Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Trading Places?

The Bears lost yesterday in toasty Bears and Eagles Riverfront stadium, making their record 1-2 when I am in attendance. Their pitching was appalling, and their hitting (aside from an all-for-nothing seventh inning rally) was particularly weak. Keith Reed who had been ripping the ball all night finally connected for a grandslam in the bottom of the 7th. The only problem is, that in the top of the 10th, the Bears proceeded to hand the run back making the score 6-5, where it ended. Spoiled a perfectly good story line, that's what they did.

By the time I got to the game in the third it was already 4-0. The Bears got little from their staff, with a couple of mediocre innings out of Edwin Almonte. Ramon Castro (no relation to Fidel, ha-ha) went 4-5, and is on a nice little streak of his own. SeÑor Torres was in a funk all evening, but did have a pile of schwag including a broken bat and a couple of balls, and it appears we have a third (!) season ticket holder among us--some elderly gentleman who has now rotated two different Bears jerseys and one toupe to his three games. We'll call him Lester.

The most noteworthy moment of the evening came on my drive into Newark as I sat at a traffic light for a solid 15-minutes and must have been looking pretty grumpy to be missing what amounted to the Bears sucking it up for three innings. A homeless guy comes past my window shaking a cup and says, "Smile man. It ain't that bad! I'm the one with the cup." I didn't really know what to say, I mean, I've never gotten a pep-talk from a homeless guy.

"Just sick of sitting in traffic," I said, throwin a quarter and a couple nickles in his cup.

"If you really want I'll trade you: your job, your traffic and your car for my cup."

Funny how life smacks you in the face for being an ungracious tool sometimes isn't it? As I finally moved through the light onto the 1 and 9, I felt for my pair of tickets in my pocket. I was on the way to the game alone, with an extra ticket going unused. I wonder if he would have dug taking in a ballgame, eating a pretzel, and shooting the shit. I take him to a game, buy him a dog and a soda, drop him back off on Tonnele avenue and we each go on with our lives. I wish I had asked. I wish I was the kind of person who could have asked.

I sat two rows behind my usual seats. The corporate group that owns the seats behind me seemed to have camped out in both rows. I didn't bother pushing out the guy with the Brooks Brothers polo and Maui Jim sunglasses who was stretched across both of my seats. I milled around the Bears shop during one of Newark's stifled rallies. Felt guilty spending 23 bucks on a hat I'd only wear to games. I went to spend three bucks on a beer but for some reason they weren't serving (let's hope this is a fluke, and not the beginning of a trend) and watched the Bears try to mount a rally. Even after Reed's ball went soaring over the left field fence I didn't have much confidence in a positive outcome. I headed home before the extra frames. It was a lonely game. And a wasted ticket.

Monday, May 14, 2007

On the Road, Bears Hold Down First

The Bears held on to first place in their Division yesterday, but unfortunately missed the sweep against the Bridgeport BlueFish, much to Bridgeport manager, Tommy John's, surprise. The Bears started the weekend out by beating the fish 4-2 on Friday behind starter Matt Sweeney (2-0). Joey Gomes had another nice game with a couple of hits, but the real hero was first baseman Victor Rodriguez who knocked in a pair of RBI in the top of the first to start things off strong for Newark. After taking the opener, the Bears had their season largest two game lead in the North Division.

The Bears were able to extend that lead over the BlueFish with another win on Saturday night. In the chilly confines of the Ballpark at Harbor Yard, Wayne Krenchicki's club knocked the ball around the field. Jeremy Hill (1-0) started for the Bears. Victor Rodriguez carried the big stick again, going 3-4 with an RBI and a run, but Javier Colina's two run dinger in the sixth really opened up the lead.

That whole "Bobby Brownlie to the Yankees" discussion? Maybe we should slow our roll on that one. It turns out our mancrush may, in fact, have been a bit premature. The future all-star looked imminently hittable on Mother's Day, getting lit up to the tune of 5 runs on 8 hits in 5 innings. Six strikeouts is the good news. But...well, it's the only good news. The Bears have an off day today and return to action in Newark tomorrow for Two-for-Tuesdays. Sadly that is some ticket promotion and has nothing to do with two-beers-for-the-price-of-one or anything like that.

One last note. The Bears were not playing their cross-state Rivals (Somerset) this weekend, but I felt this was worth mentioning. I am all for the pink bat thing in MLB to raise money to fight Breast Cancer. But can somebody give kudos to the Patriots for going all out and wearing pink hats AND uniforms? Anybody? OK, I'll do it: "You go, girls!" (Sorry, had to.) On a serious note, major props to the Pats who raised over 7 grand for the cause. The Bears wouldn't even have enough fans present to get an auction going.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Story Lines You Just Don't Read in MLB Game Recaps 5/11/07

Gary Knotts Notches First "W" Since October '04

Yes, you read that right. In leading the Newark Bears to victory in the rubber match of their series with the Bridgeport BlueFish today, Gary Knotts pitched for a victory--his first since 2004! Not only that but game time was at 11:30, a fairly common Thursday start time (not to mention a pain in the ass while I am gainfully employed but something that is going to be amazing come August when I am "in transition.") Having been unable to make the game, I can only report what the Bears own website is giving me. And the news is, thankfully, better than a five game errorless streak. In fact, it turns out that the Bears won the series by putting on some early season fireworks, crushing three dingers. Backup Catcher Jason Torres (no relation to SeÑor Torres) is making a case for some more playing time with his first homer of the season. Meanwhile Keith Reed, a former standout Orioles Farmhand, and Javier Colina taking a half-day off and DHing both hit one of their own.

Knotts, apparently once made some starts for the Marlins and Tigers. Still, one has to think that with two and a half years between W's, Knotts probably enjoyed this victory as much as any. Other news regarding a more popular member of the Bears' staff: The Atlantice League Baseball News (can we just call them ALBN from now on? We're buds, right?) is reporting that there were around five scouts in attendance for Bobby Brownlie's start during Tuesday's home opener. Brownlie also got a pretty nice writeup in his local rag, which also took the opportunity to point out how far Brownlie's star has fallen and rip teammate Edwin Almonte--jerks! (Rip on my Bears and maybe I should point out that you repeated two lines and two quotes in your copy, bro. Only us fans are aloud to poke the Bears.) Here's the rub on a guy like Brownlie, who, I am starting to think might be a big fish in a small pond here. Do I root for the kid to keep ripping (it was just one start, I need to relax, I know) even though this might means he gets a minor league contract from one of the big guys? Or should I be selfish and hope he sticks around and falters here and there so I can greedily enjoy him outclassing the oposition before my very eyes. It adds on a whole new aspect to being a fan. You want your team to succeed, and part of that means wanting its stars to really succeed, which in the end might mean them being snatched up from under your nose. I am rooting for Brownlie to get as much success as possible, though. The kid signed a 2 million dollar contract out of college, and has Scott Boras as an agent, so he isn't as much of a loveable underdog as someone like Peavey. But as long as I get to see him start a few times, and then he makes it for a September Call-up in Tampa Bay next year or the year after that. I'll feel I was a part of his journey. Besides, even if Brownlie impresses a scout enough to get swept away from us, we'll always have Gary Knotts. Safe money says he's not going anywhere.

The Loneliness of the Die-Hard Bears Fan

5/10 Bridgeport BlueFish defeat Newark Bears 7-4.

They are staying positive on the Bears website. Despite the fact that my new neighbor, SeÑor Torres (more on him in a minute) was calling for our own pitcher's head in the fourth inning, the Bears are feeling good about yesterday's game. And why not? It's the fifth straight game without committing an error! It was my first game of the season, having missed opening night for an Arcade Fire show that I felt would be simply criminal to skip. And I will say this: it should be an interesting summer. The thing is the level of play really isn't all that bad. Hey, Junior Spivey was on the BlueFish! The crowd? Well, let's hope it was just a Wednesday night before the season and the weather really heats up type-of-thing. I expected small. A few empty seats here and there to put your belongings, short lines for the bathrooms and beer--these are actually perks of a lighter audience, right? Well small doesn't begin to describe the gathering that was the Newark Bears fanbase last night. It broke down like this: myself and Momma Bear; my neighbor SeÑor Torres, his wife and son; a group of about a dozen drunken men from Bayonne Exterminators (you can't make this stuff up. Dudes were literally resting their beers on their bellies the whole game); about 100 other people...tops. So the good news for the bears is, there weren't many people there to take in their first home loss of the season (they took the home opener behind former Rutgers University standout, Bobby Brownlie.) The bad news for the bears? There was only 150 people on hand to see them go five straight games with out an error. One more thing: it appears their own fanbase isn't overly enamored with them.

People who are easily embarassed for others wouldn't do well to take in a Newark Bears game, or, I am guessing, any Atlantic League game. It's a very loose tightrope one walks between feeling more pity for the guys on the field, or for the (generally) unfunny fans whose heckling starts off pretty strong before whimpering into mean-spirited taunts for the final five innings. While there is an upside to being close to the field in a rather uncrammed stadium--the action is right there (I mean you can read the guys lips while they curse the ump under their breath, and HEAR their conversations in the dugout) and the sounds are refreshingly crisp--there is a definite downside, too. In the quieter moments, of which there are plenty, you can hear word for word every single taunt that every single drunk or just plain obnoxious fan feels like spewing. There are some clever ones, to be sure. But some? Not so clever.

SeÑor Torres is my neighbor. He sits across the aisle from me, in the third row behind the bears dugout, his name proudly etched into a metal plaque on his chair, just like mine. I imagine I don't have much in common with him other than the fact that we have both spent a larger portion of our salaries on season tickets for a team of randomly thrown together hangers-on, never-made-it former first round draft picks, local kids with a dream, and guys who once made it to the show only to bat .180 in 17 at bats, grab a cup of coffee and watch their dream get crushed. Also, he has decided to subject his wife to this self-injury. Just like myself and Momma Bear. He is, as the name suggests, a latino man, who I imagine wishes Newark had a competitive futbol team (though this is probably a fabrication of stereo-typing) but was forced to settle for baseball instead. He calls out to the latino players in a spanish dialect (I'd be guessing if I offered which one.) "Oye, Rodriguez. Golpee la pelota mas dura, man!" He wants to collect the broken bats, and foul balls, scrapping it up with a few kids when one flies through our section. He's a real fan. He's created the season's first nickname, "Smith and Wesson" for our clean-up hitter, Corey Smith, a 6'2 260 lb. kid from South Plainfield who was the 26th overall pick in the 2000 MLB draft. Torres knows when the pitcher needs to be pulled (as soon as there's a couple guys on base, of course) and instructs the baserunners when to go (every time they reach.) His arsenal of supportive cheers is limited to "hold 'em up, hold 'em up!" and "you'll get 'em next time, man!" and "kick out that leg, pitcher!" But he does get bonus points for carrying on the one-man "Let's Go Bears!" chant long enough and loud enough to involve the PA-guy once or twice. Just the PA blasting its synthesized organ and Torres, alone, screaming "Let's go Bears! Let's Go Bears! Let's Go Bears!" I have to blush a little bit for him. But I also feel a swell of excitement. This guy put down his money to get his season tickets and damned if he wasn't going to make up some nicknames for the players, banter in his native language with his favorite latinos, and start up a chant. Good for him, I think.

The rest of the audience is less forgiving, and even SeÑor Torres, after the Newark Bears give up a two run bomb in the fourth, and suffer through a two-run BlueFish rally in the fifth, isn't feeling as generous. He takes it out on the umps mostly. And his hometown manager, his god given right as a fan. The Bayonne Exterminators, for their part, are heckling the Bridgeport pitcher with a constant slow-chant of "Hootie, Hooo-taaaay, Hooooo-taaaaaay!" (and the BlueFish, get it!?) I'm keeping loose score on a score card but more just trying to memorize the names faces and numbers of the team I am going to be rooting for, or heckling, as it seems is my fate as a new Bears fan.

There's Smith, who is a righty, was drafted by the Indians but only made the show for a cup of coffee. He can mash for sure, and is only 24. But he's a bit out-of-shape and looks less excited by a single than a strikeout. I'm guessing he's a kid that couldn't break the habit of swinging for the fences every time. Any other result seems to him to be a wasted at-bat. Pat Peavey is the early favorite for guy I am really gonna cling to as a fan. Peavey's 27, has only a little A-ball under his belt, and isn't likely going anywhere. He's the ninth hitter in the lineup, although I am not sure our Manager, Wayne Krenchicki doesn't just scratch out the lineup for the next day's game after he has a few beers and before he gets into bed. Peavey played college ball at Santa Clara with Bears Teammate Joey Gomes who also isn't likely to share the big stage with his kid brother, Jonny of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Gomes seems like a scratcher, too. I think this is going to be a common trait among these guys--what keeps them coming to a stadium filled with a couple hundred people, struggling to keep a career in the game. SeÑor Torres' favorites are Ramon Castro, a venezuelan who once played with the A's, and whose intro. music is a catchy salsa beat; and Victor Rodriguez, a fly-ball hitter, whose roster weight of 190 lbs. must have been taken with only one foot on the scale. Our pitcher, Newark Bears 2006 Comeback Player of the Year (!) Carlos Mirabal looks like he is regressing to whatever it is he came back from: the kid's heater is barely breaking 80 and anything that could have passed for a breaking ball was landing in the dirt. This last affliction isn't isolated to Mirabal, by the way. Of the three pitchers we see, not-a-one can throw a curve for a strike. Smart money says this is the biggest issue keeping them from reaching the next level. Take BlueFish pitcher, Matt Beech, for instance, who made it to the Phillies for three seasons as a lefty because he can deal heat (low 90's pretty consistently.) Only three season, of course, because he can't get his slider over to save his life. He still holds the bears to four hits in seven innings.

It would be unfair and a bold-faced lie, if I were to say the whole thing was a comedy, though. There's talent on the field, no doubt. You may not be sitting within coughing distance of the greatest players in the world, but the Bears field a team that, fundamentally, is as good as the best college teams you will find. These teams are built in the same vain as pro-teams, with speedy OBP guys at the top of the order (except for Krenchicki's team) and mashers in the middle. The bears DP team is sharp up the middle, and quick-footed. Our pitcher, though no Josh Beckett, can throw strikes (by the way, there is nothing cooler than sitting close enough to an umpire that you can see his face scrunch up and turn purple as he guterally grunts "Struuuuhhhh" for each strike.) I don't think I will be breaking down VORPs or OPS with RISP for these guys, but I have a feeling I am going to get a certain joy out of watching Smith and Wesson swing for the fences every time he's up, even if it's when we just need a single or a walk. I don't doubt I will regret watching Peavey hustle out a grounder to third, even if, in the grand scheme of things it means less than Manny walking to first after hitting a bomb in a big series against the Angels. Or maybe I said that all wrong. Maybe in the grand scheme of things it is something bigger, after all, to watch a kid whose never going to make a visit to yankee stadium wearing anything but shorts and a polo, hustling out a sure double play. Maybe in the grand scheme of things, 100 disinterested fans, groaning as Joey Gomes pops out to third can be just as meaningful as 40,000 erupting in awe as Papi belts another walk-off, throwing up his hands in god-like triumph, clapping his hands together as he plods along the bases, awaiting the crush of teammates and the 3-minute standing ovation of mass hysteria. 'Cause there goes Joey Gomes, sprinting down the first base line, hoping that ball finds a hole in the thirdbaseman's glove when it finally drops down. Certain that there's a scout out there willing to reward a kid for hustle. No crush of teammates, no flashing bulbs or earthshaking applause. Just a bag to get to, a throw to beat out, a game to try to win.

Hey, worst case scenario? There's always the short line for the bathrooms and beer. And SeÑor Torres: "Oye, Gomes! You'll get 'em next time, man!"

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Season Tickets Arrive

Season Tickets arrived today: beautiful, classic background of a ball and glove lying in an unmowed, pristine, green field. Section 109 Row H, Seats 1 and 2 (aisle seats were a requirement.) They smell like spring.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

On Missing Opening Day

For the first time in about 10 years I missed Opening Day. That is to say, I didn't call in sick or glue myself to a radio or while at work. I didn't exchange panicked emails with friends concerning a middle inning rally by the Yankees or a flop by the Red Sox Ace (both things apparently happened, but I could have predicted them well in advance...not to say I wouldn't have still completely overreacted once they actually came to fruition.) So without further ado, an examination of how the day of the year, which is typically the most anticipated, became just another Monday. What I was happy to miss, and an admitted lament.

Let's begin with this: thank God I'll not be following the A-Rod saga this year. Yesterday, apparently, was a microcosm of how this year's AL MVP's season is going to go: an early error leading to boos; a single that should have been a routine ground-out, followed by a "gutsy" steal to get the go-ahead run in scoring position; a meaningless HR in the late innings when the game was already into Mariano's hands, and thus over; a curtain call. Here are baseball fans (Yankee fans, Red Sox fans, whomever) at their absolute most fickle and, sadly, most honest: calling up their whipping boy for a curtain call within hours of booing him mercilessly. On opening days past, I would have been following the game on mlb radio, cursing the shrill sound of Suzie Waldman's wretched voice, giddy upon the error, and near despair following the HR. What's amazing is, if you think about it, the situation was inevitable. There was no other way A-Rod's season--the Yankees season--could have begun. Just as it is predictable that they will have a one month swoon from Mid-April to Mid-May, the Sox will take a 4-game lead, only to let it slip away as the All-Star break approaches. Wake me up when that saga ends.

For the die-hard fan, a 4:10 opening day game is about as good as it gets. You can work a full day (just ducking out a bit early) and still catch the game, drink a few beers, and not get to bed late and with your full blatter ensuring a fitful night's sleep. The last two years I would have rushed home from work, the years before that skipped classes and barbecued to tailgate the beginning of the spectacular season. This year I came across the game in the eighth inning, the Sox trailing by six runs, and shrugged, opting instead for Jeopardy. That's right. No cell-phone tossing or childish screaming (although I did let an audible "What?!" escape when Mike Lowell clearly tagged out a "safe" Tony Pena Jr. at third, before I clicked off the game. Hey, old habits die hard.) I went to bed reasonably early last night, my mind not racing with thoughts of a rotation sans an effective Curt Shilling (he'll be back to form in his next start, anyway) or what the Red Sox need to do to get out of the basement (win a couple games) or even how long it will be until Red Sox Nation starts to panic (chances are it is happening now.)

The one regret I have is missing Ben Sheets' best start in a couple years. I almost certainly would have archived this game if not turned it on live as it became apparent that the Red Sox were, once again, stretching their Spring Training out into the first series of the regular season. Sheets has long been one of my favorite pitchers, and nothing speaks to the power of opening day like a guy who has struggled with injury the past few years throwing a gem to signal the start of a new season. Add in the fact that the day is all about hope, ESPECIALLY, for the mid-market teams who are trying to prove they belong (nice W's for the Brewers, Twins, KC, and the Blue Jays) and its a nice reminder of what opening day can mean when it's showing off its very best. It's one thing to cling to every game like it is deeply meaningful to the outcome of the season (even if you know it is not.) It's another thing entirely to value the symbolism of a nice win for a team that needs to prove to itself that they are headed in the right direction. There may not be a single day from here until October where a few of those team's fanbases feel as optimistic as they do this morning (although I happen to believe Minnesota and Milwaukee will be playing meaningful baseball into the colder months.)

So in summary: less manic and rash rectionary behavior on opening day, but a regretful note at missing a few of the days more meaningful moments (and no I don't mean a weepy montage to Yankee's rental-pitcher-cum-apparent-martyr Corey Lidle.) The thing is, in the heat of it, when you're hashing out your teams prospective season, and breaking down their rotation, their lineup, their schedule; when you are making predictions about a 162-game season (sort of like predicting the final product of new construction based on the frame and the plot of land) you get caught up in the game of making it all more meaningful than it actually is. You convince yourself that the first game doesn't mean as much as the 153rd, and you vow that you won't get too worked up too early on. But you always do. You miss the Ben Sheets gem because you're praying for a middle-inning rally from the Sox, or for A-Rod to strike out in that last at-bat. You try to manipulate the inevitable. And then you let the inevitable manipulate you. Sometimes it requires missing a thing entirely to know that even when you were taking part, you were really missing it, entirely.

The Real Opening Day: 1 month from tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Unavoidable Coincidences: The Newark Bears and the Trajectory of a City's Hope

You'll have to hang with me as I do a little reasearch on the Newark Bears, the city of Newark, and the Atlantic League, here. At some point I will be able to simply rub my chin, look skywayrd and rattle off the long and convuluted history of the team and the unaffiliated league without looking at any notes, but for the time-being I will need to rely on a steady dose of, wikipedia, team webpages and blogs. Just kidding about that last one. Nobody in their right mind is blogging about an Atlantic League ballclub. We'll start today with a history of semi-professional baseball in Newark, and a little bit about the city itself. Later this week, a bit about the Atlantic League, and the modern-day Newark Bears

Look to the Cookie

As MLB's spring training starts in the Grapefruit League of Florida, and the Cactus League of Arizona, the Newark Bears host a spring tradition of their own at the end of March: open tryouts. That's correct, 1 month and 4 days before the first pitch of the season is thrown the Bears will be hosting "talent" from all over the Jersey terrain, fresh faces just out of highschool with a dream of sniffing a cup of coffee in the majors, as well as Men's Softball League MVPs who think they have what it takes to sport the uniform once proudly worn by Yogi Berra, Jose Canseco, and Rickey Henderson (no, Yogi was never an Athletic. They were all once Bears!) See, before the Newark Bears became the dumping ground for has-been-big-name players, looking for one last shot at glory (that's you, Rickey, take a bow) it was an actual affiliated ballclub. Purchased by then-owner of the NY Yankees in 1931, the Newark Indians were made an affiliated ballclub of the soon-to-be most storied franchise in the world. And they were renamed the Bears, presumably for the plethura of ursine species wandering in and out of Newark Penn Station, and down Broad St. Playing at Rupert Stadium (home of the Beer Baron!) the Bears doiminated the AAA International-League for 18 years.

Their co-tenants at Ruppert were the Newark Eagles, one of the better, if lesser-known, Negro League teams. Some famous Eagles included: Larry Doby, first black player to play in the American League, with the Indians; Don Newcombe, who won a Cy Young with the Dodgers; Biz Mackey, one of the leagues best catchers; and SS Ray Dandridge. Some of these men were members of the Newark Eagles team that upset the Kansas City Monarchs in the 1946 Negro World Series. The Monarchs were to the Negro Leagues what the Yankees were to the American League. It goes without saying then that the Monarchs, during their prime, were arguably the best collection of ballplayers playing anywhere on the planet. If I may take a sidenote to make some plugs: should you ever find yourself in Kansas City with 2 hours to kill, make your way to the Negro League Museum a fascinating walk-through which really illuminates the struggles of the league to earn recognition, and of baseball to accept integration. More importantly it shines a light on some of the leagues finer players, whose names we know, but whom we hardly appreciate enough. Pick up Satchel Paige's America in the bookstore (where I happened to meet Lynn Jones and Ron "Poppa Jack" Jackson when they coached with the Red Sox) then head about half a mile down E 18th St to Brooklyn Ave. and get thee some Arthur Bryant's burnt-ends. Back to Newark: where in the late 30's and early 40's the Bears and the Eagles were playing some of the best baseball on the East Coast. But while that decade and a half was, indeed, heady times for both newark baseball and the city, itself, the 1949 sale of the Bears to the Chicago Cubs (and the ensuing relocation to Massachusetts) was a foreboding of tougher times for Newark, both inside it's stadium, and beyond the emptied seats.

Welcome to Hard Times

In 1950 the only remaining ballclub in Newark, the Negro League Eagles, owned by Effa Manley (the first woman ever to own and operate a baseball team) were shipped to Houston. The promise of the underdog Eagles was gone from the city of Newark, as were the joys of watching the young, hungry players on the Bears, before they became tainted by the pinstripes of their major league affiliate. It was a symbolic moment for Newark, and ever since 1949, for very different reason, the city has never really been the same. It isn't just a matter of baseball, and it is equally as absurd as it is idyllic to say that baseball is what made Newark prosperous, and losing the teams to other cities is what made Newark suffer. It's just coincidence, of course, that when the Bears and Eagles were in their prime, showcasing some of the greatest young, gifted white and black talent America had to offer, the city itself was home to a young, gifted white and black community that was thriving, and vivrant. In the years following, Newark has been on a slow-and-then-rapid descent to one of the most dangerous and uninhabitable cities in the country. That too is simply coincidence, but coincidence, sometimes, is difficult to ignore.

In 1967 Ruppert stadium (once a symbol of Newark's prosperity, home to two equally exciting teams--one a Negro League underdog, one a feeder-league affiliate of the soon-to-be world-renowned Yankees)was deliberately demolished. That same year in July, a black cab driver named John Smith was pulled over for illegally passing a double-parked police car. After the officers accused him of resisting arrest they beat him close to death. What ensued were rumors of Smith's death, followed by anger towards a predominantly white police force and a seemingly apathetic white Mayor (Newark's last.) Then Chaos. 23 dead, over 700 injured, nearly 1,500 arrests, and in excess of $10 million of property damage: what we now call the Newark Riots. Then white flight.

Since the rumors of John Smith's death sparked the Newark Riots, rumors have been a big part of the diasappointing history of the city: namely rumors of a renaissance. It seems for as long I can recall, and according to some older than myself, longer than that, Newark has been rumored to be on the brink of a major rebuilding. Wealthy investors become enamored enough with the solid "infrastructure" and gorgeous art-deco architecture to ignore the stigma left by the 1970's aura of desparation. Small groups, predominantly art-centric, have touted the possibilities of the city, but little has ever come of these whispers. In 1998, 50 years after baseball left the city of Newark, the Bears joined the arts community (represented by NJPAC, and like organizations) as the first major entertainment and sports attraction to return to Brick City. During the late 1990's for the first time in 30 years, whites were moving back to Newark. For the first time in the history of the city, whites and blacks were playing and watching baseball together.

Renaissance Men?

Don't get me wrong: a resurgent Utopia Newark is not. It's not a city undergoing rapid socioeconomic integration a la Washington, D.C. or Jersey City. It's not even New Jersey's answer to New Haven, CT. Think Baltimore. The racial tension in the city is still palpable. Recently I attended a party at The Eleven80, a swanky high-rise with its own doormen, screening room, fitness center, and private bowling lanes. On the way home I was waiting on the Path platform with one other guy, a man who introduced himself as Ray, and said he was a rap producer. On the train we got to talking a little bit about Newark. He was clearly interested in what a white kid was doing riding the train from Newark to Journal Square at 3 AM, and we talked a little bit about Eleven80, and the new development around what will be the new NJ Devils arena. He seemed pessimistic about the recent talk of Newark's renaissance. So I asked him about the Bears, figuring maybe he saw some positives, some integration in what was going on at Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium. "You ever been to a Bears game?" I asked. "Sure." And I thought that was that, but then he threw in an afterthought: "You can always tell when the Bears are playing or when there's a symphony at NJPAC." I asked what he meant, and he looked at me like I had to be messing with him. "When there's white people on Broad St."

It may sound like an exaggeration, or a cliche, but as of now Newark's biggest hurdle towards an economic renaissance remains its racial tension. I'm not just talking about a black/white issue, either. Part of what has lead to the success of my hometown, Jersey City, over the past 15 years has been a diversification of its population. Different minorities and ethnic groups have populated and reinvigorated different neighborhoods. For instance: I live in a neighborhood, which is predominantly Coptic-American, Indian and Middle Eastern; The Heights section of Jersey City remains predominantly hispanic; Downtown predominantly European, and White, but there has also been an integration of these neighborhoods as people of each ethnic background realize the potential and offerings of their neighboring areas. Jersey City has three nearly-equal populations around 25% of the whole, each: White, Black, Hispanic, with "other race" (namely, Middle-Eastern and Indian) making up 15-20%. Newark on the other hand is almost 55% black, and 30% hispanic, making almost 85% of the cities population, combined. There are no sustainable ethnic neighborhoods, outside of the Ironbound, a Portuguese neighborhood, which, unsurprisingly, is on the cusp of being the area that is first to "gentrify." Now, without arguing the merits or negative aspects of gentrification, it is well known that in cities where urban blight is an issue, the first areas to gentrify tend to be heavily ethnic neighborhoods, of one general make-up or another. These areas, while often not wealthy or heavily developed, already have a neighborhood feel, and the feeling of safety that is harvested by fellow immigrants of common heritage living in close quarters. Outside of the Ironbound this feeling does not exist in Newark. The community feeling, unfortunately, is absent, aside from a few places where it is fabricated: places like NJPAC, and Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium.

All this to say that while watching a Newark Bears game inside a stadium harmoniuosly named after its former tenants--one a minor league team of all white players, and one a Negro League team--one is not necessarily seeing Newark in its most honest state. There is a sense of utopia taking place in those confines that doesn't necessarily reflect what has been going on in Newark's politics or socioeconomics for many years. However, recently (and coincidentally, since the Bears return) Newark does seem infused with a restrained hopefulness about its future. Mayor Corey Booker was elected because he promised to clean up Newark's corrupt politics, and tackle issues of crime that have prevented the city from shedding its negative reputation. Development is underway on several blocks surrounding Newark Penn Station and the ironbound, and the hope is that what the Bears and NJPAC started with their return to Newark, in terms of economic resurgence, will be continued with residential and commercial development, particularly the welcoming of New Jersey's NHL franchise, the Devils.

If "reserved hopefulness" best describes the attitude of Newark's citizens, "unabashed pessimism" would be the only words to desribe the Newark Bears' fans attitude towards their team's future. Despite loading their rosters this century with plenty of big names, from Ozzie and Jose Canseco, to Jim Leyritz, and Rickey Henderson, the Bears have only made two post-seasons since their return, and only won the Atlantic League Championship once, in 2002. Since then they have been left out of the playoffs each year. Late last month the Bears own website ran a poll asking how fans expected the Bears to fare under new manager Wayne Krenchicki. There were four options: A. Win the first half of the season, make the playoffs; B. Win the Second Half of the Season, make the playoffs; C. Win the Atlantic League Championship!; D. Miss the playoffs. The OVERWHELMING majority chose D. Within 2 days the poll was replaced by a poll asking which promotion-night fans were most excited about. Options included Seinfeld Night (where one can hope there will be complementary black and white cookies) and Cosmetic Surgery Night! Needless to say, there doesn't seem to be much to look forward to for the Bears fans. At least, not in terms of baseball. Of course the current roster consists of only three players. So maybe they'll get some absurd talent at those open tryouts in March.