Arm & Hammer Park is like a second home for Trenton Thunder superfans
As Trenton Thunder players celebrated a grand slam by Gary Sanchez during the team’s 11-run 4th inning on April 6, longtime fan Jim Devlin turned to the dugout with a message for manager Tony Franklin.
“How about those Thunder?” Devlin said, as he and Franklin exchanged a thumbs-up.
Devlin and his wife, Martha, are Ewing residents who have been Trenton Thunder fans since the beginning. In fact, they still have their ticket stubs from the team’s very first game in 1994.
Jim, who works for a nonprofit research organization in Princeton, and Martha, a nurse at University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro, decided to purchase season tickets in 2006, a few years after their daughters, Sarah and Erin, had both graduated from Ewing High School. Since then, they have become fixtures in section 107, directly next to the Thunder dugout.
The seats have provided the Devlins with a prime view of key moments in the team’s history. Some memories include times when Major League players temporarily joined the team before returning from injury or inactivity. Martha Devlin said she particularly enjoys the atmosphere at those games, when fans flock to see some of baseball’s biggest stars in a more intimate venue.
Ewing resident John Ziolkowski, a longtime fan of the Thunder who sometimes attends games with the Devlins, said he understands the appeal.
“People who would never come to a game would come here because they can get within seven feet of greatness,” Ziolkowski said.
One of Martha Devlin’s most memorable Thunder moments occurred when Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte tossed a ball to her niece during a game in 2012.
Martha Devlin mentioned Yankees captain Derek Jeter as another particularly memorable MLB player who appeared in Trenton for rehab games. Jim Devlin said that he enjoyed watching Curtis Granderson’s appearances with the Thunder last season.
“He just had fun from the moment he walked out,” he said of Granderson, who now plays for the New York Mets.
The Devlins also have fond memories of athletes from the Thunder’s regular rosters. Brett Gardner, currently an outfielder for the Yankees, was one player they remember watching before his major league debut.
“Nobody could throw him out,” Jim Devlin recalls. “He was amazing.”
Both Jim and Martha Devlin name catcher Austin Romine as one of their favorite Thunder alums. Jim Devlin’s list of memorable players also includes pitchers Chase Whitley and Ryan Pope.
Jim Devlin said that his favorite baseball moment occurred in 2008, when the Thunder won the Eastern League championship. It was the second of the team’s three titles, and the only one to have been celebrated on the team’s home field. That night, Devlin was among the fans cheering for the team, banging on the stadium seats to create a rumbling that carried throughout the stadium.
“I’m getting goosebumps now just thinking about it,” he said.
But one of the Devlins’ favorite memories at the ballpark has very little to do with baseball. One year, on the fourth of July, their daughter, Sarah, traveled home from Southeast Asia without telling them. Upon her return, she went to the ballpark to surprise her parents, and she knew exactly where to find them.
In any stadium, Jim and Martha Devlin like to sit near the Thunder dugout so that they can cheer for the players. They have traveled to ballparks in cities such as Portland, Maine, Altoona, Pennsylvania, and Bowie, Maryland, to watch the Thunder, often on trips organized by the team’s front office. Martha said that one day, she hopes to travel to Florida, as some other Thunder fans have, to watch the players in spring training.
Martha said she enjoys rooting for players she has followed, rather than any particular major league team. Jim, however, is a New York Mets fan.
This can plague him with conflicting feelings when the Thunder, a Yankees affiliate, play the Binghamton Mets. He said that although he enjoys watching the Mets prospects, he is still a Thunder fan at heart.
The Devlins belong to what is known as the “90% Club,” a group of fans who attend at least 90% of the Thunder’s home games. They have even shared the fun with their miniature dachshunds at the team’s annual “bark in the park” games.
Martha Devlin said that her favorite part of the fan experience has been a combination of the entertainment on the field and the friendships that she has made in the stands. She also mentions the positive impact that the Thunder’s front office staff has had on her experience as a fan.
On a warm April afternoon, with the Thunder on their way to an 11-5 victory, she looked toward the field.
“How can you not be happy when you come here?” she said.