The Newark Bears had one final tune-up Wednesday afternoon before Opening Day and the start of their 15th season.
The opponent however wasn't another team of professionals or a future opponent in the CanAm League the Bears participate in. Instead, it was the baseball team of Newark Tech High School.
While it was merely an exhibition, the event was just the latest example of how the Bears are not just trying to be a winning team on the field but a part of the Newark community.
"I think it's very important," said new Bears manager Ken Oberkfell about having that relationship with the city. "You want to meet as many people, as many organizations, as many businesses as you can. It promotes the team, it gets people into the ballpark. We're here for the community."
Newark Tech Principal Oge Denis said the school is "thriving" because of the partnership between the Bears and students.
"The relationship is here and we're committed to continuing that relationship," said Denis. "Right now we've discussed mentoring where the team can possibly help mentor our young men.
In an effort to continue to grow that relationship, owners Danielle Dronet and Dr. Douglas J. Spiel used Wednesday's introductory press conference to promote some of the programs and promotions they will institute this season.
"We try to make this very accessible to people throughout the Newark area," said Spiel, when talking about the Bears' promotion that allows Newark residents (along with military veterans and students) two tickets for the price of one with a Newark ID card.
The Bears' efforts to become a part of Newark and the surrounding communities is evident in a roster which features several players with ties to the area. In this case of infielder Matt Tomczyk, his new baseball home is the same Riverfront Stadium he played at the previous four years for NJIT.
"I've lived here basically for five years and coming into college, you hear it's scary," said Tomczyk, who played high school ball at Lakeland Regional in Wanaque. "But living here for five years, it's actually a beautiful place and so much nicer than I thought it was going to be. The stadium is beautiful, the area around here is beautiful. If you go into the community, it's actually an amazing place."
With more than eight players on the roster hailing from the Garden State, ranging from Middlesex to Bayonne, Elizabeth and Chatham, Oberkfell and his staff believe there's plenty of talent on a Bears squad to give a boost to their 41-51 record last year.
Headlining this year's roster is former Major Leaguer Daryle Ward, an 11-year veteran in the majors who's been with Newark for part of the past three seasons.
"I just love to play baseball," said Ward, who hit 90 homers in the big leagues, playing for six different teams. "I enjoyed my time here last year so I felt that this was the best fit for me. I'm comfortable here. You see the different changes and you see things that are positive. It makes you want to come back."
The Bears open their season Thursday night at 6:35 p.m. against the Worcester Tornados, led by former Major League All-Star Jose Canseco. Newark Mayor Cory Booker will throw out the first pitch. It's a family friendly event with performances by cover band Teacher's Pet and the Honey Bear dance team, as well as meet-and-greets with the Bears and coaches. Gates open at 5 p.m. Tickets are $10.