S. Jersey's fields of dreams

JPHIL06 - Joe Barth Field, home to the Gloucester Catholic baseball team, has history on its side. The patriarch of the first family of South Jersey baseball and namesake of this field, who died last month at age 92, created the Brooklawn American Legion program on this little slice of sandlot in 1952. Staff photo by Ed Hille

The best football fields and basketball courts are the same rectangular shape.

Baseball fields are different.

Like some football fields and basketball courts, many of the best baseball fields in South Jersey are notable for their location, backdrop, and the way their surroundings impact the fan and playing experience.

But some baseball fields are truly different - with odd shapes and unusual dimensions, with short porches in right field, and wide variations in the amount of foul territory behind home plate and along both baselines.

Here's a look at some of South Jersey's most notable high school baseball fields.

Honorable Mention

Bishop Eustace/Holy Cross. These fields are linked because both are marked by such short right fields. Players at Bishop Eustace routinely crack homers that land on or over Route 70, and those at Holy Cross take their shots at clearing the high fence that protects the school's regularly bombarded tennis courts.

Cherry Hill East. Dave Martin Field has been upgraded over the last few years and has a cool orientation with home plate jammed into a corner of the school property. It doesn't do well with rain, though.

Cherry Hill West. Recently resodded, this field sits down from the parking lot, has the school as a backdrop, and features those banners in center field that commemorate the program's national ranking over several seasons in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Deptford. Annual host to Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic games, this field is most notable for the way those residences behind the left-field fence beckon optimistic righthanded power hitters.

Maple Shade. There's a Little League feel - that's a compliment - to this field because of the way the clubhouse crowds home plate and the bleachers seem crammed tight to the baselines.

Paul VI. The recently refurbished backstop area, with its brick half-wall, creates a unique feel to this field, as does the fact that the center-field fence might be closer to home plate than at any other field in South Jersey.

Shawnee. This place has a nice feel with big pine trees behind left field and air currents that seem to produce home runs regularly.

Timber Creek. The field is nondescript in its location and dimensions but makes the cut because it's an absolute launching pad. As with Shawnee's field, it must be something about its orientation with regard to the prevailing wind.

Washington Township. You park in the Acme lot and backdoor your way to the well-maintained place that has hosted countless memorable moments, involving both the Minutemen and Diamond Classic games.

West Deptford. Union Field is a big place that feels like more than a high school site, and has perhaps the best three-sided grandstand in South Jersey.

Wildwood. Maxwell Field is a well-manicured facility behind the Byrne Rec Center on Youngs Avenue. It's just a few blocks from the boardwalk, so it's got that going for it.

The Unique 10

10. Haddonfield. Spicer Field, named for legendary former coach Russ Spicer, is a little gem set in an open space that springs open like a jewel box at the end of a residential neighborhood on Radnor Avenue.

9. Pennsville. Ed Rieger Field just feels small-town-y with its skin infield, tight bleachers, and adjacent street. It's home to one of South Jersey's best programs, too. The field also hosts the annual "Pop" Bob Tournament in honor of one of the athletic program's most beloved supporters.

8. Overbrook. This field is remarkable for one reason: The grounds crew plays at the major-league level. Just a sparkling field.

7. Eastern. Joe Hartmann Field is special because of its artificial-turf infield, including those red base paths. Plus, that big scoreboard in right field dares lefthanded power hitters to take their best shot.

6. Clearview. The best field you probably haven't seen, since it's less than a year old.

5. Bridgeton. The Bulldogs play in Alden Field, a historic old park that hosts the annual Bridgeton Semi-Pro Tournament, one of the first events to use speedup rules and the designated hitter.

4. Millville. This field that backs up to a wooded area recently was spruced up, thanks to the generosity of its most famous former player, and the place now is officially known as Mike Trout Field.

3. Audubon. Hank Greenberg Field has a great behind-the-backstop area, with three separate seating areas. Like the school, it is nestled in a neighborhood and sits a long home run from Audubon Lake.

2. Haddon Heights. Eighth Avenue Field is about as old-school as it gets, from its skin infield to its location adjacent to West High Street to its tight backstop and those woods behind right field. There's a lot of tradition, too, both for the Garnets and the American Legion team that also plays there.

1. Gloucester Catholic. Remember this is a list of the "Unique 10," not necessarily the "Top 10."

Joe Barth Field doesn't exactly sparkle. In fact, the infield grass looks like the backyard of a family with two dogs.

But this site has history on its side. The patriarch of the first family of South Jersey baseball and namesake of this field, who died last month at age 92, created the Brooklawn American Legion program on this little slice of sandlot in 1952.

The clubhouse is crammed against home plate, and there's an elementary school in center field, but the place's signature aspect - besides a shortage of parking and the steady traffic on Browning Road - is the old church behind left field.

Ultimately, this is the No. 1 unique field in South Jersey baseball because of the legacy of the man for whom it is named. He set the standard for all those Brooklawn and Gloucester Catholic teams that bring all that championship hardware back home to Pop's house.