Jim Hynes is a name most of the NJIT faithful have probably never heard of, and I wouldn’t blame them. Being part of Kean University’s Class of 1963, he played second base in his high school years and currently owns a plastic company all the way out in Minneapolis. Despite the twists and turns of life dragging him away, he still held an interest over his alma mater’s academics.
In 1999, he donated around $500,000 to his college’s athletic department, which the school used to build an entirely new stadium. To honor this, the new field was named in his honor, a field in which our baseball team plays their home games. Yes, our NJIT Highlanders play in the Jim Hynes ‘63 Baseball Stadium… of Kean University.
Located in the suburban part of Union Township, the area around Kean barely resembles the tight-packed buildings and heavy atmosphere of Newark. Bordering the high screens that protect cars from fly balls are two-story houses and newly-built gated communities.
The field itself is tucked away in the corner of a much larger athletic complex, one that could rival the entire square footage of NJIT’s campus. Even the field itself was relatively large and quiet, despite Kean University’s baseball team practicing on the day that I visited.
Would I call it an appropriate field for a campus as large and spread out as Kean? Sure, they seem to like it enough. But can this be considered a good home field for us? Not really.
For one, the field is located around 9.5 miles away from the NJIT campus, a relatively far distance to travel without a car. Now, I would consider myself a pretty big fan of the game of baseball, and that dedication allows me to be alright with traveling to watch games. However, this dedication is wholly non-existent in more casual fans, who probably wouldn’t bother with the trip to go see a sport they aren’t interested in yet.
Other sports on campus such as soccer and basketball don’t suffer from this issue, as they happen on campus and are quite easy to attend. Building up a fanbase is already difficult, but it’s made almost impossible when home games are inaccessible to most students.
The field on which we play is also wholly owned and maintained by Kean’s staffers, with no trace of the Highlanders to be seen. From the turf to the dugouts to the bleachers, I could see no evidence an NJIT player had even been to the stadium, and more than enough insignia and big blue letters to tell me which field I was really on.
Now, I will admit, shared fields aren’t a new thing in baseball. Heck, even my high school team had to share playing time with a rival school, simply because there weren’t enough baseball diamonds to go around. However, both schools acknowledged this, and made sure that the field would be treated more like neutral grounds than anything else. Down in Jim Hynes? Our players will always be the visiting team, no matter how long or how well they play.
Buzzwords like “culture” and “community” like to be tossed around among colleges and their leaders, each one of them searching for the right mix of academics and athletics to just birth it into existence. NJIT could one day foster such a change, but that starts with making our athletics uniquely ours.
I won’t pretend I understand the politics or the economics of it all, but the NJIT baseball team deserves to play near the Newark campus. The fanbase deserves access to games much like other universities we have on schedule. The university should be able to foster its own “home-field advantage” and environment. Most importantly though, these players deserve to have a crowd that will cheer them on and make each home game actually feel like home.