As the Yankees' farm team in Class AA, 2 steps below the major leagues, the Thunder are the highest-ranking professional baseball team in the State of New Jersey.
Before You Go. Trenton is about 60 miles from Manhattan. Whenever you go, the weather will not be substantially different from what it will be in New York City or for most of New Jersey. You won't need a passport, or to change your money, or to change your timepieces, as it's in the Eastern Time Zone.
Tickets. Arm & Hammer Park has 6,150 seats. Early in the season is the time to go; when it gets warmer, seats go fast. All adult tickets are $13.
Nearly every home game features some kind of promotion. All Tuesday games are Dollar Dog Nights, in which you can get a regular size hot dog (not the larger ThunderDog) for $1.00, all game long. Tuesday games are also Kids Eat Free games, in which every parent bringing in a child age 12 and under receives a voucher for a free hot dog, popcorn and bottle of water, redeemable at the food court on either sideline.
All Wednesday games feature Baseball Bingo: "Grab your Baseball Bingo card and watch the game closely to fill your squares! Bingo winners get entered to win great prizes!" All Thursday games, including the home opener, are Thirsty Thursdays: $2.00 Budweisers, Bud Lights and Michelob Ultras are available until the middle of the 5th inning. However, as at Yankee Stadium, they limit you to 4 to a customer per purchase.
Saturday, April 15 is Kids' Opening Day, with the 1st 1,000 fans aged 5 to 15 receiving a Gary Sanchez Mini Bat. Sanchez will also be honored with a bobblehead doll giveaway on Friday, July 21; and a youth replica jersey on Sunday, August 6.
Friday, April 28 is T-Shirt Night, with the 1st 1,000 fans aged 18 and up receiving a Thunder T-Shirt. Friday, July 7 is Superhero Night: "Come dressed as your favorite superhero, and you might be chosen to win a special prize pack! The Thunder will also be wearing Superhero-themed jerseys that will be auctioned off after the game." Speaking of superheroes, Friday, August 4 will be Reggie Jackson Bobblehead Night.
Postgame fireworks will be launched on Saturday, April 29; Thursday, May 11; Saturday, May 13; Saturday, May 20; Thursday, June 1; Thursday, June 8; Saturday, June 10; Saturday, June 17; Wednesday, June 28; Thursday, June 29; Tuesday, July 4 (no surprise there); Wednesday, July 5; Thursday, July 6; Saturday, July 8; Thursday, July 20; Saturday, July 22; Saturday, September 2; and the regular-season home finale, Sunday, September 3.
The Thunder don't have a beach on which you can spread a blanket and watch the fireworks, but they will be having Beach Night on Thursday, August 17, as the Thunder will wear beach-themed uniforms and Beach Boys songs will be played during the fireworks.
There will be personal appearances by an as-yet-undetermined former Mets player (a player to be named later, if you will), sponsored by Steiner Sports, on Tuesday, May 30. Tuesday, July 25 will be Jewish Heritage Night. (Oddly, given the ethnic makeup of the Trenton area and Yankee Fans in general, there will be no Irish, Italian or Hispanic Heritage Day or Night.) Sunday, August 27 will be Bark at the Park Day, to which you can bring your dog.
Getting There. It's 67 miles from Times Square to Arm & Hammer Park. If you're driving, leave early: The 1st 66 miles are relatively easy, but the last 1 is terrible, as the parking is not well-managed, and leaves cars seriously backed up. Be prepared for an hour and a half trip.
The driving directions are rather simple: Take the New Jersey Turnpike South to Exit 7A, then Interstate 195 West. When I-195 crosses Interstate 295, it becomes New Jersey Route 29, a.k.a. John Fitch Way, which goes right by the ballpark, at Cass Street. This section of Cass Street is named Thunder Road, in tribute to New Jersey's Bruce Springsteen as much as to the team. (Because of the "Th" sound, "Trenton Thunder" looks alliterative at first glance, but isn't.)
Don't have a car, or don't want to bother with the driving and the parking? Understandable. Trenton is too close to fly, and Greyhound doesn't go to Trenton. Amtrak does, but why spend $119 round-trip when you can take New Jersey Transit rail for $33.50? You can leave Penn Station at 4:33 and be at the Trenton Transit Center at 5:45.
From there, it gets a little tricky. The Trenton Transit Center -- once an absolute hole, but a major renovation has made it terrific -- is at 72 S. Clinton Avenue. A taxi ride to the ballpark is $4.00, but getting a taxi back, especially at night, might be difficult.
The Trenton Transit Center
A better way is to cross Clinton Avenue to the northern terminus of NJTransit's River Line, a light rail that goes down the Delaware River to Camden (and passes that city's currently-vacant ballpark, Campbell's Field). Two stops down is Cass Street -- but the River Line gets no closer. (Nor does any NJT bus.)
A River Line train at the Trenton terminus
Now you'll have to walk 7 blocks west, including crossing New Jersey Route 29 (police are on hand to assist), to get to the ballpark. And the 1st 2 of those 7 blocks will force you to pass the State Prison -- although the southern wall of the prison has a great baseball-themed mural, complete with an image of Babe Ruth autographing a ball for a child.
That's a church behind the prison.
But I don't know why the NY on the Babe's cap is red.
Theoretically, you could also walk down Clinton Avenue for 13 blocks, turn right on Hudson Street, walk 7 blocks, turn right on Cass Street, and walk 9 blocks to the ballpark. That would take half an hour. However, you'll be walking through the run-down Chambersburg neighborhood. I've done this, and I don't recommend it, especially going back at night. While "The Burg" is the setting for Janet Evanovich's mystery novels, remember: Stephanie Plum is a licensed private eye, permitted to carry a handgun. And if you have a gun, you ain't gettin' in the ballpark.
No, take the River Line to Cass and walk the rest of the way. The River Line ride takes 4 minutes, the walk about 10 to 15. But if you take the 4:33 out of Penn Station, you should still be able to get to the ballpark by 6:15 for a 6:35 start. For afternoon games, leave Penn Station at 10:14 AM, and you'll get to Trenton at 11:46, leaving you enough time get the 12:12 River Line train and reach the ballpark by 12:30.
The tricky part, especially at night, could be getting back. Most likely, games will not end in time for you to catch the 10:03 train from the Trenton Transit Center back to New York. You're much more likely to get there in plenty of time to catch the 11:18, which will pull into Penn Station at 12:55 AM.
Once In the City. A settlement for Quakers was founded on the Delaware River in 1679 by a Yorkshireman named Mahlon Stacy. A Scotsman named William Trent, a prominent Philadelphia merchant and politician, bought the land from the Stacy family in 1719, and the area became known as Trent-towne and later Trenton. Trent would serve both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, in each colony's Assembly and on each one's Supreme court.
If there's 2 things people know about Trenton, it's for 2 things that happened in 1776. One is that it became the capital of the State of New Jersey, after Burlington (down the River, 6 stops down the River Line) was the capital of the Province of New Jersey (a Crown Colony). The other is that, on the night of Christmas Day, December 25, 1776, George Washington led some troops across the Delaware; and, the following morning, marched them 9 miles downriver to Trenton, and surprised the Hessians who were sleeping off their Christmas festivities, and won a key battle of the War of the American Revolution.
The Confederation Congress met in Trenton for a few weeks in the Autumn of 1784, making it, effectively, the nation's capital. It became an industrial power in the 19th Century, leading to the sign that still covers the sides of the Lower Free Bridge: "TRENTON MAKES THE WORLD TAKES."
Considering how the State's been governed
the last quarter of a century, maybe it should be
"Trenton makes a mess, the world takes notice."
But post-World War II industrial decline hammered Trenton. From a peak of 128,000 in the 1950 Census, it was 85,000 in 2010. Mercer County as a whole has about 370,000 people; combined with northern Burlington County down the River, and northern Bucks County across it, the "Trenton area" has about twice that, about 740,000. This makes it a bit less ridiculous that Trenton has 2 daily newspapers, the broadsheet Times and The Trentonian, a tabloid so ridiculous, it makes the New York Post look professional.
Along with Paterson, Camden and Atlantic City, Trenton never joined New Jersey cities such as Newark, Jersey City and New Brunswick where the growth of a black middle class and incoming Hispanics to work in industries could revitalize things; the former, which did grow in the neighboring towns of Ewing and Hamilton, had nothing to invest in back in the city, while the latter saw the factories and foundries boarded up.
At least once, the city's public schools have been taken over by the State, and 2 recent Mayors have gone to prison. Indeed, the ballpark is emblematic of the situation: It was originally named Mercer County Waterfront Park, named for the County, not the City; and it faces southeast, away from downtown, as if it was ashamed of actually being in Trenton.
It's even been suggested that more fans come in from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, across the River, than from Mercer County, thus inferring that Trenton doesn't really care about the Thunder -- because of the appearance that it's the other way around, too. In my opinion, it looks like anybody who cares about Trenton doesn't have the means to do much about it.
Not exactly Abbey Road.
All this despite the State government being located there, but even downtown isn't exactly Capitol Hill in Washington. The State House was completed in 1792, making it the 2nd-oldest State Capitol building in the country, behind Maryland's.
Until about 20 years ago, the gold leaf on the dome had so badly peeled that it was embarrassing for people looking at it as they passed by on trains (Amtrak or SEPTA to and from Philadelphia, as the Trenton Transit Center is the transfer point between SEPTA and NJTransit) and over the Trenton-Morrisville Bridge (U.S. Route 1). One of the few things the State legislature's Democrats and Republicans were able to agree on was fixing it, and now it looks presentable again.
The State House from its front, State Street entrance,
with the woods of Bucks County in the background
The sales tax in New Jersey is 7 percent. ZIP Codes in North Jersey tend to begin with the digits 07, including 071 for Newark and environs, 072 for Elizabeth, 073 for Jersey City, and 075 for Paterson. Central and South Jersey got ZIP Codes starting with the digits 08, including 084 for Atlantic City, 085 and 086 for Trenton, and 089 for New Brunswick and environs.
New Jersey's original Area Code was 201. 609 was split off in 1958, 908 in 1991, 732 in 1997, and 856 in 1999. Now, they serve as follows: 201, with 551 overlaid in 2001, serves only Bergen and Hudson Counties (including the Meadowlands, and thus MetLife Stadium, and Harrison, and thus Red Bull Arena); 609 serves Mercer County (including the capital of Trenton and Princeton University) and the Southern Shore region (including Atlantic City); 732, with 848 overlaid, much of Central Jersey (including Rutgers University) and the Northern Shore region; 856, the Delaware River region that serves as suburbs of Philadelphia; 908, the Counties of Union, northern Somerset, Morris and Warren; and 973, with 862 overlaid, the Counties of Essex (including Newark, and thus the Prudential Center) and Passaic.
State Street and Warren Street, about 3 blocks east of the State House, is the city's centerpoint, with Warren dividing addresses into East and West, and State dividing them into North and South. I-95 and I-295 form Trenton's beltway.
NJTransit buses in Mercer County have 3-digit numbers beginning with 6. Example: The bus going from the Trenton Transit Center down State Street to the State House is the 606. A 1-zone ride is $1.60, a 2-zone ride $2.55.
Going In. While located at Cass Street and John Fitch Way (Route 29), about a mile south of downtown, the official address of the ballpark is 1 Thunder Road. If you drive in, parking is just $3.00.
Named Mercer County Waterfront Park when it opened in 1994, in 2012 Arm & Hammer bought the naming rights to the stadium (but not the field). I'm against corporate names on sports venues, but considering that it could refer to strong pitching (Arm) and good hitting (Hammer), if you gotta have a corporate name on your stadium, you couldn't do much better than "Arm & Hammer Park."
The front entrance, slightly to the left of home plate.
The bench in the foreground includes the Sam Plumeri statue.
As I said, the ballpark points southeast. It is a single-decked facility, whose seating capacity has been listed at anywhere from 6,100 to 6,800 since it opened. The field has always been real grass. It's 330 feet down each foul line, and 407 feet to straightaway center field. There are 2 levels of advertising signs, and a yellow line on top of the fence separates them, to show that any ball hitting the wall of signs above the fence, even if it drops back onto the field, is a home run.
In 2003, they became a Yankee farm team, and matchups with the current Eastern League affiliate of the Sox, the Portland Sea Dogs, take on the character of the Yanks-Sox rivalry, although not nearly as rough. A 2011 rehab appearance by Derek Jeter brought in enough people buying standing-room tickets to give the game the park's biggest crowd, 9,212.
I don't know who has the longest home run at Arm & Hammer Park. In the 1st season, 1994, Tony Clark -- who would end up playing for all the teams that have had farm teams in this ballpark: Detroit, Boston and the Yankees; and for the Mets, too, and is now Executive Director of the MLB Players Association, the job most famously held by Marvin Miller -- became the 1st player to hit a fair ball (for a home run) into the Delaware River on the fly. I don't know if any other players have done that in the 23 years since.
Food. Come for the food, stay for the baseball. I'm not kidding. There are food courts on each baseline. The one of the 1st base side includes a Chickie's & Pete's, the Philadelphia chain famous for their "crab fries," French fries topped with Old Bay seasoning. They also sell Stewart's Root Beer, and, with "America's Oldest Brewery" being based in nearby Pottsville, Pennsylvania, but also once having had a brewery in Trenton, there is lots of Yuengling on tap.
Trust me on this one. Get yourself a Thunder Dog with cheese. Get yourself the onion rings. And get yourself a large "Thunder Sized" soda, which should last you all 9 innings unless it's really hot. Total: $13.50. The taste: Priceless.
Menu at the 1st base side concession stand. Yes, as you can see,
you can buy you some peanuts and Cracker Jack.
Team History Displays. In their Red Sox years, the Thunder were usually good, but frustrating. They won Division titles in the Eastern League in 1995, 1996 and 1999. In 1999, they had the best winning percentage in all of affiliated minor-league baseball. But they won no Pennants. Even after becoming a Yankee farm team, this continued: They made the Playoffs again in 2005, and won another Division title in 2006. That's 5 trips to the Playoffs, but never did they win a postseason series.
In 2007, that finally changed, as they made it back-to-back EL Pennants, the 1st won by an affiliated New Jersey-based team since the 1949 Trenton Giants. (Pennants were won by the independent teams in Atlanta City, Somerset and Newark.) The Thunder added another Pennant in 2013, and Division titles in 2010, 2012, and last season, in which they beat the Reading Fightin' Phils in the Semifinals before losing the Finals to the Akron RubberDucks. The 3 Pennants are represented above the club seats behind home plate, next to the retired numbers.
Nomar's number needs a good cleaning.
A plaque on the concourse wall shows the names of every Thunder player who went on to reach the major leagues -- including injury-rehabbers Bret Saberhagen for the Red Sox; and, for the Yankees, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, Hideki Matsui and Alex Rodriguez. Some of these players are honored with signs on the roof of the club section.
In addition to Nomar -- Eckstein was traded to the Angels' organization before he reached Boston -- Thunder players who became Red Sox include Trot Nixon and Kevin Youkilis. Thunder players who became notable Yankees include Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, Chien-Ming Wang, Joba Chamberlain, Brett Gardner, Phil Hughes and David Robertson.
While there is a Trenton Baseball Hall of Fame, which includes Willie Mays (whose 1st season in integrated baseball was with the 1950 Trenton Giants) and Trenton native Al Downing (the 1st black pitcher for the Yankees, and the pitcher who gave up Hank Aaron's 715th home run), there is no display for it at Arm & Hammer Park.
Stuff. There is a small team store on the 3rd base side, selling Thunder and Yankee knicknacks. It has TVs on, so you can watch the action, and, if the Yankees are playing at the same time, them, too.
This store sells books about the Thunder, including Christopher Edwards' 2005 story Filling in the Seams: The Story of Trenton Thunder Baseball. For kids, there's Derby! My Bodacious Life in Baseball, by "H.R. Derby: Bat Dog of the Trenton Thunder" -- as told to Staton Rabin. There are no team DVDs, although they might want to produce one with the team's 25th Anniversary coming up in 2019.
During the Game. In the stands, you will find fans wearing gear of all 3 nearby teams: The Yankees (you'll be 76 miles from Yankee Stadium), the Mets (78 miles from Citi Field) and the Phillies (36 miles from Citizens Bank Park). This will not be a problem: I have seen over 50 games at this ballpark, and not once have I ever seen a fight, even when it was a Red Sox farm club and Sox fans came down (275 miles from Fenway Park) and had to share space with Yankee Fans.
The Thunder hold auditions for National Anthem singers, instead of having a regular. The most common fan chant is the rather ordinary, "Let's go, Thun-der! (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap)"
The current manager is Bobby Mitchell, who played in the outfield for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Minnesota Twins in the early 1980. Current Yankee prospects on the Thunder include shortstop Gleyber Torres, 3rd baseman Dante Bichette Jr., center fielder Rashad Crawford, and pitcher Justus Sheffield. (Unusually for a pitcher, he wears a single digit, 4 -- aside from 2, 5 and 42, all Yankee retired numbers are available to Thunder players.)
The Thunder are particularly known for their mascots, chief among them Boomer the Thunderibrd. This is a big silly blue thing with sunglasses and, oddly for a bird, buck teeth. Like many minor-league mascots, he will race a kid around the bases, but find a way to blow it.
I was at a game once, and it was really hot. (How hot was it?) It was so hot, I did something I rarely do at a game: I bought a beer. But Boomer was up in the club seats with a super-soaker, the water equivalent of a machine gun. And he was squirting us, and one of his squirts landed in my beer. I stood up and yelled, "Hey, everybody, Boomer is watering down the drinks!" That got a laugh, though I suspect not from Boomer.
In 2008, a new mascot was added: A lightning bolt named Strike. Boomer and Strike shoot T-shirts into the crowd, and each will take half the stadium to decide which side is louder.
Strike and Boomer.
But the Thunder may be best known for their "bat dogs," golden retrievers who retrieve the bats left behind after an at-bat. It began late in the 2002 season with "Chase, That Golden Thunder." In 2008, Chase was taken to a breeder, and one of the puppies was named Home Run Derby, or Derby for short, and was trained to be Chase's successor. Another, Ollie, was taken to Manchester, New Hampshire, and now serves at batdog for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
Chase at Yankee Stadium, with an old friend,
former Thunder pitcher Joba Chamberlain
Chase had to retire after the 2012 season, due to arthritis and cancer, and died in 2013, at the age of 12. A tribute to him is included on the roof. Derby is now 9, and his 3-year-old son, Rookie, now works alongside him.
Three baseball superstars: Reggie Jackson, Derby and Rookie
After the Game. As I said, especially if it's a night game and you went down by means other than your own car, the hard part could be getting back to the Trenton Transit Center. If you followed the directions of the police, you should be fine getting back to Cass Street Station on the River Line. There's a McDonald's there if you want to get a postgame meal, but you'll have to wait until you get back to the Transit Center: While NJTransit lets you eat on their commuter trains, they don't let you do so on light rail such as the River Line.
Other than said McDonald's, there's not much to eat around the ballpark. The Chambersburg section of Trenton, between downtown and the ballpark, was known for Italian restaurants and bakeries, and Hispanic ones have mostly taken their place, but by the time the game ends, they'll be closed. You're better off using the McDonald's or the Dunkin Donuts inside the train station. If you drove down, your best bet going back up is to get on Route 1, or use a Turnpike rest area.
Sidelights. As I said, Trenton had a minor-league team from 1928 to 1950. It played at the 5,500-seat Dunn Field, at the Trenton Circle at the northern edge of town, where U.S. Routes 1 and 206 used to meet. Brunswick Pike is now "Business Route 1," as the main Route 1 has been rerouted; while 206 is Lawrenceville Road, before it turns south and becomes Princeton Avenue, Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., and Broad Street.
The headquarters of the New Jersey Lottery Commission is now on the site of Dunn Field. 1333 Brunswick Avenue. Bus 606.
Trenton also has a minor-league arena, formerly the Sovereign Bank Arena, now the Sun National Bank Center. Seating 8,600 for basketball and 7,605 for hockey, it opened in 1999, and is best known as the home of the Trenton Titans, who won the 2005 Kelly Cup as Champions of the East Coast Hockey League. From 2007 to 2011, they were known as the Trenton Devils, before reclaiming the Titans name, and then folding in 2013. 81 Hamilton Avenue, at Broad Street, about halfway between the Transit Center and the ballpark. Hamilton Avenue station on River Line.
The exterior makes it look a lot older than it really is.
In terms of local fandom, the Phillies, being a closer team, have a slight edge over the Yankees in the City of Trenton, but the Yankees have a slight edge over the Phillies in the suburbs. The fact that it's close, either way, may have much to do with Trenton being the transfer point between New Jersey Transit and SEPTA (the SouthEastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority), allowing people in New York and Philadelphia to reach each other's city with ease even if they don't have a car. The Mets aren't even the radar, not even with the 2015 National League Pennant.
Philadelphia also leads in the other sports. The Eagles have a huge advantage in local fandom over the Giants and Jets. The Flyers are way ahead of the Devils and Rangers. The long eptitude of all 3 nearby NBA teams has opened the door for bandwagoners: A May 12, 2014 article in The New York Times puts the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat ahead of the 76ers, while the Knicks and the Nets don't even show up. Presumably, the return of LeBron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers has boosted them and hurt the Miami Heat among Mercer County residents, while the Golden State Warriors may also have picked up a few fans.
Princeton University was originally known as the College of New Jersey up until 1896. Bus 606, or NJTransit rail to Princeton Junction, then switch to the Princeton Shuttle, a.k.a. The Dinky. Trenton State College (TSC) in Ewing took the name "The College of New Jersey" (TCNJ) in 1996. Bus 601.
The New Jersey State Museum is at 205 W. State Street, a block west of the State House. The Old Barracks, built by the British Army in 1758 for the French and Indian War, was the site of Big George's Boxing Day surprise for the Hessians. 101 Barrack Street, around the corner from the State House. The Trenton Battle Monument is a few blocks away, where Route 206 (MLK Blvd.) splits into Broad and Warren Streets. The Governor's Mansion, Drumthwacket, is actually just outside Princeton, at 354 Stockton Street (also Route 206), 10 miles northeast of the State House. Like all sites in Princeton, it can be reached via Bus 606.
As I said, Janet Evanovich sets her Stephanie Plum mysteries in Trenton, especially its Chambersburg section. But only 1 movie has been made from the franchise, based on the 1st book in the series, One for the Money, released in 2012. It tanked, possibly because no one took Katherine Heigl seriously as Stephanie. It would've been easy to shoot the film in Trenton, but it was filmed in Pittsburgh instead.
And while the famous 1938 radio version of War of the Worlds was set in Grover's Mill, part of West Windsor, 13 miles to the northeast, no film version of the H.G. Wells story has ever filmed there. Unless you're a big Orson Welles fan, I'd say skip Grover's Mill: It's still rural, without much around it, although there is a monument to the radio play, next to a Hampton Inn. 218 Cranbury Road. NJTransit to Princeton Junction, then walk a mile east on County Route 615.
The Trenton Thunder are ready to bring you a great baseball experience for a fraction of the cost of the major leagues. Enjoy, and remember: ThunderDog with cheese and onion rings!