TRENTON – While the Thunder were preparing for the upcoming season in Tampa, another major bit of getting ready for the season took place here.
And team Vice President of Operations Ryan Crammer didn’t have the benefit of tropical days like manager Tony Franklin’s charges. It was his job to direct the preparation of Waterfront Park for the 2011 season.
While the Thunder won’t open at home until April 14, when the Harrisburg Senators visit, both the media and fans will be on hand to welcome Franklin and his 2011 charges home next Tuesday, April 5.
“I really think the ballpark looks great, and is in great shape, despite having been open since 1994,’’ said Crammer. “We’re ready for the fans and, hopefully, another season in which the Thunder can challenge for an Eastern League championship.’’
Crammer and the Thunder staff, including the off-season interns, have been sprucing up the place over the last month. There are several matters to attend to after the type of winter experience in the Greater Trenton area.
The Thunder staff has been over the seating bowl, seeing how many need repair. The areas are cleaned and, if there are cracks, addressed.
“Everything really is in good shape,’’ said Crammer. “There are a few areas where there are minor things we have to attend to, but nothing major.’’
The plumbing is checked, the suites and press box are thoroughly cleaned, and the Yankee Club, which often hosts business meetings on baseball off-days and at anytime during the year, returns to full operation.
Both the home and visiting clubhouses, along with the extra one – yes, Waterfront Park was built with an extra clubhouse – are made ready for occupancy. Everything in the ballpark’s all-weather, climate-controlled batting cage is tested.
“Our staff did a great job with all of this,’’ said Crammer. “With the work, it’s fun to get ready for a season. Also, we have a great partner in Mercer County in keeping the ballpark in top shape.’’
One thing fans will notice, especially as the weather warms, is some additional landscaping outside the ballpark, just a way to beautify the stadium area a bit. As far as the field itself, which is the bailiwick of head groundskeeper Ryan Hills, all is also well.
“Ryan is in touch with all the scientific aspects of the field,’’ said Crammer. “All I know is that he will have it looking great.’’
This is one of the alternating years in which the Thunder open the season with a seven-game trip to Manchester, N.H., for a four-game series with the Fisher Cats and a three-game set at Portland. Crammer doesn’t mind that at all.
“Nothing wrong with having an extra week to get ready,’’ he said. “It gives us just a bit more time to make sure everything is ready.’’
The Thunder will feature several veterans mixed, as usual, with several players performing at the Double-A level for the first time. Some, like outfielder Melky Mesa, expected to be one of the club’s top performers, have never played in chilly weather.
Yet, they are sure to find a warm welcome to our baseball home.
FAN FEST DETAILS: The Thunder will host its annual “Welcome North Fan Fest” at Waterfront Park from 3-7:30 p.m. next Tuesday.
Waterfront Park’s gates will open at 3 p.m. and fans will be able to view the team’s first practice of the year in Trenton and take tours of Waterfront Park. Fans will have the opportunity to meet this year’s team and seek autographs from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Concession stands will be open throughout the event and will serve free hot dogs and soda. This is a rain or shine event
“We’re excited to continue the tradition of welcoming the new Thunder team to Trenton and giving fans a chance to meet the players,” said Thunder general manager Will Smith. “We anticipate that several highly rated prospects will be calling Trenton home this season and we are thrilled to open up the stadium on April 5 for this special event.”
FROM MAINE TO OHIO AND VIRGINIA: The Thunder will arrive in the area Sunday with a team that is expected to again be a playoff contender. In addition to Mesa, infielder Brad Suttle had an excellent spring … Akron continues to unveil bizarre food items, the latest being “The Screamer,’’ a 5-pound sundae … Altoona is inviting any team or individual who won any type of championship over the last 15 months to be part of an opening-night ceremony when the Curve honored its 2010 champions … Detroit’s top prospect, pitcher Jacob Turner, will start the 2011 season with Erie …Former big-leaguer Octavio Dotel may open the 2011 season in New Hampshire … Richmond will feature a Tastes of the Eastern League promotion, featuring a food popular in the visiting team’s ballpark. Will it be pork roll for the Thunder?