The Gold Standard

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — In this suburb that spans a little more than 30 miles, the journey to minor league baseball is an altogether different experience.

There are no classic railroad tracks criss-crossing the road or signs of a downtown revitalization project. No upscale lofts in the midst of construction. No worries about finding a parking spot in the bustling center of a city.

Commerce Bank Ballpark sits in southeast Bridgewater in the shadow of a full forrest. There is a shopping complex across the street. And the $18-million stadium, located within the Bridgewater Promenade, is worlds apart from what baseball fans in Lancaster and York have grown to love.

But in this case, being different is hardly a negative. This ballpark, which will host Wednesday’s Game 2 of the Freedom Division Series featuring the York Revolution, is the home to one of the most successful independent baseball franchises in the country — the Somerset Patriots. And since the team’s inception in 1999, the Patriots have become a pillar of success in the Atlantic League.

In a sense, they are the Atlantic League’s gold standard — the franchise that everyone else aspires to emulate on and off the baseball diamond.

“Putting a ballpark in our area made perfect sense,” Somerset general manager Patrick McVerry (pictured) said earlier this year. “It’s accessible off major highways. It’s surrounded by counties that have grown over the last 10 or 15 years. We’re in an affluent area. That’s where it all starts.”

Somerset averaged 5,433 fans in 64 home dates this season (rain forced several doubleheaders, cutting into the scheduled 70 home dates). That average ranked second in the Atlantic League behind Long Island (6,040) while York ranked fourth (4,352).

The Patriots also hosted the league’s All-Star Game in July, bringing in business tycoon Donald Trump for a special appearance, among other celebrities. Somerset ushered an Atlantic League All-Star Game-record 8,290 through the doors of Commerce Bank Ballpark that night.

And none of this is surprising to those who have worked for the Patriots — many of which are now Revolution employees. Revolution general manager Matt O’Brien worked for Somerset during the Patriots’ inaugural season. Corporate sales manager John Gibson was with the Patriots for three years before coming to York.

And even Adam Gladstone, the Revolution’s director of baseball operations, procured talent for Somerset from 2003 to 2005, winning two league championships in the process.

“I have learned a lot about doing this job from working with (Somerset manager) Sparky (Lyle) and the way ownership on down expects things,” Gladstone said of the Patriots. “I was exposed to that and I learned from that and it’s a successful formula.”

The success of the Patriots is also encouraging considering their proximity to a major sports market. New York City is only about 45 miles away and other Atlantic League franchises that sit on the brink of major markets — Camden and Newark, for example — have struggled to maintain success, albeit for a variety of reasons.

McVerry said the major investment involved with attending a New York Yankees or Mets game is one reason why Bridgewater residents opt for Commerce Bank Ballpark’s reasonable rates. But in many cases, money is not a pressing issue for people in an area where the median income for a man is hovering near $70,000 and 38 percent of married couples with children made more than $125,000, according to the 2000 census.

The Patriots also draw fans thanks to their incredible attention to detail. Last week, four hours before a game with the Lancaster Barnstormers, several teenage employees marched around the stadium with cleaning solution and cloths in hand.

They were hard at work three hours before the ballpark’s gates would even open, shining Somerset’s seats, railings and counters — along with the Patriots’ pristine image.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but I now know what (Patrick) McVerry has done there and it probably is the standard for the league as far as consistency,” said O’Brien, who was the Patriots’ assistant general manager in his one season in Bridgewater. “Nothing against Long Island or Lancaster, but Somerset has had to do it longer. They’ve continued to do it and that’s something to be proud of because the market is so different.”

*Photos courtesy of the Somerset Patriots.

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5 Responses

  1. I just want to say that no matter what happens tonight these players have a lot to be proud of. They’ve never given up and fought so hard to get where they are right now.
    Good luck tonight guys! I can’t wait to see y’all Sunday in the Championship game. :)

  2. I could not be more proud of a group of guys who have stuck it out and fought for where they’re at now. This has been a great season and here’s to it lasting just a little bit longer :-) My thoughts are with the guys as they play these games against Somerset!! See all you other fans next year!

  3. Most of these guys played there hearts out this second half. Baseball in York sure has proven to be something good for the city. Charlie should be proud of what he stood up for.

    On a side note, I thought more Rev fans would have shown up today to wish the team well. I am dissapointed that the majority of the players didn’t say anything to the fans before boarding the bus.

  4. Yeah I thought more fans would show up but it was only listed on the website and I’m sure a lot of people had to work. I was only able to go because I work 2nd shift.

    I really wanted to have a chance to say goodbye to some of the guys that I’ve come to know over this year. I just felt a little uncomfortable about walking up to them though so I only talked to the ones that came over to me. So they’ll just have to win against Somerset so we can say our goodbyes next week.

  5. I would have loved to be there to wish the guys good luck today, but like many, saw it on the website this morning and I couldn’t leave work. I’ll be listening tonight and you can bet I will be cheering just as loud for them as I do when I’m at the ballpark!
    Hope to see everyone on Sunday!

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