|When Skylands Park (now known as Skylands Stadium) opened in 1994, it ushered in a new era of minor league baseball in the state of New Jersey. Along with the Trenton Thunder, the New Jersey Cardinals were the first minor league teams to call New Jersey home since 1979. The Cardinals moved from Hamilton, Ontario (by way of Glens Falls) and were a huge success in their early years. Even though the area around the ballpark in not densely populated, people from all over New Jersey as well as nearby Pennsylvania and New York came to attend games. Built on what was once farmland, the ballpark was designed to look like a barn from the outside. Inside, the design was very similar to other ballparks built in the same era, specifically Dutchess Stadium. Fortunately, the structure here is all concrete unlike Dutchess Stadium where the bleacher sections are all metal. The popularity of the Cardinals started to dwindle somewhat in the early 2000's, though never so bad that it appeared the team would leave. So it came as a complete shock when the Cardinals were sold in 2005 to an owner who would be moving the team to a new ballpark in State College, PA. Even in their final season as a New York - Penn League team, they drew over 3000 fans per game. After the Cardinals moved out, they were replaced by an independent team, the Sussex Skyhawks, in the Can-Am League. They lasted five years before folding after the 2010 season. Skylands Park then sat idle for 4 years as it was auctioned off once and then sold soon after. The most recent buyer, Al Dorso, finally decided to start bringing some events to the park. This included getting a new baseball team, the Sussex County Miners, to start playing here in 2015.
- The red barn exterior still gives the ballpark a very distinct look. Nestled between cornfields and woods, it is definitely a very iconic setting that fits perfectly with the region in which it is located.
- Before the 2015 season, many renovations were done to refresh the ballpark. These included a new video board, a new pavilion down the right field line, a patio seating area, and redoing all the luxury suites. In addition, a full-time restaurant is being added to the building in the front of the ballpark.
- The seats are extremely close to the field, especially the lower level ones. It certainly makes for a very intimate experience, though if you have young kids, you may want to opt to sit in the upper level seats.
- The game presentation is solid as the PA announcer keeps up with lineup changes and there are not too many sound effects played outside of the walk-up music. Overall it is a very relaxing atmosphere.
- The Miners' mascot is Herbie. He usually out during the whole game interacting with kids and always willing to take photos.
- Parking is free and plentiful.
- A new team store is located along the concourse on the first base side. It contains a variety of reasonably priced merchandise.
- A large globe shaped fire pit was added outside the main entrance prior to the '15 season. Its arrival at Skylands Stadium was featured on the TV show Shipping Wars.
- A cigar bar is located down the right field line and fans are allowed to smoke in the new patio area. It is such a rarity to see smoking sections in a ballpark (especially in the northeast), so not sure why the Miners thought this was a good idea. Fortunately the smoke does not seem to carry into the seating areas much.
- When purchasing tickets, be aware of the seating chart that is incorrect. It fails to show the bleacher sections (which the Miners do not sell tickets for), so many of the upper level sections are not aligned correctly in the seating chart. Just know that sections AA, BB, KK, and LL are the only ones which are not behind the net.
- Where is the kid's play area? It appeared that they had one one opening night (at least a bounce house), but there has been nothing since. I'm the biggest purist there is, but even I realize that a play area of some sort is needed for kids.
- The seats here are all either the bucket style (1990's vintage) or bleachers. There are no fold down chairs. These are rather tight and uncomfortable. Hopefully they can replace at least the field level seats in the future.
While affiliated baseball was a great success at Skylands Stadium, independent ball has been a tougher sell. Many times a market that has had affiliated ball has a tough time embracing something different. That certainly seems to be the case here as the two different independent teams have failed to break the 2000 mark in attendance in any year. Even after a four year break, the Miners have not been a great draw in their first year. But the team did get a late start so perhaps they will improve in future seasons. While there are more minor league teams in NJ now than back in 1994, there still should be a sufficient population base in the area to support a professional team. Skylands Stadium offers a pleasant experience for any fan looking for a night out in a rural setting.
- In their inaugural season, the Miners have kept the concessions pretty basic- hot dogs, burgers, fries, nachos, etc. The one unique item they have is a pulled pork sandwich.
- Prices overall seem pretty reasonable - hot dogs are $3 but these are the jumbo variety. Nachos are $3.75. French fries are $3. The pulled pork sandwiches are $6.
- On Mondays, the team has a promotion called "Munchies Monday" where they offer some additional concession items. These include mozzarella sticks, sweet potato fries, mac & cheese bites, corn nuggets, and onion rings. These are all $4.
- There are usually two concession stands open - one near the main entrance on the first base side and one behind home plate. They both serve all the same food options.
- Along the concourse which splits the seating levels, there are additional food carts setup which sell beer and ice cream novelties. Unfortunately, no real ice cream can be found here.
- The food items I've sampled have been good and the staff seems pleasant to deal with. While I wish they had more variety of concession items (including real ice cream), it is understandable that a first-year team wants to get the basics down first.
- A beer garden is located under the large pavilion in right field.