Sports / Places To Visit
Great Baseball at a Great Price
By Melissa Minners
In this day and age, when money is tight thanks to the ever-rising price of gas, a New York fan is hard pressed to find money to cover the rising cost of a ticket to see their favorite baseball team play at the local stadium. What’s a baseball fan to do? Well, when it comes to watching the New York Mets play, I am forced to watch them on television if I want to save enough money to buy gas to get to work every day. But if I want to enjoy the baseball experience at an actual baseball park, there is one place I can go that won’t break the proverbial bank. I can head over to TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater, New Jersey and watch the minor league Somerset Patriots play ball.
The Somerset Patriots are part of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball Clubs, Inc. whose mission it is to “bring a high level of professional baseball and affordable family entertainment to selected communities not presently being served by Major League or Minor League teams.” The League is comprised of eight teams: Bridgeport Bluefish, Camden Riversharks, Lancaster Barnstormers, Long Island Ducks, Newark Bears, Somerset Patriots, Southern Maryland Blue Crabs and York Revolution. The teams feature former baseball greats as managers like Buddy Harrelson (New York Mets), Tommy Herr (St. Louis Cardinals) and Rick Wise (Philadelphia Phillies). Former New York Yankees pitcher Sparky Lyle manages the Somerset Patriots.
Just to give you an idea of what kind of experience you will get when you visit one of the parks in the Atlantic League, let me tell you about the game I went to on Sunday, May 17, 2008. It was my not my first experience in watching minor league play, but it was my first time watching this particular league in action and what an experience it was!
We had Premium Field Box seats which cost us a whopping $12.00 a seat. Try getting premium seating for a Mets or Yankees game in New York at that price – it’s just not going to happen. The tickets were for a 7PM game, but we decided to get to the stadium early so we could look around and get food, souvenirs, etc. When we got to the stadium, we discovered that a sign was posted stating that the game started at 5PM. It was now 5:30PM and our tickets were for a 7PM game! We rushed to the box office, thinking we just got screwed, and were happily informed that last night’s game had been rained out and the Patriots were now playing a double header against the Newark Bears. Our tickets would now be good for both games! How cool!
As we walked in, we were handed free shirts. Apparently this year’s All-Star Game was to be held at TD Bank Ballpark and these shirts were being given away to commemorate that event. With free shirts in hand and a smile on our faces now that we were going to be watching two games instead of one for our money, we headed over to the concession and souvenir stands, collecting magnets, team schedules and more along the way. We were hailed over to a table and asked to sign up for a chance to win a free New York Yankees prize. The prizes available included signed baseballs, tickets to games and more. My friend figured, what the hell, and signed up.
We picked up some hot dogs, pretzels and drinks, found our seats and prepared to enjoy the game. I was amazed at how close we were to the field. I could take a few steps and reach out and shake the hands of people in the dugout – that’s how close we were! Looking around, I could see that there wasn’t really a bad seat in the house! Anywhere you sat provided a clear view of the events on the field. There was no way you could miss any of the action from any seat in the house. A huge video screen provided you with batter information and more. Just as in Major League baseball games, music and other techniques were used to pump up the crowd and get everyone into the game. Each batter came to bat to their favorite song and the fans were encouraged to make plenty of noise.
Once, when I was at Shea Stadium with my uncle and cousin, I almost had an opportunity to catch a fly ball that had reached the stands. I say almost because my hands were laden with stuff I had just purchased at the concession stands and, had I reached for this ball, not only would I have dropped all of my expensive goods, but I probably would have had a broken finger or two for my troubles judging from the way that ball hit the metal pole near my leg. That was the only opportunity I ever had to catch a ball hit into the stands. Well, if you come to TD Bank Ballpark, you had better bring a baseball mitt because the opportunity to catch a ball hit into the stands comes quite often. The seating is arranged as such that you had better pay attention to what’s going on out in the field if you don’t want to get knocked for a loop when one of those powerfully hit foul balls comes your way! If you don’t have the opportunity to catch one of those foul balls, there are plenty of opportunities to receive a ball. The ball boys, fielders and mascots are more than happy to toss balls that are no longer in play into the stands. Seeing the excitement on each kid’s face every time a ball headed into the stands was priceless…and yes, I include myself among those kids! One of these days, I WILL catch a ball hit into the stands!
In between innings, there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had. Signing up at customer service gives you an opportunity to play several games for cool prizes. These games are played right out in the baseball field, so if you are a shy one, just remember that all eyes will be on you if you sign up. Games include musical chairs, races against other fans and races against the mascots, Sparkee and Slider. My favorite mascot was Sparkee whose facial fur is arranged to resemble the sweeping moustache of Manager Sparky Lyle. Sparkee’s a spirited mascot whose goal is to get everyone into the game. He plays practical jokes on fans and players alike, and jumps into the stands, hugging spectators and generating fun.
The first game of our double header began with the Patriots in the lead thanks to a huge homerun. However, the eventually lost horribly to the Bears. Game two began with incredible fanfare with various celebrations honoring Little League teams and other individuals. The first pitch wasn’t thrown by just one person – several adults and children got to throw out the first pitch. I have to say that the kids had the better throws. Then, the game was on. Cracker Jacks and ice cream in a helmet were the snacks of choice this time around. The pitcher for the Patriots held a no hitter through half the game and things were getting rather exciting. I was having so much fun, that when the rain started coming down, I refused to move from my seat. I had never sat through the rain to watch a baseball game. This was one cool experience. Eventually, the rain stopped and unfortunately, the Patriots lost the second game as well, but I was still enjoying myself.
We discovered that last night’s game was supposed to have a fireworks show afterward. Since that game was rained out, the fireworks show began immediately after the second half of the double header. So let’s recap. For $12.50 each, we got a double header, free shirts, plenty of entertainment and, for a few bucks more, rather tasty food. Oh, and that New York Yankee raffle – my friend is now the proud owner of a signed Don Baylor baseball! Can anyone deny that we got terrific value for our buck? So, if you would like to see some well-played baseball and have an incredibly fun baseball experience without paying an arm and a leg for good seats, head on over to TD Bank Ballpark and check out the Somerset Patriots. Not close enough to Bridgewater? Well, head over to the Atlantic League website and find a team whose park you are close to and check out a game or two. This is a terrific baseball experience that every baseball fan can enjoy!