The more than 4,000 Rockland Boulders fans expected to turn out for tonight's 7:30 p.m. opening game of the season will get a first glimpse of new players, attractions and a heightened fan experience, the team says.
Better graphics, more freebies -- like T-shirts and Frisbees -- and Patti Cake, the newest character in the stadium's Rockland Bakery Bread Races, were all brought in to make games more attractive for a range of demographics, said Shawn Reilly, general manager of the team.
"Our goal is to put the best product out there for our fans and have the best value for their buck," Reilly said. "Day in and day out in the community, people are loving the Boulders . . . You mention the Boulders and you see people light up. It's encouraging."
A new kids' attraction -- called the "B-Train" -- will chug its way around the stadium throughout home games. A trailer converted into a video arcade will soon make its arrival at the stadium, boasting 20 video screens.
"We're trying to make it a kids' entertainment utopia so the parents could come to the game and have a good time," Reilly said.
But the Boulders didn't forget about the adults: now included in the ticket price is "Boulder Bash", a postgame party featuring local bands on Friday nights at the stadium's Bridge Bar. The park will continue its famous -- or infamous -- $1 beer nights on Fridays, while it serves up classic hot dogs and meatball subs, among other favorites.
NEW TEAM BEGINNINGS
On the field, the Boulders will be led by first-year manager Keefe, the Can-Am League manager of the year in 2011 while piloting the Pittsfield Colonials. Keefe, who played for minor league teams in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, will have help from pitching coach Bobby Jones, a reliever for the Mets, Rockies, Red Sox and Padres during a six-year major league career.
Jones has spent the past few years coaching youngsters at a baseball academy in his native New Jersey.
"I love coaching my kids but (coaching in the pros) is something I want to do now and down the road," Jones said. "It's going from 'baby baseball' to 'grown up baseball.' This is a great opportunity."
Jarod Edmondson, who batted .315 with 17 homers while playing for Keefe in Pittsfield in 2011, will play the outfield when he's not doubling as the team's hitting coach. Gone from last year's third-place Boulders squad is standout third baseman Ryan Mollica, who led the team in runs batted in (65) and batting average (. 313) last year. The 27-year-old Suffern native decided to retire after last season.
Also gone from this year's roster are first baseman Todd Gossage and infielder Glen Johnson -- the sons of former Yankee great Rich "Goose" Gossage and Howard "Hojo" Johnson, a member of the Mets' 1986 World Championship team.
In the sons of ex-major leaguers department, the Boulders add Mike Gedman, a 6-foot-5, lefthanded hitting first baseman. Gedman was born in February 1987, the winter after his father, former Red Sox catcher and All-Star Rich Gedman, lost to Johnson's Mets in the 1986 series.
"We are committed to putting a quality product on the field and expect our team to compete for the league championship every season," team president Ken Lehner said. "That is our goal this year and every year."
The Boulders will play 50 home games this year at the Pomona stadium -- which seats 6,600 -- as well as 50 away games, through Labor Day.
They will face off against the four other teams in the independent Canadian American League: the Newark Bears, New Jersey Jackals, Quebec Les Capitales, and the Trois-Rivieres Aigles -- also from Quebec -- while the Worcester Tornadoes sit this season out due to financial constraints, Reilly said.
Reilly projects attendance will surpass last year's numbers, which earned the Boulders the No. 1 spot of all five teams in the independent Canadian-Amerian League. In 2012, 161,375 people came to games, compared to 123,704 in 2011.
"We have a good outlook going into the season," Reilly said. "We're now in our third year and we have the right staff in place and the right processes in place. Now we can go into the community and bring them in."