Lyle and Somerset in a familiar place

On a cool September afternoon, a few hours before Somerset’s home meeting with Lancaster last week, Sparky Lyle indulges in his regular routine.

He throws the first round of batting practice to his Patriot hitters. He then convenes briefly with Brett Jodie, Somerset’s pitching coach and director of player procurement. Then he settles into a spot in the dugout, sparking up a Winston and relaxing.

This has been Lyle’s life for the last 10 years. He has been Somerset’s iconic manager since the Patriots’ inaugural season and he’s done an incredible job. Many around the Atlantic League say the reason for the Patriots annual success rests with Lyle — his honest, to-the-point approach creates one of the best indy-league environments around.

So it’s no surprise that the former Cy Young award winner will lead his Patriots into York for the start of another playoff series Tuesday night. After all, this is a yearly occurrence for Lyle and the Patriots. The former New York Yankee also joined me last week for a brief Q&A.

Is it difficult winning the first half, then trying to turn on a switch to gear up for the playoffs?

Well, I’ve done it both ways. I’m not going to say it was challenging, but we got in a situation where we weren’t hitting. We were giving up a lot of runs in games that we were ahead. There would be five losses in a row, six in a row, then we’d win one and then lose two or three again. It wasn’t a concern in the beginning, but it certainly became a concern three weeks ago. That’s when we started making moves and getting some new guys in here.

How important is it to gain some momentum going into the playoffs?

I think everybody needs momentum going into the playoffs. If it was a best-of-five, I wouldn’t have much concern, but in a best-of-three, anybody can win it. You throw three pitchers out there that have three quality starts, you have a chance of walking away with a spot in the championship game. That’s the only thing that concerns me right now. Who’s going to have the best pitcher out there in Game 1? They’re both going to be pretty equal. But who’s going to pitch the best game?

You’ve made some roster moves late in the season. What’s been the biggest issue for you?

Aaron Fultz was probably the biggest hole for us. He was definitely going to be the Game 1 starter and he ended up going to Taiwan. That was a big disappointment for us after he said he wasn’t going to go. That really sticks in my craw because I think this league has to do something to prevent that from happening. Really, it’s not only us, but it happens to every team in this league. It’s a damn shame, now that we’re playing a 140-game schedule, that you get this close and then Taiwan comes in and takes people. I would like to see the league do something to try to curtail that. Ban them for the league for two years maybe. If this guy (Fultz) wants to play again next year, he’ll be playing for somebody else. I would not — even though he’s a quality pitcher — bring him back.

People refer to Somerset as the gold standard of the Atlantic League. Do you agree with that?

I don’t know if we are, but we try to be. We do everything above board, there’s no hot dogs going on here or any of that kind of junk. We play hard baseball and we play all out. We run around the bases and we don’t stand around and watch the shit. I didn’t play that way and I don’t want these guys playing that way.

What are your thoughts on York and how have they improved in the second half?

Well, they’ve changed a lot. We haven’t seen them for awhile. We know that they’re an excellent ballclub. They have their pitching, a good lineup for our pitchers to face and there’s no let-ups in their lineup. It’s going to come down to who plays the best ball. Like I said, in a best-out-of-three, anything can happen. They’re going to be very tough for us. I know that and we all know that. We have to be on the top of our game.

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