#ASG2017 @SOMPatriots

spb-460020all20star20web202pg_20banner.jpgThis is why The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball has thrived for the last 20 years: amazing entertainment at ridiculously affordable prices.

Tomorrow night they are presenting their 20th Annual All-Star Game. Hosted at the home of the Somerset Patriots’ in TD Bank Ballpark, the eight-team league are split into two divisions (Liberty & Freedom) and each will have 22 representatives on each roster.

Eight locals from the Patriots will be in uniform for the Liberty Division.  Pitchers Rick Teasley, David Kubiak, and Duane Below will join catcher Yovan Gonzalez, infielders Tyler Bortnick and Carlos Guzman, and outfielders Aharon Eggleston and Justin Pacchioli.

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But here’s the thing … it is so much more than an assemblage of the leagues best players.  The Patriots organization have put together an event in which I would never expect a “Minor league” venue to put on.  By that I mean, more specifically, there are SO MANY EVENTS PLANNED that I haven’t the slightest notion how they plan to fit it into one evening.

My gut tells me, however, they’ll nail it and it’s going to be epic.

First, they’re giving away a mess of stuff:

  • Commemorative 20th Atlantic League All-Star Ticket (All Fans)
  • Tricorn Hats (1st 500 Kids)
  • All-Star Baseball Card Sets (1st 1,000 Kids)
  • All-Star Pins (1,000 Adults)
  • Commemorative Game Program (1st 3,500 Fans)

On tap for the night are the following:

  • Season Ticket Holders get in early to watch Batting Practice
  • Gates Open to General Public at 5 pm
  • An Autograph Session with all the players
  • Home Run Derby with the best HR hitters in the league.
  • All-Star Player Introductions
  • 7:10 Play Ball!!!

But that’s not it.

A Yankee fan like me is LOVING that the Honorary Managers are Sparky Lyle and Willie Randolph!

Plus, Gary Gaetti – whom I remember very well, and fondly, as a member of the Twins, is Managing the Freedom team,.

The entertainment?  Holy Mackerel

  • Zooperstars! The World-Famous Entertainment Act
  • BirdZerk! America’s Ballpark Prankster
  • Fireworks – Promises to be the BIGGEST FIREWORK DISPLAY in their 20 YEAR HISTORY!!!!!
  • Mascots from around the Atlantic League
  • Revolutionary Cannon fire after the game

And since we are all about the USA and being Patriotic, they’re busting out some serious Revolutionary Spirit:

  • Meet General George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and Alexander Hamilton and various revolutionary war soldiers
  • See a replica cannon from the Revolutionary War
  • See a revolutionary war encampment
  • Visit tables on the concourse that show various aspects from the Revolutionary War
  • Sign the Declaration of the All-Star Game Document
  • Hear Fife & Drum corps
  • Enjoy period Dance and Dress
  • Feast on a Turkey Leg and Ale

Participants Include:

  • 2nd NJ Regiment, The Queens Rangers on horseback, Mott’s Artillery with a cannon, Heard’s Brigade, Sons of the American Revolution with a cannon, Mock Hearth Cooking, Spinning and Weaving Demonstrations, Fife and Drums of the Old Barracks and the Practitioners of Musick  (note the 2nd NJ, Mott’s Artillery and Queens Rangers, Heard’s Brigade will set up an encampment with tents and also do musket drills)

Need More?  Seriously?  OK then.  Here are some exhibits/games/activities by the following groups:

  • Liberty Hall
  • Heritage Trail Association
  • Washington Crossing Historic Park
  • Washington Crossing State Park
  • Lamb’s Artillery
  • East Jersey Old Town Village
  • Princeton Battlefield Society
  • Children of the American Revolution
  • The Indian King Tavern
  • The Snyder Academy
  • The Jacobus Vanderveer House

Now … if the weather will just cooperate.

Single A Ball in the Lowcountry

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On vacation in South Carolina, I got to see the Yankees Single A affiliate Charleston Riverdogs play the Mets’ Single A team the Columbia Fireflies.

In an effort of full disclosure, I initially was drawn to purchase tickets because Tim Tebow was playing LF for the Fireflies.  I found us great seats because I bought them in May, Section 119, Row 1, seats 18 – 21.  These four seats are immediately in front of the left fielder.  Tim Tebow plays left field for the Fireflies, or, rather he used to.  As luck would have it, he was promoted a couple of weeks back to St. Lucie High A and was nowhere to be found last Friday night in Charleston.

The absence of Tebow did not dampen our spirits though.  A beautiful night for baseball as met with a 7-1 win, and the good fortune of getting a foul ball!!!

It is funny to me that in all my years of going to baseball games the only two foul balls I ever got were at The Joe, in S.C.  Both tossed to me by players of the opposing team, I am now the proud owner of TWO Official South Atlantic League baseballs.  In fact, once in found its way into my glove the other night my future father in law asked me if I was going to give it to a kid…I still laugh when I think of him asking.

Part of the fun were two boys from Jersey representing the Garden State in Charleston for our Yankees – Brandon Wagner and Ben Ruta.

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Brandon Wagner, Princeton, NJ

Wagner, 21, was drafted in 2015 in the sixth round.  After spending the remainder of the 2015 season in High A, he spent all of 2016 in Rookie ball before his promotion to Charleston this spring.  He had a great night Friday, going 3 for 4 while hitting his 12th, 13th and 14th double of the season.  In the process of doing so, he drove in three of the Riverdogs’ seven runs.

For the season (as of this writing) he is having his best year since becoming a professional baseball player.  Batting .292 with 70 hits, 14 2B, 3HR, 34RBI and 30BB he still has some work to do before we see him in Trenton, I believe … he has struck out 80 times so far…but this is why he is in A Ball – for now.  I will not be surprised if the Princeton, NJ native is playing closer to home next summer.

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Ben Ruta, West Windsor, NJ

Ben Ruta, a 23-year-old native of West Windsor, NJ, is in his first season with the Riverdogs.  Drafted in 2016’s 30th round, he split time last year with the Pulaski Yankees and the Staten Island Yankees.  So far, he has put in a solid season, batting .290 in 155 at bats, drawing 13 walks and driving in 13 runs.  On Friday, Ruta went 1 for 4 with a run scored.

Minor league baseball just does not get old for me.  I love it and I love seeing baseball talent develop over the years.  Sometimes we forget that big hitters like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper once were kids trying to learn how to hit Big League pitching.

Wagner and Ruta – although they may not be Trout or Harper – are taking on those same challenges now.  I hope both fair very well.  I hope to see both in Trenton next season, too.  Their family and friends would love it!

Box Score

 

 

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How About That?

Following the Somerset Patriots this summer has been a blast. I have never spent this much time following them so closely.  Either I lived out of state, or in-state and no where near Bridgewater, or more often than not I was working a second job across the street at The Home Depot and never made the time for it.

Well, now I am local, working one gig after leaving the greatest retailer in the world (I will forever love the Home Depot), have night’s and weekends free and have followed the Patriots  everyday since the early part of May.

What fun!


They do, however, make it easy largely in part of their app.  Yes it will crash here and there but overall it’s well done.

Part of the app’s ppeal is it’s reward program. Such a terrific way for fans to interact with their local ballclub.

I admit I am on their app several times a day but that is only because they give me reason to  be.  Constantly updated with news, events, promos, advertisements actually worth clicking on, and a seemingly countless number of ways to earn points in their “My Rewards” program.

I believe their rewards program is fantastic –  sans the few people who try and take advantage of it – and is such a great way to rack up points simply by paying attention.

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I earned about 600 or more points, called in 500 of then for a couple of foul balls. Then decided I want to accumulate about 1,000 points to interview not a player, but a Mascot out of uniform.  Their SVP of Marketing Dave Marek agreed and thinks it might be a fun idea.  Neat, right? It could make for a fun blog post. I am doing my research to make it worth my while AND the make it worth both the while and time of Sparkee and Slider.

I tell you that to tell you this… This past Wednesday while vacationing in Seabrook Island, SC (but keeping my Patriots close), they ran a randomly selected contest called “I Want It Wednesday.” Simply explained each week there is a giveaway which one can enter by using their reward points. Enter as often as you like, provided you have enough points to support it.

This past week it was something that totally caught my eye and interest.  An Official Atlantic League 20th Anniversary baseball autographed by all the Somerset Patriots … The First Half Champs!

Getting closer to my 1,000 point goal and a sit with Sparkee and Slider, I figured I have a bit of time to earn enough points for my interview … so I decided, what the heck, it’s 50 points.

So I entered the contest and gave up 50 points.

Then I did it again.  And again. Entered three times for 150 points.

Well, wouldn’t you know it. Sunday afternoon while driving through North Carolina I get an email telling me In had won the ball.


How about that?

Just the night before while at a Charleston Riverdogs game I caught a foul ball there.

I will pick up Wednesday when I hit TD Bank Ballpark for the All Star Game.

Seriously, you’d think I was 12 again I was so happy.

Talkin’ (re: Reading) Baseball

Ever since I heard of its release, I have wanted to read Molina: The Story of the Father Who Raised an Unlikely Baseball Dynasty.  In fact, there are tons of baseball books I want to read but I never make the time to do so.

The 2017 season will be different.

Since I was laid up for a week after knee surgery on May 23, I have torn through four books and am two-thirds of the way through a fifth.  I began with Molina, visited the animals at The Bronx Zoo, cringed at the Yips of a Phenom and rode the busses for a year with Baseball Gospels.  Currently I am avoiding bar fights with David Wells.

First I need to talk about Molina.

molinaTremendous.  Absolutely, positively tremendous.  A book where the heart of baseball, and how baseball was the heart of a lovely family, are beautifully intertwined.

Well written and difficult to put down, Molina’s book is a delightful, and at times emotional, story.  And although our pastime seemed like it was the center of it all, it wasn’t.  A love story, in fact, was.  It was one I felt I could relate to but on a significantly smaller scale.

Bengie, his Dad, his Mom, his brothers, his girls.  It’s a love story of a family in Puerto Rico.  It’s a love story on a workhorse of a baseball diamond, across the street from house he grew up in.  This is not a breakdown of game after game in his career.  In fact, one thing that impressed the heck out of me was the part about winning his first World Series.  Sure it was there, but it didn’t seem much more than a footnote.  Probably because as amazing an experience that was for him, his family was always #1 with him.  I loved that.  I loved that winning the WS was no more than three pages.  But dealing with significant lessons in life regarding his father?  So very many.  I will be forever happy Molina allowed us into his heart, the dugout and his life and equally as happy I finally took the time to read it.  I  hope every baseball fan I know, who appreciates the game and family, follows suit.

Lyle_editedI followed up with The Bronx Zoo and reminisced about my childhood Yankee teams that won the ’77 and ’78 World Series’.  So much fun.  I can see how this was a groundbreaking book in its time.  Plus, when you consider its author and Cy Young Award winner Sparky Lyle was a childhood favorite of mine and a bit of a local hero (Somerset Patriots), how could I not?

Next up, The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life by pitcher-turn-centerfielder Rick Ankeil.  I listened to this audiobook.  That may not have been the best approach but let me begin with the positives.  I was a fan of Ankeil when he came up and followed his first year closely (he was on my fantasy team).

ankeilWhen Game 1 of the playoffs against the Braves saw him throw five wild pitches in one inning, the baseball world witnessed something it does not normally see … especially from such a young kid with an expectedly amazing career on the mound.  The guy got the yips and in short, ended his pitching career.

But the reason I bought the book was not because of that day against the Braves.  It is because I have always been fascinated and in awe of Ankeil’s resilience to make it back to the Bigs.  It is an amazing story, one worth having a book written about it.  I am glad he is letting baseball fans like me know the depth of his difficulties with the yips, the monster, the thing and make it back to a successful baseball career.  But if I am being honest, the writing lacked some and although Rick has a cannon for an arm and a nice swing of the bat, that doesn’t translate to an enjoyable and/or engaging audio narration.  But damn, what a story.

haystackThen, I took a friend’s recommendation of Dirk Hayhurst’s books of life in the minors.  I picked up The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran and laughed from start to finish.  I tore through it.  It was, by far, the single funniest baseball book I have ever read.  Even funnier than Jay Johnstone’s Temporary Insanity … and that was damn funny!  Hayhurst has written three more books since then and I am sure I will read them too; I just have a few other books in front of it.

One of which is Perfect I’m Not: Boomer on Beer, Brawls, Backaches, and Baseball by David Wells.

WellsTwo thirds of the way through it and I will tell you this.  Imagine yourself in a bar, throwing back mugs of beer and shots and sitting at a table with Wells.  He tells you one baseball story after another not giving a damn who is listening.  That is this book.  It has its fair share of mundane descriptions of some games, et al.  That said, it is hard to read a baseball book without it (although Molina did an exceptional job of that).

Next on the nightstand after Boomer?

Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball by John Feinstein and The 33-Year-Old Rookie: How I Finally Made it to the Big Leagues After Eleven Years in the Minors by Chris Coste

I do love this game. Can ya tell?