitations on the enthusiasm for something that's never before happened in the history of the sport in the Garden State.
On Tuesday night, May 4, as we reported, the Jersey Shore BlueClaws, Somerset Patriots, and Trenton Thunder will all open their seasons, and as far as those teams know, it will mark the first time three teams with Major League Baseball affiliations will be active in New Jersey.
While this trio has been around for decades, it was only in the last couple of months that Somerset was awarded the Yankees' Double-A affiliate, which had been Trenton's.
The Thunder, meanwhile, are accommodating the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, who have vacated their home ballpark so that their Major League parent, the Toronto Blue Jays, can avoid Canadian COVID travel restrictions.
And in all the previous years of the Thunder, Patriots, and BlueClaws, they've never started their seasons simultaneously.
It all adds up to a highly anticipated "Opening Night in the Garden State," which the three teams are promoting jointly, to try and get New Jerseyans to take themselves out to the ballgame.
"This is the first time that all three of the major New Jersey teams are opening up on the same day," Joe Ricciutti, BlueClaws president and general manager, said. "(People) can get out of their house, they can come out with their family and their friends and their businesses, join us for a BlueClaws game, and cheer on the hometown team at the Jersey Shore."
The Patriots will be playing with heavy hearts, following the death of founding owner Steve Kalafer last week at age 71.
Patriots president and general manager Patrick McVerry said the season will begin with a video montage featuring Joe Torre and other Yankee greats, celebrating the history that already exists between the Jersey team and its new MLB partner. (Legendary Yankee relief pitcher Sparky Lyle managed the Patriots for their first 15 seasons, and now has the title of Manager Emeritus.)
Opening Night in Bridgewater will also include a commemorative ticket giveaway. McVerry said no matter the affiliation, baseball in New Jersey needs to continue to succeed.
"We have to build the brand, and that starts in communities, and I'm really excited about the fact that the Jersey Shore BlueClaws, the Patriots, and of course the Trenton Thunder will all be opening on May 4," he said.
For the Thunder, Tuesday night is setting up as the first in a series of new beginnings. General manager Jeff Hurley said the team will play as the Thunder at home, but still be known as the Bisons on the road.
Whoever they are, they will play the first Triple-A game in New Jersey in 60 years, since the Jersey City Jerseys, a Cincinnati Reds affiliate, left following the 1961 season.
"We wanted to make sure that our fans were coming to the ballpark to see the Trenton Thunder, to see the Trenton Thunder brand and logo and uniforms, and nothing has really changed with that," Hurley said.
When Trenton's deal with Buffalo ends, the Thunder will live on as part of the new MLB Draft League, which Hurley said will provide a "final showcase" for college juniors and seniors in the weeks and months before the Amateur Draft.
Despite these teams' three very different paths, they will all be offering postgame fireworks on Tuesday night — a minor league favorite.
And given outdoor capacity limits, which none of the teams expect to change very much for the moment even with Gov. Phil Murphy's expansion effective May 10, they predict Opening Night and many nights thereafter will be tough tickets to come by.