Jorge Says No!: In your opinion, are the guys on the Riversharks playing to get back in affiliated ball or are they playing for the love of the game/money?
Matthew Tymann: It's two out of those three. First and foremost, they're playing to get back in affiliated ball. To a man (with the possible exception of Felix Rodriguez, as I referenced earlier), they'll all tell you that they're #1 goal is to get signed by a Major League organization. For guys like Davey, Brazelton, Knott, Leon, and Bryant Nelson, the goal is to get back to the Majors; for others, the goal is to get there for the first time. Not one of the players I've talked to on this team has lost sight of that dream, no matter how realistic or unrealistic it may be for some of them.
At the same time, though, they're definitely playing for the love of the game, too. One thing that strikes me about non-Major League baseball players is how many different teams they play for over the course of their careers. Quite a few of them have played for more teams, in more cities, than the number of seasons in their career. Brian Burgamy, our starting third baseman, has played for ten different teams in eight seasons...and he's only been a part of three different Major League organizations. Bryant Nelson, our shortstop, has played for sixteen different teams over sixteen professional seasons. Sixteen teams! And that's not uncommon at all in this league. These guys are like mercenaries, and I don't see how anyone could keep playing for that long, moving around the country that much, if he didn't have a deep love for baseball. So, I'd say every one of the guys on the 'sharks roster is playing for the love of the game.
Money would have to be a distant third to these two other reasons, except in the sense that a Major League contract would obviously generate some income. Players are not making a ton of dough in the Atlantic League. They play to get noticed by Major League teams, and they play for fun. Those are definitely the two main reasons.
Jorge Says No!: What do you like best about writing about and working with the Riversharks?
Matthew Tymann: Working with the Riversharks is great, on a lot of levels. To be perfectly honest, my first priority is the broadcast side of things, not the blog or the other writing I do. I do play-by-play for about 75 of the 140 games, and color commentary for another 40. I'm an aspiring broadcaster, and so getting that much experience is my personal favorite aspect of the job. But to answer your question in terms of the spirit in which I think it was asked...the best thing about working for the Riversharks is simply that they're a baseball team, and one that plays in such a talented and competitive league. Working for any baseball team, especially in a broadcasting/writing capacity, is bound to be fun, but I honestly didn't realize before I got here how high the talent level in the Atlantic League is. I can rattle off a list of guys in the league who were not only Major Leaguers, but well-known Major Leaguers: Keith Foulke, Armando Benitez, Carl Everett, Jacque Jones, Junior Spivey, Marlon Anderson, Shawn Chacon...and the list could go on. Then there are notable names like Anthony Manuel (Jerry's son), Jeff Nettles (Graig's son), and of course P.J. Rose (Pete's son). Oh, and lest I forget: the league has some collection of famous managers too. Here's the full list of eight: Butch Hobson, Chris Hoiles, Joe Ferguson, Von Hayes, Sparky Lyle, Tommy John, Tim Raines, Gary Carter. Pretty cool to be working with, and interviewing, those guys.
But it's not just about the notable names. The best players in the league are guys who aren't all that well-known: Garcia and James Shanks of Southern Maryland, Miller, Magrane, Josh Pressley and Matt Hagen of Somerset, Brandon Sing of Bridgeport, and our own Tom Davey. And there's good depth all around, as well. People who haven't seen an Atlantic League game would almost certainly be impressed with the level of play, the competitiveness of the games, and the high interest of (some of) the fan bases.
Jorge Says No!: What kind of attendance do the Riversharks draw? In your opinion, is the fan base passionate about the team?
Matthew Tymann: The Riversharks are currently sixth (out of eight teams in the league) in attendance, averaging 3,483 fans per game. But teams like Long Island, Somerset, Lancaster, and York all regularly draw 5,000+ fans to their games, and the people that come out are generally a passionate bunch. In Long Island and Somerset especially, the fans really care about the team, and provide great energy in the stands. Unfortunately, we don't really get that in Camden. We have good fans, but they're much more interested in having a good time with their families than cheering on the team. If the food is good, and the promotions are good, and the video is good, and the weather is good, and the team loses 10-0, the majority of our fans go home happy. I'd like to see that not be the case, but it's the way of life in a market like this. Any fans who want to be die-hards about a baseball team root for the Phillies, who play 5-10 minutes away. There just isn't the baseball void in Camden that there is in a place like Somerset, Lancaster, or York. So, the short answer to your question is: no, Riversharks fans are not generally passionate about the team. But, fortunately, there ARE passionate fans around the league, and that helps to make things more fun.
A huge thanks goes out to Matt for giving us such in depth responses. This was an eye opening interview for me, and I hope everyone enjoyed it as well. Feel free to leave your comments in the comments and check out The Deep End!