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Requiem for the Riversharks: Camden ceases operations, to be replaced by New Britain in 2016

With the news earlier this month that newcomer New Britain, CT would play in the Atlantic League in 2016, it unfortunately meant a current league member would not, as the league is adamant about keeping an even number of franchises.  Otherwise, the all-travel Road Warriors would have to be reintroduced, a situation the league has not been in since 2011, and one with obvious burdens the ALPB does not wish to re-visit.

On October 21 it was announced the Camden Riversharks, after 15 seasons at Campbell’s Field across the river from Philadelphia, had ceased operations.  While it’s exciting to welcome a new league member in New Britain, made possible by the Double-A Eastern League franchise that had been calling their ballpark home relocating to nearby Hartford, it’s nonetheless disappointing to lose the second-closest team to York and a natural rival from the league lineup. The Riversharks’ lease at Campbell’s Field expired following the season, and was not successfully renegotiated.

Also falling by the wayside is the best setting in the Atlantic League, in the opinion of this humble writer, pictured above.  It was pretty cool to sit on the first base side at Campbell’s Field, where you get an awesome view of the Philadelphia skyline and the Delaware River under the Ben Franklin Bridge, which connects New Jersey and Philadelphia.  It was definitely one of the best settings for a game in pro baseball.

Hopefully Campbell’s field won’t go dark for long, as there is serious talk about a Phillies-affiliated New York-Penn League team moving into the facility as soon as the 2017 season.  (Short-Season Class A, a 76-game season from mid-June to September.  38 home games.)  That would be an ideal outcome for Camden, for professional baseball to return to the facility, and not have the burden of 70 home games, with the natural intrigue of seeing young Phillies draft picks and prospects a stone’s throw from Citizen’s Bank Park.  They’d also probably get some pretty solid MLB injury rehab appearances there, being as close to their affiliate as any minor league team would be across the country.  The most credible rumor at the moment is the Batavia Muckdogs of Western New York would relocate, a franchise that was a long-time Philadelphia affiliate from the 80s to the mid-2000s.  Batavia is currently affiliated with the Marlins, with the Phillies in Williamsport, so depending on when current player development contracts expire or are re-done, a relocated Batavia franchise could play in Camden for a season or two with a Miami affiliation, before linking up with the local club in perpetuity.

Camden still drew 3,186 fans per game in their final season, seventh in the Atlantic League.  Batavia drew a New-York Penn League-worst 921 fans per game in 2015.  While Batavia is the clubhouse favorite to move, the Auburn Doubledays of Central New York have also been a topic of discussion.  Auburn drew 1,408 this season, second to last in NYPL attendance.  As complicated as a franchise relocation is, it isn’t difficult to see why Camden would be an intriguing market for the New York-Penn League when comparing those numbers.

You feel bad for the die-hard fans losing their team, but a fresh start in a new league at a new level should be welcomed in Camden.  It has traditionally been a struggle to win there, and the Sharks did not win an Atlantic League Championship in their 15 seasons on the eight team circuit.  Their final playoff appearance was in 2008, when they won the Liberty Division first half.  After knocking off Long Island in the division series that season, they fell victim to Somerset’s fourth title, three games to one in the championship series.  Camden posted a winning record in the 2009 first half, losing out on the Liberty Division title to Southern Maryland.  The Riversharks followed with 13 consecutive losing halves over the next six and half seasons, from the latter half of ’09 through 2015.

The franchise was not without its highlights as it relates to individual players however; infielder Stephen Drew (Dbacks, A’s, Red Sox, Yankees) is far and away the all-time leader in MLB games played after playing in the Atlantic League, at 1,152.  Drew made his professional debut with the Riversharks in 2005, while he and agent Scott Boras held out in contract negotiations with Arizona, after Drew was selected 15th overall in the 2004 draft.  Boras handled pitcher Jered Weaver the same way that spring, who was the 12th pick by the Angels in ’04, but Weaver ended up agreeing to terms with Anaheim prior to ever taking the mound for the Riversharks, despite an agreement being in place for Weaver to pitch for Camden.

Aside from top prospects, the Sharks facilitated two of the better MLB comeback stories with catcher Rene Rivera and first baseman Val Pascucci.  After Rivera played for Camden in 2010, he caught in 45 games for the Twins a season later, his first MLB action since 2006 with the Mariners.  After appearing in 23 more games with the Padres in 2013, Rivera spent each of the last two seasons as a full-time Major Leaguer for the first time at ages 30 and 31.  He caught 103 games for the Padres in 2014, and after a trade to the Rays, appeared in 110 more big league contests this season.  Pascucci completed an even more impressive seven-year Major League comeback.  Rivera’s teammate in 2010, Pascucci was signed by the Mets and assigned to Triple-A Buffalo, spending the remainder of that season and all of 2011 there.  When the Mets called him up for 10 games in 2011 however, it marked his first big league action since 2004 with the Montreal Expos.

With a 10-7 mark against Camden this season, the Revolution finish with a 98-75 (.566) all-time record against the Riversharks.  52-32 at home, 46-43 on the road, and the two did not meet in the playoffs.  The Sharks are the only franchise York holds an all-time winning mark against in road games.  The Revolution played Camden on opening day three times in nine seasons, tied with Bridgeport as the most common opening day opponent.  The Revs were 2-1 in those games, losing 11-4 at Campbell’s Field in 2008 before knocking off the Sharks 8-2 (2011) and 6-1 (2014) in their two visits to York for opening day.

With the New Britain for Camden swap now official, the league schedule should be made public shortly.  Any divisional realignment is doubtful; New Britain should slide into the Liberty Division with their new in-state rival Bridgeport, Somerset and Long Island.  The Freedom Division would remain unchanged with York, Lancaster, Southern Maryland and Sugar Land.  I’d be surprised if a name, colors and logo for the New Britain squad weren’t announced in enough time for merchandise sales ahead of the holiday season.  Announcements on front office positions and a field manager should be on the horizon as well.  If you’re curious, or anxious to make a new Atlantic League road trip to see the Revolution, pictures and descriptions of New Britain Stadium can be seen HERE.  This marks the first time the Atlantic League is moving into an existing minor league facility; every other ballpark in the league was built specifically for each franchise.

When the 2015 Atlantic League schedule is made public, we’ll have it for you right here.

-Paul Braverman

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