BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Determined to overcome the obstacles that grew from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Somerset Patriots on Tuesday announced plans for a late-season weekend series of baseball at TD Bank Ballpark that will feature the Patriots playing against the Bridgewater Blasters, with both teams' rosters filled with athletes who live in New Jersey.
Somerset Professional Baseball Series games will be played Fridays and Saturdays, beginning at 7:05 p.m. Crowds will be limited to 500 people. First game is scheduled for Friday, July 17th, with tickets on sale Thursday, July 9th. The final game will be played Aug. 22nd.
Safety will be of paramount importance, with all fans required to wear masks and observe social distancing in the ballpark, which has a seating capacity of 6,100.
Patriots' owners Steve Kalafer and sons Josh and Jonathan on Tuesday emphasized their steadfast commitment to provide baseball for local fans, albeit on a limited basis; but, it's still baseball, perhaps the only professional baseball initiative with a commitment to play and a schedule, according to Somerset Patriots Chairman Emeritus Steve Kalafer.
He said the late season series right now may be the only baseball east of the Mississippi River ready to take the field.
“The most important aspect of our program is the safety, security, and the welfare of not only our fans, but the community, our players, and our staff,” Steve Kalafer said. “This is a plan that has been vetted by health care professionals, meets the CDC guidelines, and New Jersey’s executive orders. We are going to have baseball for our community.”
The short season will come at a cost.
"We're not doing this for the money," Steve Kalafer said. "We lose money on every pitch that is thrown," he added, but said he's looking forward to the "crack of the bat" and the "sizzle of hot dogs."
The Patriots were to have played a 140-game schedule in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball this year, as they have done for over 20 years, but the league canceled the 2020 season in March and encouraged teams to go it alone and attract fans to their respective ballparks with other forms of entertainment, including fireworks displays and drive-in movies.
During a regular season, the Patriots' attendance averages over 350,000.
The Patriots wanted to play baseball, and crafted a plan to do just that, fulfilling the team's stated purpose of providing affordable, family-oriented baseball in a safe environment and in accordance with state and national COVID-19 directives.
“We have been committed since our season was postponed back in March to bring baseball back to Central New Jersey,” said Somerset Patriots President/General Manager Patrick McVerry. “We have worked hard to do that the best and safest way possible to give our community something to cheer for once again. We are excited to do our part to put smiles back on people’s faces.”
The Patriots have hosted a fireworks display and are showing drive-in movies, but for the Kalafers, and the Patriots front office staff, it has always been about baseball.
“This is the culmination of a tremendous amount of planning, hard work, diligence, and an endless number of Zoom conferences ” said Jonathan Kalafer. “But we have resolve to fulfill our mission, which is to play baseball and provide America’s pastime for families in this community.”
Patriots manager Brett Jodie will travel from his home in South Carolina to manage the Patriots. The Blasters will be managed by Jon Hunton, former Patriots relief pitcher who now serves as the team's pitching coach and director of Player Procurement. Rosters for each team will be limited to 18 players, according to McVerry, including six pitchers, nine position players, two catchers and a bench player.
The rosters will be announced later this week, according to McVerry, who also said the Patriots have yet to determine whether the teams will play seven- or nine-inning games. There will be two umpires at each game, one behind home plate and one on the field.
By design, the Patriots recruited and signed New Jersey athletes to help control travel and limit the risk of individuals coming from other parts of the country, according to McVerry.
The Blasters name has a long history with the Patriots, according to Steve Kalafer.
When plans were first formulated for bringing professional baseball to Somerset County in the late 1990s, there were to have been two teams, the Patriots and the Blasters, but the need for a second team never materialized. Steve Kalafer credits former Yankee's broadcaster Mel Allen for inspiring the name, which is based on Allen's "Ballantine Blast" call behind the microphone for each time a Yankee hit a home run. Ballantine Beer was a major sponsor of the Yankees during Allen's career..
Allen broadcast Yankees games on radio and television between 1939 and 1964.
Steve Kalafer's long association and friendships with the Yankees are also reflected in the branding of the championship series.
Longtime friend Joe Torre, former Major League ballplayer and New York Yankees manager will help kick off the Joe Torre /Somerset Patriots Professional Baseball series and present the championship trophy to the winning team. Longtime Patriots manager and former Yankees' relief pitcher and winner of the Cy Young Award Sparky Lyle will present the Sparky Lyle Pitching Award at the conclusion of the short season, and former New York Yankees' World Series champion second baseman Willie Randolph, who also managed the New York Mets, will present the Willie Randolph Most Valuable Player Award.
Although the players will not wear masks, they will be subjected to the same safety protocols as all those who enter the ballpark. Individuals' temperatures will be taken, they will be required to wear masks and practice social distancing, with the Patriots configuring seating to ensure adequate distance between fans.
Concession stands will be open with a limited menu of food and beverage, with health and safety protocols in place, according to McVerry.
“So much has been done by everybody at every level, and we are so excited to be doing what we are doing,” added Somerset Patriots Co-Chairman Josh Kalafer. “It will continue that good work in a safe and sustainable way and it will ensure that we can get back to doing the things that we love to do, that we need to do, without taking any steps backwards.”
Tickets for the games are $10 and general admission only. The tickets will go on sale Thursday, July 9th at 10 a.m. online. The Patriots will only sell the number of tickets approved for outdoor gatherings by state and local government and health officials. That number is currently around 450 people with potential of increases over the next several weeks. Season ticket holders will be contacted directly via email by the Patriots ticket office regarding options on how they can attend games this summer.
For more information visit www.somersetpatriots.com,