FRANKLIN, NJ - Evidently, the Somerset Patriots' ownership and front office staff have not heard of the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Far from broke, the Patriots have enjoyed nothing but success on the bottom line and on the field since the inaugural season of the Atlantic League in 1999.
But, there's always room for improvement, according to Steve Kalafer, the founder, owner and chairman emeritus of the team.
Players have barely had the time to clean out their lockers in the clubhouse at the end of the season before Patrick McVerry, team president, and his executive team begin to closely examine at all facets of the operation, from the team store and concession stands to community outreach and on-field promotions, looking for ways to improve the fan experience and to enhance opportunities for their marketing partners.
On Thursday, Kalafer, joined by his sons Jonathan and Josh, co-chairmen of the team, Major League Baseball Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre, McVerry, Manager Emeritus Sparky Lyle, other team officials, long-time fans, marketing partners, elected officials and friends of the extended Patriots/Kalafer family attended a presentation at The Palace on Davidson Avenue for a look back at the Patriots' contributions to the community, and to look ahead to the next 20 years.
Kalafer stuck to some familiar themes in his remarks, most notably that the Patriots have paid all operating costs at TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater since their inception without spending one dime of Somerset County taxpayers' money.
He also promised that the Patriots would continue their unwavering focus on "affordable, family fun."
Included in the presentation were conceptual renderings of some of the physical improvements under consideration for TD Bank Ballpark, home of the Patriots, including a ferris wheel near the front entrance of the stadium that faces out on East Main Street, as well as redesigned concession and dining areas.
Torre, a close friend of Kalafer who managed the New York Yankees for 12 seasons, winning several World Series, compared the Patriots' demand for excellence with the players in his clubhouse.
"You have to improve to stay on top," Torre said. "This was a special group of players. They wanted more, wanted to do it better."
The Somerset Patriots are a baseball team that means business. The Atlantic League franchise, which draws close to 400,000 fans each year to TD Bank Ballpark, is an economic powerhouse, according to Somerset County Freeholder Director Brian Levine and Somerset County Business Partnership president and CEO Mike Kerwin.
Kerwin characterized the Patriots as Somerset County's "number one amenity," saying the SCBP touts the entertainment value of the team and the family atmosphere at TD Bank Ballpark when courting potential businesses to locate in Somerset County.
Levine, a Certified Public Accountant, credited the team with creating hundreds of full- and part-time seasonal jobs which puts money in the pockets of those who work there, as well as ancillary employment of food and concession suppliers, contractors, advertising and marketing professionals and others who spend money in the stores across the street from the ballpark and elsewhere.
Torre and Rick White, president of the Atlantic League, discussed the formalized working relationship between MLB and the Atlantic League which began last season, and which will continue for at least the next two years.
MLB is "field testing" some basic changes to the game during Atlantic League games - a high-tech umpire-assisted "balls and strikes" system, larger bases, shorter times between pitches to accelerate the game, automatic walks, "stealing" first base and other game changers that may become routine at the MLB-level. The primary test location is TD Bank Ballpark, according to White.
Kalafer was effusive in his praise of those who were the first to come to bat for the Patriots – former county administrator Dick Williams, his successor, Mike Amorosa and Ray Brown, retired director of the Somerset County Parks Commission.