When the Trenton Thunder (the Buffalo Bisons version) take the field Tuesday night against the Worcester Red Sox, it will be the first time in nearly 60 years that New Jersey has been home to a Triple-A team.
Several factors led to this development — the pandemic, the restructuring of the minor leagues, the Yankees’ decision to move their Double-A affiliate from Trenton to the Somerset Patriots some 36 miles north — and it won’t be permanent. But starting on Tuesday, for as many as 70 games (pending rainouts, the pandemic, or the Bisons returning to Buffalo), the Garden State will host Triple-A baseball once again.
The last team at that level to call New Jersey home was the Jersey City Jerseys of the International League. The Jerseys’ arrival was hastily arranged, as indicated by their uninspired name and basic uniforms. They began life in 1946 as the Havana Cubans, soon to be renamed the Sugar Kings and join the IL in 1954. Five years later, as an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds (or Redlegs), the Sugar Kings won the Little World Series over the American Association’s Minneapolis Millers. In June 1960, when Fidel Castro nationalized U.S.-owned enterprises in Cuba, baseball commissioner Ford Frick pulled the Sugar Kings from the IL and placed them in Jersey City’s available Roosevelt Stadium — in the middle of the season.
But the Jerseys never caught on. Attendance was disappointing throughout their season-and-a-half tenure, and after the 1961 season, the franchise was sold to the Cleveland Indians, who moved it to Jacksonville, Fla. (There, known as the Suns, it became the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets — Tom Seaver ’66 and Nolan Ryan ’67 are alumni — but in 1969 it was moved again, to Norfolk, Va., where it became known as the Tidewater Tides.)
The last Triple-A games played in New Jersey — until this year — took place over the weekend of Sept. 8-10, 1961. The Richmond Virginians, a Yankees affiliate, were in town for a four-game series to close the season. The teams split a Friday doubleheader, Richmond winning the first game 4-2 and Jersey City taking the nightcap 8-1. The Jerseys won Saturday’s game 10-3 before a 2-0 victory on Sunday to finish with a three-game winning streak.
While Jersey City had a brief return to affiliated ball in 1977 and ’78 with the Indians and A’s, respectively, those clubs were in the Double-A Eastern League. And that was it for teams with Major League affiliates in the Garden State until the Thunder arrived in ’94.
But now, perhaps for this season, the highest level of minor league ball is back.