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1998-2008 Atlantic City Surf

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Atlantic City Surf Atlantic League (1998-2006)
Can-Am League (2007-2008)

Born: 1998 – Atlantic League founding franchise
Folded: March 30, 2009

Stadium: The Sandcastle

Major League Affiliation: Independent

Owners:

Atlantic League Champions: 1998
Can-Am League Championships: None

 

The Atlantic City Surf were one of the six original franchises in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball. The Atlantic League was (and remains) the most ambitious league to arise out of the independent baseball boom of the 1990’s. While most independent leagues set up shop in antiquated ballparks that no longer met the facility standards of affiliated Minor League Baseball, most Atlantic League franchises played in sparkling new taxpayer-financed stadiums.

The Surf played at the Sandcastle, a 5,900-seat ballpark built on the grounds of Atlantic City’s municipal airport, Bader Field. The stadium was built with $11.5 million in Casino Reinvestment Development Authority funds and $3 million in taxpayer bonds. During the Atlantic League’s first summer in 1998,

The Surf won the first Atlantic League championship in September 1998, beating the Bridgeport Bluefish in a best-of-five series. The season’s breakout star and fan favorite was Juan “The Large Human” Thomas. The 26-year old former Chicago White Sox prospect stood 6′ 4″ and weighed 250 pounds (some said closer to 300) and specialized in tape measure home runs. Thomas crushed 33 dingers in 1998 with 103 RBIs in 1998.

A succession of ex-Major Leaguer stars came through Atlantic City over the years to play for the Surf. Ruben Sierra played a full season in 1999. A number of players from the Philadelphia Phillies 1993 World Series team finished out their careers in Atlantic City, included Kim Batiste (1999), Pete Incaviglia (2002) and Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams (2001-2002). Williams also managed the Surf in 2002 and 2003.

Atlantic City SurfSurf owner Frank Boulton was the driving force behind the creation of the Atlantic League. A bond trader from Long Island, Boulton also owned the league’s wildly lucrative Long Island Ducks franchise. The Ducks, who opened for business in 2000, generated profits of several million dollars a year. Atlantic City never came close to matching the Ducks’ financial success and reportedly lost money in every year of operation. The resort’s demographics were a challenge. The city lacked a broad corporate base to fund sponsorships and season ticket sales. Much of the population worked in the casino service industry and worked at night when the Surf played. The casinos themselves spent relatively little on sponsorship support of the team. Attendance peaked at 2,718 fans per game in 1999. By 2006, the Surf’s attendance dipped below 2,000 a night.

Prior to the 2006 season, Boulton leased the Surf to Ventura Sports Group, led by veteran minor league executive Mark Schuster. Schuster sold a three-year naming rights agreement for the ballpark to Bernie Robbins Fine Jewelry for $100,000 per year. The Sandcastle became Bernie Robbins Stadium. The team played its final season in the Atlantic League in 2006. In November 2006, Schuster’s group formally purchased the Surf from Boulton. Schuster then moved the Surf into the shorter-season Can-Am League in a move to improve the team’s economic viability.

The Surf played their final season in 2008. The condition of the ballpark deteriorated rapidly in the late 2000’s. Team and city officials argued over who was responsible for the damage. Schuster’s group attempted to sell the Surf during the winter of 2008-09. After the deal fell through, the club folded in March 2009.

 

Atlantic City Surf Memorabilia

 

Surf Video

1999 Atlantic City Surf season highlights compliation.

 

In Memoriam

Surf President and General Manager Ken Shepard (Surf ’98 – ’00) died of kidney cancer on September 5, 2014. Shepard was 49.

 

Links

Atlantic League Media Guides 

Atlantic League Programs

Can-Am League Media Guides

Can-Am League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

December 31st, 2017 at 9:15 pm

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