Through the Eyes of a Somerset Patriots Fan
A View from the Press Box
Most Somerset Patriots fans are aware of the significance of June 7, 1999. It was the team’s first home opener at their present ballpark. This was after spending their 1998 inaugural season, on the road. When the gates were lifted, it ushered in the fruition of Steve Kalafer’s vision of bringing minor league baseball to Somerset County. That day the Patriots played and lost to the Lehigh Valley Black Diamonds on route to finishing last place for first half of the season, their fans were rewarded for their patronage as the team turned their fortunes around to win the second half championship. The Patriots went on to face the Bridgeport Bluefish for the Atlantic League Championship and were swept three games to none.
Thursday (4/18) marked the 15th season that the Patriots played in their facility facing the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. Erik Arnesen, Somerset’s starting pitcher celebrated by striking out nine in six innings and beating the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs by a score of 5-1.
While it was the ballpark’s anniversary, it was also my debut in the Patriots press box! The Patriots issued me a media press pass. I will be documenting my journey with this Independent baseball club. Being in the press box is certainly a thrill. My cohorts’ are John (the official scorer), Lou, and Ryan (team’s beat writer). On any given night, various Patriots’ officials filter in and out during the game. On my second night, former manager Sparky Lyle hung out in the press box for a couple of innings. Then Ellie Rodriguez, a former MLB player and a Atlantic League official also spent the evening. Ellie enjoyed a major league baseball career beginning with the New York Yankees in 1968 and finishing with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1976. As a catcher for the California Angels, Ellie caught Nolan Ryan’s fourth no-hitter. We had an opportunity talk some baseball. Of course I had to ask what was it like to catch a no-hitter in the majors. He went about it the same as any other game.
What I hope to accomplish by writing this column, is bring the game to the reader through the eyes of a fan. While, I would love to take credit for the idea, I cannot. I kind of stole the idea from a book put out by the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) in 2002. It was called The Fenway Project. Fifty of its members took in a Red Sox game seating in various places around the stadium, then wrote an essay about the game from their own unique perspective. In the book, Bill Nowlin, one of the contributors had this to say, “Everyone who sees a ballgame inevitably sees it differently, because we each have our own unique experiences and perceptions.” So, I will try to share the game, not only how it is played on field but also the other action going on the field, the type that one finds in Independent Minor League baseball. Face it, baseball is baseball, but minor league baseball is also family entertainment. This is a place where your children get to dance “Cotton Eye Joe” with mascots like Sparkee and Slider, or try to catch tee shirts flung out in the air from a giant slingshot. It’s about the comedy of the dizzy bat contest, little kids racing the mascots around the bases and always winning, or your section winning a prize for being the loudest or catching a foul ball. It is seating in a seat with a scorecard in your lap, a hot dog and soft drink in your hand where there is not a bad seat in the park.
Of course, it is about baseball. There is the thrill of being entertained by Jonny Tucker shooting the ball past to the wall and racing to third with a stand up triple, which he did twice on Sunday (4/21) or being amazed by Yunesky Sanchez hitting four homeruns in the first four games. Or knowing that when you hear the beginning of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” that catcher Adam Donachie is coming to bat. And it is not only our favorite Patriots that entertain us. For instance, I really enjoyed watching Brian Barton of the Blue Crabs. With his long braided hair, and his ability to hit reminded me of a young Manny Ramirez…. although I think he plays a better outfield than Manny.
From the press box, the view of the game is perfect, it is a place where a picket fence is not something painted by Tom Sawyer but one strike, one ball and one out.. Or hearing John, the park’s official scorer and baseball purist will point out that twenty one balls were hit into left field so far that game. I learn about press box protocol. John and Lou do not put their hats back on until the color guard is completely off the field. But when we return our caps to our heads, it is: