Minor-league baseball: New Jersey players swing for the bigs
One-time major-league stars now playing in minor-league baseball look for a shot at redemption with New Jersey's Newark Bears.
Tike Redman, the former outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles, is standing at the ready in shallow center field at Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium in Newark, N.J. It's not yet noon, it's only the second inning, and the mid-August sun is beating down on him like a fire hose, soaking his navy blue cap and pinstriped uniform in sweat.Skip to next paragraph
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The Passaic River flows just beyond the outfield wall, past the netting that was erected eight years ago to protect the traffic on McCarter Highway from the moonshots José Canseco used to hit here. The river offers no cooling breeze. Ravaged by more than two centuries of industry, the brown waterway rushes by, as oblivious to the 32-year-old's major league dreams as it is to the dolorous landscape downriver.
Ramiro Mendoza, the long reliever from the New York Yankees' late-1990s championship teams, is on the mound, pitching with the same cool, unflappable demeanor that was last seen by a national audience when he was with the Red Sox during the 2004 American League Championship Series.
An independent minor league game against the Camden River Sharks is a long way from that magical 2004 postseason. But that's not to say it's an insignificant contest. Just like the city they're playing for, the former major-leaguers on the Bears roster are fighting – play by play, pitch by pitch – for a return to past glory.
The chances of getting back are slim. Like your better financiers across the Hudson on Wall Street, the big league general managers prefer their assets with more upside. But there are major league scouts in the stands at Bears games, even this late in the season, waiting for a glimpse of overlooked brilliance that tells them to take a gamble on a quick return on their investment.
With two outs, a runner on second, and a 3-1 count, Mendoza delivers a slider that hangs in the middle of the plate. Recognizing the mistake, the batter uncoils. Smack! The ball turns into a pea as it makes its way in the direction of the Passaic. But Redman is already in pursuit, having turned his back to the ball at the crack of the bat.
Follow the ball's flight and you can't miss the big-time backdrop in the distance. Roughly eight miles in front of Redman, the financial district of Manhattan looms. From this vantage point, the silhouettes of its skyscrapers appear as anonymous gray blocks on the horizon. But their promise is clear. If Redman runs hard enough, those blocks may come into sharper focus. For now he has to stop at the base of Riverfront Stadium's outfield wall, where, after an about-face, he looks up and snatches the ball right out of the sky.