BRIDGEWATER, NJ - It was a tough year off the field for the Somerset Patriots in 2016, a civic-minded organization that takes pride in its strong ties to the community and its close-knit circle of friends and supporters, many of whom attended the team’s annual “Meet the Patriots” luncheon at Maggiano’s on Wednesday.
Two members of that extended family died last year - Raymond Bateman, a senior statesman who dedicated his life to public service in New Jersey and who played a key role in helping to bring minor league baseball to Somerset County - and Raymond W. Brown, the team’s first batboy.
Team owner Steve Kalafer referred to them as the Patriots’ “two Rays” while speaking to the crowd of 230 invited guests.
Poised to begin their 20th year competing in the Atlantic League, the Patriots will honor the legacies of Bateman and Brown during pre-game ceremonies on opening day, Friday, April 21 at TD Bank Ballpark.
The team will dedicate their 2017 season to both men. Players will wear a commemorative patch on their uniform sleeves in memory of the two Rays.
“If you take a look at baseball patches on the sleeves of Major League teams, beginning in the early 1900s, you’ll see that they were never gratuitous, but rather symbols of something that is important, where a team says “we want our players to understand the heritage and traditions of our team,” Kalafer said.
Bateman and Brown will always be a part of the team’s heritage and tradition, according to Kalafer.
“Steve is a very caring person, he believes in the extended family, he cares about the people around this team like the Batemans and the Browns,” said Patrick McVerry, team president.
“The Patriots have never had a patch on their uniforms, other than the Atlantic League patch,” he added. “This does carry a lot of significance; we’re honoring two great Rays who meant a lot to the organization and the Kalafers.”
Though the initials of their first and last names are identical, the two Rays impacted the Patriots in their own way. Bateman, who ran an unsuccessful campaign as the the GOP candidate for New Jersey governor in 1977 was an influential and highly-respected political icon who worked behind the scenes; Brown was out on the baseball diamond, a high school kid living the dream of so many his age - shagging foul balls, picking up bats, keeping the umpires supplied with game balls and cups of water and, the other thankless chores that are left to the batboy to handle.
But he was also able to hang out in the dugout and work in the shadow of the legendary Sparky Lyle, the former Yankees’ pitcher, World Series hero and Cy Young Award winner who managed the Patriots for 15 years.
“Hanging out with Sparky? No kid would turn that down,” said his father, Raymond A. Brown, superintendent of the Somerset County Park Commission. “We still share those stories with Sparky, it never gets old,” Brown said.
His son graduated Bridgewater High School in 2002 and graduated college in Florida in 2008, choosing to live in Florida where he carved out a career as an artist and self-taught musician. He was painting a mural on a 40-story building in Miami last October when the scaffolding collapsed.
“This has been a rough six months for our family,” Brown said. “Dealing with something like that is something you never want to think about. It’s been a struggle.
“When Steven came to us and said he wanted to do something to recognize Raymond, and the fact that the Bateman family who has been close to us since were kids and both Rays have the initials RB and both passed away within the last year, there was something about it that just felt right,” Brown added.
“We are so grateful,” he continued. “It helps, believe me, it helps. He spent a lot of his early life as a Patriot, Sparky took him under his wing, it was a great experience for him and we look back at that as a special time; to fold that into some form of closure - we’ll never be able to thank the Patriots and the Kalafer family enough.”
Raymond W. Brown was 32 when he died on Oct. 24, 2016.
“Even though he was taken from us way too soon, Raymond lived life to the fullest. He had a great impact on all those around him here and in the Miami art and music communities that he was so passionate about. We extend our deepest sympathies to Ray and Roseann and promise to always honor and keep Raymond in our hearts," Kalafer said.
Born in Somerville in 1927, Bateman died at the age of 88 June 25, 2016, surrounded by his family, including son Christopher “Kip” Bateman, who followed in his father’s footsteps and has served as a state legislator in Trenton for over 30 years.
"It's an honor that Steve and the Patriots have dedicated this season to Ray Brown and and Ray Bateman," said the state senator. "Somerset County and New Jersey were so important to dad," he added. "He loved baseball and was the one who thought Somerset County should have a team and approached Steve.
"I know he'd be smiling and happy about this." Bateman said. "We miss him dearly but are comforted knowing his legacy lives on and this is a way to recognize what he's done for Somerset County."
In 1958, the elder Bateman was elected to the New Jersey General Assembly, representing the 16th District. He became Majority Leader in 1965. In 1967, he was elected to the New Jersey State Senate and became the Senate President in 1969. He was also the Acting Governor for a period during that time.
In 1978, he was appointed to the Somerset County College (now Raritan Valley Community College) Board of Trustees as vice chairman; soon after he became chairman, serving for 26 years until 2005, when he became a Trustee. In 2014, in honor of his contributions, RVCC dedicated the Ray Bateman Student Center for Student Life and Leadership.
In 1994, he was appointed chairman to the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority by Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. He was also a visiting professor at Rutgers University, Government and Business Course, from 1979 through 2000.
“Our friendship began over 30 years ago and my memories of his leadership and kindness will continue for the rest of my days. From the first day Ray asked if I would like to bring professional baseball to Somerset County, to now 20 seasons later, his influence and efforts to help bring the Somerset Patriots to our county have always been appreciated,” Kalafer said
The Patriots will play the Lancaster Barnstormers on Opening Night; game time is 7:05 p.m. Gates open at 6 p.m. There will be a fireworks display following the game. Call (908) 252-0700 for additional information or visit the website at www.somersetpatriots.com.