BRIDGEWATER, NJ – One dozen local Somerset Patriots players and a few who'd like to join the team gathered at TD Bank Ballpark on a hot and humid Thursday for the first workout of 2020, an opportunity provided by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order on May 26th allowing professional sports franchises to resume practices,
“Right now it is all about doing it the right way and the safe way,” said longtime infielder Scott Kelly. “It’s about practicing good judgment, being conscious at all times, and abiding by the ‘new rules.’”
Gathering for any purpose has changed since the ballpark was last open in October after the conclusion of the 2019 Atlantic League season. Like everywhere else in early March, TD Bank Ballpark was shut down to the public, with only a few team front office members coming in as the majority of the staff worked remotely from home.
As restrictions have been lifted over the past few weeks, more and more activities and work resumed at the ballpark known for the crack of the bat and the roar of 6,000-plus fans.
The Somerset Patriots listened to the advice of health experts and the team’s health care provider, Robert Wood Johnson/Barnabas Health to follow correct protocols and provide a safe environment for the practice for players; also in attendance were front off staff and members of the media covering the event.
Once sports practices were approved by the state, the plan began to take shape to see how the staff and players could work on safely using the ballpark.
“We determined that we can probably pull together enough players locally to have a little practice and create a little normality for our community right now,” said Patrick McVerry, Somerset Patriots president/general manager..
Upon arrival, every player had their temperatures checked by the team’s certified athletic trainer Alexis Ayala of of RWJBarnabas Health. He also questioned each about any travel outside of the state, work experience over the past few weeks, and any other relevant contact they may have had that would impact their health and possible exposure to COVID-19.
Once cleared, players were able to take the field for one of very few, if not the only, baseball or professional sport practices occurring in the area.
“Sometimes as players we take playing baseball for granted, but times like these make you realize how beautiful baseball is,” said first-year pitcher Josh Almonte. “I feel like baseball, and sports in general, has a beautiful way of relieving you of stress and what’s going on in the world. Just being out here today is amazing.”
The new normal included: hand sanitizer at multiple locations, all staff and media wearing masks if within six feet of others, socially distanced interviews conducted as a group instead of one-on-one, high-traffic areas and equipment were wiped down upon use, limited touching of shared equipment without proper cleaning or sanitizing, and many other recommendations put into play.
The players participated in bullpen sessions and batting practice on the field.
The Somerset Patriots are awaiting information of when an Atlantic League season can safely return for the 2020 season. The Somerset Patriots remain optimistic that baseball will return to TD Bank Ballpark this year.
“Absolutely we expect fans to be here this summer. We are very hopeful because we can operate at a reduced capacity, while making sure we honor the social distancing guidelines. We can definitely make that happen,” McVerry said.
However, being able to see baseball activity on the field brought some hope of America’s favorite pastime returning in the near future.
“The key word here is hope. And that is what we are trying to instill. The hope that we can actually come and play for the fans and be a positive distraction,” Kelly added.