BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Several dozen motivated ballplayers, no two wearing the same uniform but all with the same goal, showed up at TD Bank Ballpark Saturday with their gear for a late-season tryout.
All were looking for an invitation to join the roster of a visiting team that would play a series of weekend games against the Somerset Patriots through September.
Pat McVerry, president and general manager of the Atlantic League ball club, said the Patriots are trying to salvage the 2020 season after the Atlantic League told the Patriots and other teams in the league that they were all on their own after canceling the regular schedule because of complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Patriots have submitted a plan to state officials taking into account limited-size crowds, social distancing, and other protocols to protect players and fans, hoping it will be approved and allow them to take the field by mid-July, according to McVerry.
A look at the list of 39 players showed some with Division I, Division III and junior college experience and several who had played for teams in several independent leagues, as well as a few with seasons in the lower minor leagues. One pitcher played at the AAA level for the Pittsburgh Pirates; others pitched in the minors for the Texas Rangers and Washington Nationals. Two position players were on the rosters of minor league teams in the Arizona Diamondbacks and Nationals MLB organizations.
Those players with independent league experience played in the Frontier League, American Association, Can-Am League, Empire Pro Baseball League, Pecos League, Thoroughbred Baseball League and the Atlantic League.
They shagged fly balls in the outfield, fielded ground balls in the infield, and took their swings in the batting cage while pitchers toiled in the right-field bullpen; one oddity was a pitcher who threw a knuckle ball.
McVerry, along with Jon Hunton, pitching coach and director of player procurement and front office staff, moved around the field observing and jotting notes on their clipboards; McVerry said several of the players left good impressions.
The Patriots limited the tryouts to players who live in New Jersey or close by to minimize travel to and from the ballpark in the event they are signed.
The Patriots team will be filled with local players already signed for the 2020 season, including infielder and fan favorite Scott Kelly, who will be entering his seventh season with the Patriots after a college career at The College of New Jersey.
After several hours, the tryouts were over; players packed up their gear and headed out to the parking lot for the ride home without knowing whether they had done well enough to make the team.
They'll stick close to their phones waiting for a call in the next day or two.