| Sussex Skyhawks </br> Founded in 2006 |
Augusta, New Jersey
|Owner(s)/Operated By: Sussex Professional Baseball|
|General Manager: Ben Wittkowski|
|Manager: Hal Lanier|
|Media: New Jersey Herald|
The Sussex Skyhawks are a professional baseball team based in Augusta, New Jersey; they are the defending champions of the Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball, which is not affiliated with Major League Baseball. Since the 2006 season to the present, the Skyhawks have played their home games at Skylands Park.
The team was officially named the Sussex Skyhawks on January 25, 2006, based on the results of a contest held by Sussex Professional Baseball. "Skyhawks" refers to the Skylands Region of northwestern New Jersey surrounding the town of Augusta.
The team occupies Skylands Park, the former home of the New Jersey Cardinals. The Cardinals moved to University Park, Pennsylvania, which is the campus of Penn State, and became the State College Spikes after the 2005 season.
Due to poor weather and other factors, the Skyhawks attendance was disappointing early in the inaugural 2006 season, until the team found itself in a tight, multi-team race for the first-half pennant. With a 23-19 record into the first half's final weekend, Sussex had a chance to win the first half if they could take two out of three games from the North Shore Spirit. Instead, they were swept, and the Skyhawks tumbled all the way to fifth place, one of six teams in a three-game knot at the top of the standings.
The Skyhawks never recovered, and the second half was a disaster as Sussex lost twenty games in a row at one point, the longest losing streak by any team in professional baseball (major league, minor league or independent) in 2006. Sussex finished with 9-26 mark in the second half and a league-worst 32-48 overall. The team drew 85,126 fans to Skylands Park, an average of 2,183.
The Skyhawks' 2007 season started poorly; they lost 10 of their first 11 games including a sweep at the hands of the traveling Grays franchise. Despite numerous roster changes, Sussex finished last in the season's first half with a 15-31 record. The team showed slight improvement in the second half, tying for eighth place with a 19-28 record, but the overall 34-59 record remained worst in the league.
The team saw a significant increase in overall attendance, drawing 101,638 fans over the course of the year. Because the team had so many more home games than the prior year, the average actually declined to 1,993 per game. Both figures ranked seventh in the Can-Am League.
After the season, Skyhawks management released the entire coaching staff, including manager Brian Drahman.
Former major-leaguer (and major-league manager) Hal Lanier was named as the Skyhawks' skipper for 2008; Lanier brought along Nick Belmonte to serve as director of player personnel. “You had to convince players things were going to be different (to get them signed),” said Belmonte, who has been teaming with Lanier for well over a decade. “Even though there weren’t superstars, they had tough outs (batting) 1-9. I think that’s what has carried them through.” 
After a slow start which saw Sussex end the month of May with a 3-8 record, the team turned things around behind clean-up hitter Matt Weston (second in the league with 22 home runs) and closer Matt Petrusek (22 saves, tied for first). By the final weekend of the first half, the Skyhawks were 25-19, just three games back of first-place Quebec -- who were in Skylands Park for a four-game series. In a similar ending to 2006's first half, however, the Capitales won three of four, and Sussex had to settle for a three-way third place tie with New Jersey and Atlantic City.
The Hawks got off to another slow start in the second half; their record was just 6-11 at the end of July, and hopes of a playoff spot seemed dashed. Then, in August, the Skyhawks got red hot: they put together a seven-game winning streak and two streaks of five wins in a row, including the last five games of the regular season. Sussex wound up in a three-way tie for the second half title with Quebec and Worcestor with a 27-20 record. For the first time in their three-year history, the Skyhawks were going to the Can-Am League playoffs -- and Hal Lanier was named Can-Am Manager of the Year.
In the league semifinals against Worcestor, the Skyhawks dropped the opener of the best-of-five series, 3-2, before roaring back to win three in a row. Pitching, which had been the Hawks' biggest weakness in 2008 (their 5.03 ERA was second-worst in the league) came through against the Tornadoes with 3-2 and 4-0 wins in games two and three. In Game 4, Worcestor jumped to a 5-0 lead before Sussex scored six runs in the fourth en route to a 8-5 win, and a berth in the Can-Am League Championship Series against Quebec.
Despite the fact Les Capitales had a superior 58-36 overall record (versus Sussex at 52-42), the Skyhawks actually won the season series with Quebec, seven games to six. In Game 1 at Skylands Park, the circuit's top pitcher, Quebec's Michel Simard, hooked up in a pitcher's duel with Kyle Ruwe of Sussex. Finally, in the bottom of the tenth, Jorge Moreno's single scored Michael Perodin to give the Skyhawks a 3-2 win. In the secong game, Sussex scored four runs in the first inning, then watched Quebec come back to take a 5-4 lead. The lead seesawed back and forth until Matt Weston's two-RBI single in the eighth sealed the Skyhawks' 8-6 win.
On September 12, 2008, the Skyhawks met Les Capitales at Stade Municipal in Quebec, looking for an improbable sweep in the Championship Series. In game three, the Skyhawks offense bludgeoned the Caps pitchers in the early going, plating ten runs in the first four innings and cruising to a 10-5 win, becoming the first championship team to play in Skylands Park since the New Jersey Cardinals won a New York-Penn League title in their inaugural season in 1994.
For Sussex, the only downside were the tiny crowds at their home playoff games: barely 2,000 for the four games combined, in a 4,000-seat stadium. (Minor league baseball playoff games often draw poorly, however, due to a lack of promotion.) Their regular season average attendance slid to 1,713, next-to-last, ahead of only the Nashua Pride, who are widely expected to drop out of the league after the 2008 season.
Sussex Skyhawks roster
|Active (25-man) roster||Coaches|
- Current uniform colors: White with blue pinstripes for home games and grey for away games. The home uniform has the word "Skyhawks" across the front and number on the back. Road jerseys say "Sussex" on the front. The alternate jersey is blue with Skyhawks on the from and the number also on the front, with the number on the back also. Black home hats with an "S" and a talon holding a baseball coming through the center. Same hat (except in grey) on the road.
- Current logo design: The word "Skyhawks" in script in light blue with black and white outline superimposed over the depiction of a light blue bird in flight, holding a baseball in its talons.
- Current mascot: Scooter (2006-present).
- Current Television Station: Channel 10 on Service Electric Cable TV in Sussex County is aired six games live during the 2007 season.
- Current Radio Station: WDLC of Port Jervis, New York broadcast selected games during the 2007 and 2008 regular seasons, and all of the 2008 playoff games.