Arm & Hammer Park, one must admit, has a pretty darn good baseball-sounding ring to it. The ballpark, the only primary home the Trenton Thunder (Class AA; Eastern League) have ever known, was renamed from Mercer County Waterfont Park at a press conference this past November.
Opened: May 9, 1994
Dimensions: 330L, 407C, 330R
Owner: Mercer County
Online Ticket Sales: Yes
League: Eastern League (Double-A)
Affiliate: New York Yankees
Address: One Thunder Road, Trenton, NJ 08611
Directions: Take I-195 (accessed via 295) and follow 29 North, proceeding toward 29 North/Capitol Complex/Lambertville. With Route 1 North (accessed via I-95 North), take Route 29 South directly toward ballpark. Parking costs $3 at the stadium lots.
Written By: Jesse Goldberg-Strassler (November 2012)
Eighteen years earlier, the Thunder arrived in New Jersey’s capitol from London, Ontario, with the club’s first home game held on May 9th, 1994. The inaugural Trenton Thunder, partnered with the Detroit Tigers, finished at a league-worst 55-85 with limited talent (only Tony Clark would make any sort of Major League impact), but still drew 318,252 despite a limited home schedule.
The Thunder signed a partnership with the Boston Red Sox in the off-season, the start of eight seasons affiliated with Boston. An exciting 1995 campaign followed, as 453,915 (second in the league only to Bowie) cheered on a fiery squad skippered by future Major League manager Ken Macha. With 21-year-old Nomar Garciaparra and 20-year-old Jeff Suppan garnering headlines and raves, Trenton tied Reading for first place in the regular season before bowing out in the league semi-finals.
In 1996, Trenton took over both the league’s attendance lead (437,446) and the South Division lead in a dominating 86-56 campaign behind Macha and top prospect Carl Pavano — but the team won only one game in the postseason before falling to Harrisburg. The Thunder’s luck did not improve through 2002, winning only one more division title (1999) and zero championships despite the presence of such prospects as David Eckstein, Shea Hillenbrand, Justin Duchscherer, Freddy Sanchez, and Kevin Youkilis.
Attendance, meantime, was booming. The Thunder were drawing comfortably over 400,000 fans every season from 1995 through 2008, ranking among the most popular teams in the Minor Leagues. That streak was assisted by a 2003 affiliation switch to the New York Yankees, the favorite MLB club for a great many baseball fans in the region. Now the partisan crowd came out to Waterfront Park and saw such players as Robinson Cano, Chien-Ming Wang, Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner, and Austin Jackson blossom in the state capital, with the added benefit of rehabbing Major Leaguers Roger Clemens and Derek Jeter in well-publicized cameo stints.
With the Yankees’ partnership, the Trenton Thunder become one of the most powerful on-field clubs in the Eastern League. Since 2006, Trenton has won five out of the last six division titles. The Thunder notched its first league championship in 2007 — and then captured the EL title again in 2008. In 2012, the team finished 79-63 to clinch the Eastern Division, drew 373,355 fans (5,411 per game), and reached the Eastern League Championship Series for an unsuccessful bout against Akron.
Arm & Hammer Park is located along Route 29, allowing easy access via road and relatively easy access via public transportation if you don’t mind walking a few blocks. Parking lots cost just $3 for a space.
The stadium features a choice of stairways to enter the seating bowl, with a handicap accessible ramp located down the third base line. The seating bowl itself is uncovered and divided between club seating (closer to the field) and pavilion seating, arcing around from dugout to dugout. The press box is located uniquely behind the seating bowl and in front of the concourse, with the suite level set above and behind the bowl and concourse.
There are no seats beyond the outfield walls, dotted with ads in the minor league tradition. Trees poke out from behind the fence, lending to the relaxed atmosphere. Out beyond the wall in right, the Delaware River inconspicuously runs its course.
It was this river, by the way, that gave the park its prior waterfront name. Though the name has changed, the river remains — and the Trenton Thunder’s tradition of presenting large, exuberant crowds with a fine summer’s experience will likely remain just as constant.
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