For the Love of the Game

I’m obsessed with baseball right now. It’s not a newfound obsession—just a deeper one. Luckily, the Camden Riversharks opened their season last week to help satisfy my baseball hunger.

The Riversharks play in the Atlantic League, a professional minor league with clubs from Connecticut to Maryland—including a second Jersey team, the Somerset Patriots.

It’s easy to catch a Riversharks game at beautiful Campbell’s Field on the Camden waterfront. They will be home this weekend, with games against the Patriots on Friday (7:05 pm), Saturday (5:35 pm) and Sunday (1:05 pm). At a fraction of what you would pay to see a major-league team, a visit to Campbell’s Field is a fantastic way to spend a spring or summer afternoon or evening.

As for my baseball obsession, I have the filmmaker Ken Burns to thank.

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of watching Burns’s outstanding 10-part documentary series Baseball, do yourself a favor and find a way to see it. Soon. What Burns does—as usual—is craft a story not only remarkable in its historic detail, but equally compelling for the breadth of its many human dimensions.

This, of course, has me thinking about my own baseball story. Truth be told, football was the presiding athleticus rex of the DiUlio household. The gridiron (specifically the Philadelphia Eagles) reigned supreme—with baseball a close second.

But then…oh but then…

It’s 1993 and I’m in my best friend’s basement watching Game Six of the World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays. I’m 12 years old, and as Philadelphia clings to a tenuous 6-5 lead in the bottom of the ninth it’s almost as though my entire future hangs in the balance. And then Mitch “Wild Thing" Williams throws a two-strike pitch to Joe Carter…and my future goes up in smoke as the ball soars through the air into the leftfield stands, sealing a victory for the Blue Jays. The MLB has a nicely edited video of the moment here for those of you who want to relive the horror.

As if that moment weren’t torture enough, 1994 gave birth to the now-infamous players strike, resulting in the cancellation of almost 1,000 games as well as that year’s post season. It would signal the death of baseball for me; a cold, bitter hibernation that lasted until I was 23. Working for a local newspaper, I covered high school sports—including baseball. Standing behind the backstop, learning how to keep score, absorbing that soft energy of a springtime ball field in late afternoon—I couldn’t resist. The sport was simply too great to ignore any longer. I was back.

Today, my love for baseball runs deeper than I ever imagined possible—and points me right to the Camden waterfront, where I can catch the Riversharks in their cozy little ballpark with the gorgeous backdrop of the Ben Franklin Bridge silhouetted against the glow of a setting sun.

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