Great Night for Sussex - Sussex County Miners
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Great Night for Sussex

Great Night for Sussex


     Vincent Sangemino arrived in Augusta in early March as the new general manager of the Sussex County Miners. Last week, he was the man behind one of the proudest moments in the history of Skylands Stadium.

     There have been other proud moments, beginning with Opening Day in 1994 when the New Jersey Cardinals first took the field in the almost-finished ballpark surrounded by corn fields at Ross Corner. Sussex County had its own minor league baseball team and the pride was obvious in sellout crowds every night that broke a 47-year-old attendance record in the New York—Penn League.

     There were more proud moments over the years, both on and off the field. There were big games and even championships won. There was a ceremony honoring former New York Yankees pitcher Russ Van Atta, who grew up in Sussex, brough Babe Ruth here to hunt and fish and is now buried a mile away. And there have been patriotic holiday events and moving tributes of gratitude for first responders.

     Last week produced another proud night that won’t be forgotten. It started with the first “Battle of the Badges,” a softball game between troopers from the New Jersey State Police and the Pennsylvania State Police. After that came the fanfare of police vehicles, a joint color guard, bagpipes, troopers rappelling from a helicopter onto the field with the game ball and the first pitch by the State Police Commander, Col. Patrick Callahan.

     Then came the centerpiece of the event: New Jersey State Police Detective Miguel Hidalgo had signed a one-day contract to suit up and play for the Sussex County Miners, and there he was taking the field for the first inning at third base. He would make a few good plays with his glove while going 0-for-2 at the plate, but none of that really mattered. What mattered – and what made this such a proud night – was that Hidalgo had donated his paycheck and all the other troopers and the entire crowd had all contributed to a fund that would help a local family buy a semi-powered wheelchair for an 11-year-old son and help two families of Pennsylvania troopers who’d been shot – one fatally – earlier this year.

     “It was a good night, it was a real community kind of night,” said Sangemino, a 34-year-old from Nutley who played college ball at Rutgers and worked in the finance industry before he became the third GM in the Miners’ nine-year history.

     “When I first took this job, I knew that I wanted to try to make coming to this ballpark something special, something everyone could really feel a part of. I’m hoping that people will think of this team as their team, and that we’re not just here for game nights, we’re really a part of this community.”

     Sure enough, a look back at Sangemino’s first interview back in March reflects that same message and explains why he and his family moved here in the first place several years ago.

     “We chose to move to Sussex County for a reason,” he said back then. “I think it’s a better way of life here. I think there are certain values here. I hope we can create more of a ‘Sussex County feel’ at the ballpark.”

     BACK TO BUSINESS: Aug. 3 was a great night at Skylands, for sure, with an exciting 10-inning game under the stars on a perfect summer night. Just one problem: The Miners lost, 5-3, against their in-state rivals, the New Jersey Jackals. It was the final series of the year between the two teams and the Jackals won three games of the four-game series, leaving the Jackals with a 7-2 advantage for the season.

     Still in the middle of a crowded pennant race, Sussex bounced back to top another contender, the Quebec Capitales, the following night in Canada, but Quebec took the final two games of that series while the Jackals moved on to take two of three from the Tri-City ValleyCats over the weekend, inching New Jersey ahead of Tri-Valley in the Frontier League’s East Division standings.

     Right now, the Miners sit in fifth place in the East, but they’re just four games behind the third-place Capitales in the loss column, with the first three teams qualifying for the postseason playoffs. And, the 39-31 locals will get a solid opportunity to move toward the top when they return to Skylands tomorrow night to face the sixth-place Ottowa Titans in a three-game series. Then, they’ll get more of an opportunity this coming weekend when they host the last-place 13-58 Empire State Greys.

     As has been the case all year, the Miners pitching staff has carried the team in recent days. The team is next-to-last in the East with a team batting average of .256. Sussex is also next-to-last in runs and hits, and is dead last in home runs. But, Sussex pitching is best in the East and No. 2 in the entire league with a team ERA of 3.96, while giving up the fewest hits in the league and the second-fewest runs.

     Tyler Thornton (5-1) continues to lead the team on the mound with a 2.96 ERA in 14 starts and the entire bullpen has been downright spectacular, with stats that are almost impossible to believe: Robbie Hitt, 0.96 ERA in 19 appearances with 23 strikeouts and four walks; Billy Parsons, 1.33 ERA in 20 appearances with 22Ks and six walks; Ronnie Voacolo, 1.52 ERA; Tyler Luneke, 1.86 ERA, 21Ks and three walks; Jimmy Boyce, 2.67 ERA, 16Ks and two walks.

     At the plate, outfielder Oraj Anu is batting .321 with 15 home runs and 46 RBI and newcomer Johnny Hipsman has provided a late-season boost, batting .309 over the past 17 games.

     Carl Barbati is the former sports editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and The Daily Trentonian.