In the past two seasons, the New Jersey Jackals have been on quite a run. Following a season in which they missed the playoffs for the first time in a decade in 2018, the Jackals have built a rich culture in which they've thrived.
In 2019, the Jackals finished with a 46-44 record, good enough for the No. 3 seed in the Can-Am League playoffs. In the playoffs, they upset the No. 2 seed Trois-Rivières Aigles in five games in the semifinals and the No. 1 seed Sussex County Miners in four games in the finals to clinch their first ever Cam-Am League championship and their first league championship since 2004.
The winning continued in a shortened 2020 season, participating in the All-American Baseball Challenge. The Jackals finished the season with a 12-10 record, once again giving them the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. New Jersey defeated the No. 2 seed Rockland Boulders 11-2 in the semifinal game and took down the No. 4 seed New York Brave 3-2 in the championship game, giving the Jackals back-to-back league titles and their sixth league championship in franchise history.
Jackals Entering New League
Now in 2021, the Jackals will look to carry their winning tradition into one of their most anticipated seasons in recent memory. It will be their first season in the Frontier League, following the merge between it and the Can-Am League, a merge that created the largest league in all of Independent Baseball with 16 total teams. Despite this, only 14 teams will play this season as due to uncertainty surrounding the United States-Canada border reopening, two teams from Canada, the Ottawa Titans and Trois-Rivières Aigles, will be unable to field teams. Last but not least, back in September of 2020, the Frontier League was named an official partner league of Major League Baseball, which should only bring more eyeballs and exposure to Jackals baseball.
However, the Frontier League will also deal the Jackals many challenges, one of them being the division and playoff format. For the 2021 season, the Frontier League will be splitting into four divisions with three to four teams in each. Only the winner in each division will be granted a spot in the playoffs. New Jersey will be in the Northeast Division with the Sussex County Miners and Washington Wild Things.
This is significant because of who the Jackals will be competing with for the division title. Despite winning back to back championships, New Jersey has failed to finish the regular season with a better record than the Sussex County Miners for three straight years. Meaning if the Jackals want to complete the three-peat, they'll have to out-duel their in-state rivals in the regular season and not the postseason.
Despite journeying into a new league with new challenges, the Jackals are making sure they do everything they can to keep the culture they've built the past two seasons in tact. This includes bringing back familiar faces.
Championship Experience on Their Side
The Jackals currently have a total of eight players from the 2019 championship team. This includes the 2019 Player of the Year, Alfredo Marte. In 2019, Marte led the Can-Am League with 88 RBI and tied for the league lead in home runs with 16 while hitting .311/.388/.531 for a .919 OPS. He's confident he can have the same success in 2021.
"Yeah bro I can do it again," said Marte. "I'm ready to win the MVP this year. In the offseason, I'm working with my body. I'm working in the gym. I'm ready to win the MVP this year again."
Furthermore, a couple of key members of the 2021 Jackals roster and coaching staff are no strangers to the Frontier League. Before joining New Jersey in 2018, manager Brooks Carey spent five years in the Frontier League as manager of the Normal Cornballers from 2013 to 2017. Not only that, shortstop Santiago Chirino spent six seasons with the Cornballers before signing with New Jersey in 2019. To this day, Chirino still holds the record for most career hits in the Frontier League with 725.
"I'm excited," said Chirino. "I know people say 'Oh you're coming back to the Frontier League.' But for me, I always play baseball. I'm having fun when I play baseball. I wanna keep playing for a couple of more years. I think this year is gonna be a challenge because last year we didn't do much. But I'm ready. I think baseball is momentum most of the time. If you're positive and you play hard every day, good things will happen to you."
The New Jersey Jackals will kick off their quest for a third straight league championship on Thursday, May 27 when they go on the road for the season opener against the New York Boulders. They will return to Yogi Berra Stadium for their home opener and the beginning of a three game series against the New York Boulders on Saturday, May 29.
Jersey Sporting News will have complete coverage of the Jackals throughout the 2021 season.