The Somerset Patriots & TD Bank Park
On Friday, with press credentials at my hip, I attended "Star Wars" night with the Somerset Patriots against the Portland Sea Dogs.
(Cover Photo: Courtesy of MLB.com)
A preview of the materials (press pass, scorecard, rosters) provided by the Somerset Patriots
(Photo: Ethan Semendinger)
The History of the Somerset Patriots:
Pre-New York Yankees Affiliation:
With a team history beginning In 1998, the Somerset Patriots were one of the 6 foundational members teams starting the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), an independent level of professional baseball, with whom they were affiliated with through the end of the 2020 season. During their 22-year tenure in the ALPB (not counting the 2020 10-game "season"), they were a very successful franchise in terms of record (1429-1189, 0.546 WP%) while taking home 13 division titles and league-high 6 league titles. They were also a very successful franchise in terms of staying power.
Though they spent the 1998 season as a road team without a ballpark- as they were waiting for TD Bank Park to finish construction- as soon as they had their inagural home season in 1999, the Patriots had one of the highest rates of attendence in the league. They were also the longest lasting foundational teams in the league after the Bridgeport BlueFish ceased opperations after the 2017 season. (Though the Patriots were a foundational team, their record for most years in the ALPB at 23 years is going to be beaten by the Long Island Ducks, who have been in since 2020 and are expected to stay through the 2026 season.)
It's also extremely important to note that the Somerset Patriots had a tie to the New York Yankees immediately in their history. The first ever employee of the team was then-manager Sparky Lyle, who served in the role from 1998 until the end of the 2012 season. Since then, Sparky Lyle has taken a role as the "manager emeritus", which he is still doing today.
Post-New York Yankees Affiliation:
The New York Yankees announced on November 7th, 2020 that they had decided to end an 18-year affiliation with the Trenton Thunder and instead align themselves with the Somerset Patriots to host their Double-A ball club, citing, "...this decision was made strictly on the basis of what we believe to be the best facility to develop our young players". This announcement was then met with a press release by the Trenton Thunder ownership stating that the Yankees had assured them over 16 months that they would continue their affiliation and the offer was pulled at the "11th hour", but we're not going to discuss those politics here. Long story short, the Yankees switched Double-A affiliations to the Somerset Patriots as the Trenton Thunder would become an inaugural team in the MLB Draft League.
Since then, the Somerset Patriots have continued to be a very successful franchise. In their first season as a Double-A affiliate, they won the Northeast division while going 72-47, though due to how playoff seeding works they were 3rd overall in the league and didn't get one of the two playoff spots. For this season- as of September 16th, 2022- they have an overall record of 82-52 which includes a first-half division "win", and they have also clinched a spot in the playoffs.
A pre-game view from the press box at TD Bank Park
(Photo: Ethan Semendinger)
TD Bank Park:
Stadium Overview & Details:
Located officially at 860 East Main Street in Bridgewater, NJ (or 1 Patriots Park, Bridgewater Township according to Google Maps), TD Bank Park is located right off of Interstate 287 and the Bridgewater stop on the Raritan Valley Line (Orange) via NJ Transit. Right across the street sits the Bridgewater Promenade shopping center, which includes stores like Home Depot, Target, Trader Joes, Costco, Marshalls, and more. It sits about 50 miles/an hour and a half commute from Yankee Stadium and about 75 miles/an hour and a half commute from Citizens Bank Park (home of the Philadelphia Phillies).
With a groundbreaking on April 28th, 1998 (the honorary groundbreaking was on April 29th) and an Opening Day occurring on June 7th, 1999, TD Bank Park took just over a year and two months to get ready for baseball operations. In total, the stadium cost $18 Million to build in 1999 (which is equivalent to $32 Million in 2022), was designed by SSP Architectural Group and Clarke Caton, & Hintz, and was built by Epic Construction. The stadium itself is owned by Somerset County and the Improvement Authority.
An open-air stadium with a grass field, the outfield dimensions are 317 feet to left, 402 feet to straight-away center, and 315 feet to right field. Internal capacity of the stadium is listed with 6,100 fixed seats and total capacity up to 8,580. Over their history, game averages have come out to 5,200 fans and 360,000 over a full season.
Outside of being the home for the Somerset Patriots, TD Bank Park has also been the home of many other sporting teams including the New Jersey Pride (a former professional lacrosse team in the MLL) from 2002-2003, the New Jersey Fire (a former professional cricket team) in 2004, and Sky Blue FC (now known as NJ/NY Gotham FC, a women's professional soccer team in the WPS) in 2009. Additionally, the Big East Conference baseball tournament was held at TD Bank Park from 2000-2005, as well as the 2000, 2008, and 2017 Atlantic League All-Star Games. Outside of sport, the ballpark has also hosted the Big Apple Circus, musicians Tony Bennett and Willie Nelson (among others), and has housed other various events during it's 23 years. (You can also rent the stadium for many different events- information here- including corporate meetings, dance nights, and even softball games!)
A collection of the various signs & boards displayed around TD Bank Park
(Photos: Ethan Semendinger)
Say what you want about people from New Jersey, but as a lifelong New Jerseyan, I think we're the best. The people who go to Somerset Patriots games are dedicated to the team, especially now that they've moved up to being a part of such a historic franchise. Fans are familiar with their players names- even as they move up and down- and tend to know their stuff about their team and the greater Yankees franchise. New Jersey does host a private little wonder when it comes to going to a game at TD Bank Park.
During the game, I spent a few innings sitting between a few different locations, including the press box, behind the third base dugout, near first base dugout, as well as taking some time to watch the game while generally walking around. For tickets that range from $14 (for general admission/in the 200's if available) to just $17.50 (in the 100s), this is a price that is hard to beat. Even if going to the game becomes a last-minute idea, it was easy to buy tickets online before the game and many people were buying tickets at the door as I walked in.
No matter where you sit, you'll always have a great view of the game, which is helped by the vast majority of the seats being situated on the field level between the 100 and 200 level sections, which are separated from each other by a moderate walking area. If sitting in designated seating isn't your thing, there is some grass seating out near right field right behind the home bullpen. There are also group suites that can be rented out for $775-$975 (which each include 30 tickets), as well as a party deck, that sit atop the main concourse. And, the great thing about the suites is that they don't come with the same pomp and circumstance as other "restricted areas" in ballparks as they're tucked away, carefully enveloped by the design of the park, and not in-your-face as a casual fan watching the game.
It's also impossible to forget or miss the influence that Sparky Lyle has had on this team. He's a true legend around the ballpark and even after serving as the manager (and now manager emeritus) since 1998, he's still available and seen at every ballgame. Before the game, Sparky Lyle was on the field for the pregame activities which included the national anthem (sung by a local middle school choir), a series of 9 first-pitches (which included 3 birthdays, 3 corporate guests, 2 little kids, and 1 special guest), and the introduction of the animal/costumed mascots.
Speaking of, the Somerset Patriots have two mascots. The first has been with the team since their beginning, named Sparkee (for obvious reasons), he is a dog that wears the Somerset home uniform and dons a handlebar mustache. The second was introduced in 2007, named Slider, he is a cat (or bear, depending on which staff member you ask) that wears the Somerset alternate navy-blue uniform.
Jasson Dominguez at bat in the 8th inning before hitting a triple
(Photo: Ethan Semendinger)
It can be hard for a New York sports fan to get used to chanting and rooting for the Patriots (of all teams), but in going to a game you quickly forget about stuff other than good ol' fashioned baseball. There is a special charm and intimacy about going to any minor league baseball game, and Somerset is top of the list for venues, even when crowded by many other attractions in the nearby major hubs of New York and Philadelphia. Sometimes it is nice to enjoy yourself at a place without 50,000 screaming fans. (No offense to Yankee Stadium.)
I'd highly recommend making this a destination on your list if you've never been before. And, a place to keep visiting even if you have been.
Luckily, there are games still left on the schedule. The Somerset Patriots have two more games this weekend with a game tonight (9/17) at 6:35 PM (with fireworks after the game) and a matinee tomorrow (9/18) at 1:05 PM. I'd highly recommend getting their super early for the gates to open for the Sunday afternoon game as the first 1,000 fans will be receiving a randomly autographed baseball. (Each player and coach for the Patriots was given 24 balls to sign.) Maybe you could pull a Jasson Dominguez, Austin Wells, or Trey Sweeney!
And, if this weekend is already booked up, the Patriots will have at least 2 more games this season in the Eastern League playoffs on Thursday (9/22) at 6:35 PM and Friday (9/23) at a time TBD. (And if they win, potentially games on Tuesday (9/27) and Wednesday (9/28) for the Eastern League Championship Series.)
Check in each day next week at 4:00 PM (between Monday and Thursday) for a short series of articles also about my time in Somerset, where I will be discussing Jasson Dominguez/The Outfield, Trey Sweeney/The Infield, Austin Wells/Catching, Clayton Beeter/The Pitching as well as some fun stories (and breaking news) from the press box.
A Final Note: Thank you to Mr. Marc Russinoff and the Somerset Patriots staff for hosting a great experience