What We Lose When We Lose the Camden Riversharks

The Camden Riversharks ceased operations yesterday. But at least I'll always have the memory of the time my dad got a hot lather machine for winning a between-innings best beard contest.
Riversharks game at Campbell's Field

Photo by Mike used under a Creative Commons license

Yesterday, the Camden Riversharks announced they were folding. The independent minor league baseball team had been playing in Camden for 15 seasons. They didn’t have much success: They never won a championship, and hadn’t made the playoffs since 2008.

Still, Campbell’s Field is a gorgeous stadium and it was easy to get to. I went occasionally. Once, it was to play in a rock paper scissors tournament being held before and during a game. (I lost.) Another, it was because the game was in the morning, and I was unemployed. Most often, it was because someone had free tickets.

My favorite time, though, I took my dad. I was still in college. It must have been the first or second season of the team. I bought two tickets and took him to the game for Father’s Day.

The Riversharks operate like all minor league teams: The tickets are cheap, the concessions are reasonably priced and the baseball is kinda crappy. As such, there are constant distractions between innings. One I really liked in Camden was a contest where you had to throw hockey pucks past “the meanest goalie in all of Canada.” The first time I heard this, I thought the PA announcer said “in all of Camden.” I doubled over in laughter. I still think that’s funny. That’s what it should have been. Maybe I missed out on my calling of “editing minor league baseball teams’ skits.”

Sometime around the 5th inning, an employee in a polo shirt — “The international symbol for: ‘I work here’,” as my girlfriend says — came up to our seats and tapped my dad on the shoulder. “Excuse me, sir,” he said to my father, “would you like to be in the Best Beard Contest?”

“YES!” I replied. My dad probably would have said yes anyway, but I wanted to make sure he was going to do this. Not only did I think this was a sufficiently embarrassing and funny stunt he should be doing, but my dad has an amazing beard. I also thought he’d win!

Soon enough, he was on the field with four other bearded men who would be judged by fan reaction. They asked each of the contestants one question: “How long have you had your beard?” When they got to my dad, third in line, he paused and said: “Three decades.”

I am not exaggerating when the cheer that followed may have been the biggest of the night. Campbell’s Field went bonkers. When the four were judged by applause a minute later, there was no contest. My dad had won. The on-field staff told him what his prize would be: A hot lather machine. In case, I guess, he wanted to shave his beard to celebrate his victory.

My dad returned to his seat. He even got a smattering of applause there. A little kid actually said to his mother, “Look, it’s the guy with the beard!” I ended up getting the hot lather machine. I think I used it to shave off my weak goatee. I now have a beard of my own; I like to think I’ll one day win a best beard contest.

Most of my favorite sports memories are not necessarily related to things on the field. They’re about the people we share the experience with, and the weird things that happen when you gather a bunch of people together to watch sports.

My favorite memory of the Vet is two dudes celebrating an Eagles pick-six by throwing their friend several rows down onto the concrete. My favorite memory at Citizens Bank Park is watching these high school kids dance around their section like maniacs after the Phillies scored 4 in the ninth to win. My favorite memory of the Palestra is going with my mom, sweating like crazy in that hot box, to watch a bunch of NBA stars play a few feet away during the lockout. My favorite memory of the Liacouras Center is when one of my college roommates fell down the steps after a Villanova-Temple game that began at midnight. Okay, maybe I have a thing for people falling down stairs. What? It’s funny.

So it’s sad the Camden Riversharks are gone. They didn’t win a championship during their 15 seasons, but I’m sure they had a lot of best beard contests. Hopefully a few other people found them as enjoyable as I did.

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