Da Bears

I realized the other day that my chances to get out to a Newark Bears game before the All-Star Break were getting slimmer and slimmer. So, since I wasn't doing anything on Sunday, the weather was looking good, and it was the latest Legends Sunday at Bears and Eagles Stadium in Newark, off to Brick City I went.

In an effort to get more people out to the park, the Bears have designated each Sunday home game as Legends Sunday, with a free autograph signing from a major league baseball legend. "Legend" is used perhaps a bit broadly, and was almost used way too broadly last Sunday, when the Bears planned to welcome alleged problem drinker Jim Leyritz to meet the kids. People got a little upset, so he was replaced on short notice by Roy White, slightly more of a legend and not, as far as I know, currently awaiting trial on charges of vehicular manslaughter. Extending the invite to Leyritz, while perhaps well intentioned (he is, after all, innocent until proven guilty), may not have been the best PR move.

Then again, it got the Bears some coverage. Since the team is under new ownership after going bankrupt in the off-season, I get the sense they would have Child Waterboarding Night if they thought it would get people talking about the Bears.

In any event, this week's Legends Sunday guest was Joe Pepitone, who pretty much looked exactly like you'd think Joe Pepitone would look. And by that, I mean he was wearing a track suit.

For some reason, they made him throw two first pitches. His first one was the better of the two, but here's the second one. He didn't Baba Booey it.

There are a few changes at Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium, including a faux brick (re: chintzy wallpaper) wall in the outfield, an egregious switch in the chicken tenders, and both a redesigned Ruppert (the main mascot) and a brand-new female mascot, Effa, named after Effa Manley, former Newark Eagles owner and the only woman in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Ruppert still seems to be the more popular mascot (even when, as below, he is playing keep-away with a kid's hat), but Effa was a hit with the ladies.

The coaching staff for the Bears is all new, too, and though it features former White Sox star Tim (I'm not calling him Rock) Raines as manager and New York Met pitching great Mike Torrez (seen above in the Pepitone picture), the true star is former White Sox megalegend and New Jersey's own Ron Karkovice. OK, maybe he's not a megalegend to you. But to my grammar school friend Brian and I, he was the absolute best ever. I'm not sure why we came to this conclusion (we also liked Met Jack Savage for similarly unknown reasons), but we did, and I definitely sent him baseball cards in the mail to sign, and he absolutely sent them back promptly. So he's forever aces in my book. Plus, I just liked that White Sox team, with Raines, Robin Ventura, Bobby Thigpen, Craig Grebeck, Lance Johnson, Greg Hibbard, and the similarly awesome Jack McDowell, among others. I wish they'd all come to coach in Newark, but I'll take Raines and Karkovice. Here's my hero.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get Karkovice's attention after the game (and I wore my "Officer Karkovice" t-shirt for the occasion), so our face-to-face meeting will have to wait until later in the season. I did get Tim Raines to sign one of my White Sox yearbooks after the game, though, which was a pleasant surprise, because I'd heard he didn't sign that much at the stadium.

The Bears management has also decided to try to stock the roster with as many former major leaguers as possible. So the Bears, who last year only really had sausage beater Randall Simon as their former major leaguer, now have Jay Gibbons, Shawn Chacon, Carl Everett, and Keith Foulke (though I heard rumblings at the stadium that he may be gone...former major leaguer Rob Mackowiak was signed by the Indians this weekend, thus ending his brief Bears career). And, unfortunately, they now also have Armando Benitez, who I think could easily retire from baseball entirely and be a millionaire if he just decided to sell signed baseballs that read "I'm sorry that I sucked, Armando Benitez" to the people of New York and Baltimore. If you're reading this, Armando, get in touch and we'll see if we can make this business venture happen.

Alas, the Bears didn't have a lead in the late innings, so it wasn't necessary to call in Benitez from the bullpen to blow the game. The Bears lost 3-1 to the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs (wearing their traditional Blue Crab Red) without his contributions (and Everett's, who was likely given the day off after Saturday's doubleheader), thus slipping further behind the Freedom Division-leading Somerset Patriots.

There were still lots of empty seats at the stadium, so Legends Sunday and the new roster don't seem to be doing much to help the Bears out of their attendance rut. Every time I go to a game, I'm amazed at how they're able to stay afloat. And when I read of their bankruptcy last year, I was sad but not shocked. I don't know how long the Bears will be around, but as long as they are, I'll be out there a few times a year. Tickets are cheap (they top out at $12, though someone gave me a free ticket as I walked up to the box office...fear not, I still gave the Bears money by buying a t-shirt I didn't really need), you can see some former major leaguers, and you can ogle Ron Karkovice all day. What's not to love?

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