NEW JERSEY — The Somerset Patriots were founded in 1998, and over 16 years later, the minor league organization is still going strong.
Somerset was one of the first teams to join the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), which was also founded in 1998. The team has also defined consistency with an organizational career win percentage of .537%. The Patriots’ first manager, Sparky Lyle (who retired in 2012 after a 14 year run), won five championships and has over 1,000 career wins on his ledger. The Patriots have had roster success as well. Although the ALPB is not affiliated with Major League Baseball teams, players for the Patriots (and other ALPB teams) can be signed onto MLB rosters. So many players have been signed this year that manager Brett Jodie has had his hands full all season to deal with the shuffling. And yet, for Jodie, that is the ultimate ambition.
“I’m very happy when we get guys back to affiliated ball,” said Jodie in May. “There’s nothing like coming off the field at night after our game, turning on the TV, and seeing one of our former Patriots pitching.” But, Jodie added: “We’re also trying to win a lot of games, here.”
|The crowd at TD Bank Ballpark during a recent game against the Bridgeport Bluefish. (Click to open full screen)|
The players, many of whom have professional aspirations, enjoy their time at Somerset, citing the family-like demeanor around the team and organization.“It’s a lot of fun here,” says starting pitcher Erik Arnesen. Arnesen has been with the team for two seasons, including a brief stint at the AA level in 2013. “It’s relaxed, and we just go out and have a good time and win ballgames.”
Left fielder Ahron Eggleston has also been with the team for two years. He said: “the atmosphere [around the team] is great.”
|Eggleston (left) congratulated in the Patriots dugout.|
It is not always easy to win and attract tremendous fan interest, but it appears that Somerset has accomplished both. The team, which plays at TD Bank Ballpark in New Jersey, a stadium that can sit 6,100, has reached up to 8,012 fans in the first half of the 2014 alone. “A lot of the people here care about the baseball itself more than other crowds,” said Mike Ashmore, a Patriots’ beat reporter that has covered the team since 2003.
But Minor League Baseball, including unaffiliated leagues like the Atlantic League, has its pitfalls. Case in point: The Newark Bears, a team in the local New Jersey area and rivals with the Patriots, folded their organization in 2014 after struggling with finances for years. The Bears were not lacking skill or on-field talent – big names like Jose Canseco and Ricky Henderson played for the team in 2001 and 2003, respectively. But, after filing for bankruptcy in 2008 and officially folding in 2014, the team never found stable ground.
Despite the ambiguity in minor league baseball, Ashmore believes the fan attention comes for a reason. “These guys deserve the support … I’m glad they’re getting it.”
But for Brett Jodie, there is one omnipresent goal for the organization: thriving on the field.
“Everybody’s here for the same reason – to win and get picked up.”