Harvey Rovinsky leans against a desk in his office at Bernie Robbins Fine Jewelry shop in Somers Point, his arms folded across his chest. A newspaper page, slowly yellowing, hangs on the wall behind him.
The headline, from 2006, reads "Getting the name right." The picture shows Rovinsky, million - dollar smile on his face, wearing a baseball uniform. In the background, his company's name shines on a sign at the ballpark's front gate. The newspaper documents the moment when Rovinsky entered into a naming agreement with Atlantic City's minor league baseball team, the Surf. From there forward, in yearly increments, the team's stadium, formerly named the Sandcastle, would be known as Bernie Robbins Stadium.
Cost? $100,000 a year.
The stadium still carries that name, but Rovinsky stopped paying for the naming rights at the end of last season, when the agreement expired.
The team folded in March. Since that time, the dilapidated, 11-year-old stadium, which continues to carry the 'Bernie Robbins Stadium' logo on the building, has fallen further into disrepair, bringing frustration and disappointment for Rovinsky. This is his company's biggest, most noticeable diamond, located along Albany Avenue, a landmark on the outskirts of Atlantic City.
"This stadium has not only my company's name on it, but also my father-in-law's, and it was a legacy to him," he said. "It's very frustrating to see it falling apart."
* * *
Rovinsky wanted to partner with the Surf much earlier than 2006, but he says original owner Frank Boulton didn't show any interest.
So the jeweler waited. And when Mark Schuster became Surf president in 2006, the team approached Rovinsky.
"I met Mark, and he came in with a bunch of great ideas, great energy, and great plans," Rovinsky said.
Rovinsky committed to the team because he believed Schuster was going to build a longterm success in the resort. Rovinsky said Schuster promised he would move to southern New Jersey and build a community presence -- hype that never materialized.
"Mark (Schuster) lost interest emotionally and financially in the Surf, and this was totally a financial venture for him," Rovinsky said. "He totally underperformed in every promise he made to me as an investor and someone who made a commitment."
* * *
Schuster shares in Rovinsky's frustrations.
A managing partner with Ventura Sports Group Inc., Schuster has spent two decades in independent and minor league baseball. His company owns the El Paso Diablos and Grand Prairie AirHogs, two Texas-based minor league teams.
Despite past and recent successes, Schuster is still disappointed about the failed venture in Atlantic City.
"It was one of most miserable experiences of professional life," Schuster said. "I don't know that I'll ever fully bounce back from it. It's tough to be associated with a failure."
Schuster blames the city for the condition of the stadium.
In the original agreement between Atlantic City and team ownership, the city was responsible for major structural repairs to the stadium, with team ownership footing the bill for cosmetic, mechanical and electrical maintenance costs.
Schuster says when the ballpark was built in 1998, the roof was uneven. So rain water would leak into the stadium, soaking ceiling tiles and carpeting. Team ownership argued it was the city's responsibility to replace the tiles and carpeting. The city argued it was the team's.
"It's one of 20 examples of problems we had with the stadium," Schuster said.
For Schuster, another trouble spot was the city's goal to sell Bader Field, the land that Bernie Robbins Stadium sits on.
Since the beginning of Schuster's tenure with the Surf, city, state, and Casino Reinvestment Development Authority officials have discussed their plans for Bader field. City Council's Bader Field Committee is overseeing the sale of the land, with state lawmakers having final authority on any sale agreed upon between the city and a developer.
Those plans have not included Bernie Robbins Stadium.
"The city wanted to sell the land, and because of that, we didn't want to put any new money into ballpark," Schuster said.
* * *
Whatever happened, whoever is responsible, Rovinsky just wants something, anything to happen with the land. Wants baseball to be played there again. Wants to see someone local do something with it, because it's difficult for outsiders to understand the complexities of Atlantic City.
"I still believe in minor league baseball, and I still believe it has a place in Atlantic City," he said.
City Public Works officials toured the stadium last week, and they say with some minor repairs, they can re-open the stadium for use.
As Rovinsky talks about Bernie Robbins Stadium, the million dollar smile fades. He gets a little angry, a little sad.
Like it or not, this is his company's biggest, most noticeable diamond. It hasn't sparkled for a long, long time.