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Bridgewater to Bronx: Meet the Somerset Patriots 

Longtime Atlantic League entity becomes Yanks' Double-A affiliate
TD Bank Ballpark is the home of the Somerset Patriots, the new Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees.
February 25, 2021

In 2021 and beyond, 11 of the 12 teams that previously had been part of the Eastern League will operate in the Double-A Northeast League. The lone newcomers are the Somerset Patriots, set to debut as a New York Yankees affiliate.

In 2021 and beyond, 11 of the 12 teams that previously had been part of the Eastern League will operate in the Double-A Northeast League. The lone newcomers are the Somerset Patriots, set to debut as a New York Yankees affiliate.

The Patriots, a charter team of the independent Atlantic League, spent their inaugural 1998 season entirely on the road. Their home of TD Bank Ballpark opened in 1999 in Somerset County's Bridgewater Township. After more than two decades in the Atlantic League, the team has replaced the Trenton Thunder as the Yankees' Double-A affiliate. (The Thunder, also a central New Jersey entity, are now part of the MLB Draft League.)

The Patriots were long one of the top draws in the Atlantic League, averaging approximately 5,200 fans per game over the course of their existence. Along the way they won six league titles, 13 division crowns and had an improbable moment of viral internet fame after broadcaster Marc Schwartz gleefully called his own catch of a foul ball.

Somerset County is part of the New York metropolitan area; TD Bank Ballpark is approximately 60 miles southwest of Yankee Stadium. This proximity is sure to pay dividends from both a player development and fan perspective.

"This has taken us to a new level," said Marc Russinoff, Patriots vice president of communications and media relations. "We've received over 1,000 brand-new season-ticket deposits from people who are really excited about Yankees Double-A baseball being here. We've always had a tremendous amount of support, but this has re-energized our partnership with Somerset County and Bridgewater Township. It's a new opportunity to showcase the brand and what we can do for the area. Everything has increased to an enormous degree.

"Some fans have the perception that everything is going to change here. It's important to realize that the experience they love isn't going anywhere. It will be what people have come to love, elevated by seeing great Double-A Yankees baseball."

Interested in learning more about the Patriots as they prepare for their affiliated Minor League Baseball debut? Russinoff explained more about who they are and how they operate. What follows are his words, edited for length and clarity.

The team name and logo

"Somerset County was a crucial part of the American Revolution. The Middlebrook encampment [in Bridgewater Township] was where George Washington and his troops flew the first American flag officially commissioned by Congress. To honor that rich history, we named the team the Somerset Patriots.

"People have asked us if we're going to rebrand, but we've chosen to remain the Patriots. The name means a lot to the community and the people involved with the team. It's part of the reputation that we built throughout the last two decades, and one reason the Yankees came to us was because of what we had crafted."

The ballpark

"[TD Bank Ballpark] is very traditional. A beautiful, nostalgic ballpark. We don’t have a merry-go-round and those sorts of things that came with newer ballparks. I think that's what's great about its charm. You know it’s a ballpark. With some, you don’t know what it is. A shopping mall?

"With the Bridgewater train station behind the outfield wall, during the game you'll see trains go by. It adds to the experience of everything. ... And the train -- on the New Jersey Transit Raritan Valley Line -- makes it easy to come in from the city and throughout New Jersey."

Unique concession items

"For the past two seasons, a big one for us has been the Jersey Burger. A half-pound burger patty, lettuce, tomato, pork roll and bacon topped with French fries. As a Jersey-branded burger, it really took off as a popular thing. A big meal to enjoy.

"We also sell Premio sausages. They're based in New Jersey, so they do very well here. We also have a wide range of beer, two dozen options, for people looking to have a good time while trying something different."

In-game traditions

"We have a signature chant that gets played a lot during games. It's become our rallying call, hearing someone yell, 'Somerset!' and the fans responding, 'Patriots!' It's a great way to engage during a big moment in the game.

"People have really come to expect the chant. Sometimes when we post on social media, someone will respond with, 'Somerset!' and then wait for someone else to respond to that with, 'Patriots!'"

Team theme song

"We have a song called 'Get Patriotic.' The original version mentioned our 2003 championship. That’s the problem with having a song that references a specific date and time. We couldn't use it after we won more championships. So we made it into a contest, looking for people to update the 'Get Patriotic' theme song. One of the versions we received [from Sam Capolongo] was so well done. We were just blown away by what this young man did with it."

Beloved gameday employee

PA announcer Paul Spychala has been with us since our first game [at TD Ballpark] in 1999. He adds a lot of humor to the experience, throwing in different jokes, pop-culture references and one-liners. His style of delivery is very matter of fact, a dry humor, but after a while, you pick up on it. All the things he's said and done just add to the entertainment value of being at a Somerset Patriots game.

"We always tell this story, from one of the very first games we had here. We were playing the Atlantic City Surf, and one of the calls went completely the wrong way for the Surf. Manager Doc Edwards came out to argue, got ejected and decided to make a show out of it. He picked up first base and threw it into the outfield. He picked up second base and threw it into the outfield. But when he got to third base, he decided he'd just walk away with it. Soon enough, you hear Paul over the PA: 'Doc Edwards has been ejected from the game. He was also credited with a stolen base.' Twenty years later, it's still funny."

Memorable promotions

"One of our most popular promotions is Veterans of America Day. It includes a nice pregame ceremony, free tickets for veterans and discounts for their family and and friends. We have the veterans on the field before the game, and hundreds take part. We've done it for 18 years and it's one of the most memorable things we do and the one that we’re the most proud of. Seeing true patriots enjoy the Somerset Patriots is something we always look forward to.

A visit from members of the 1969 Mets made for a memorable Somerset Patriots promotion.

"One of the most popular things we ever did -- and this was before the Yankees affiliation obviously -- was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Mets. Art Shamsky, Cleon Jones, Ron Swoboda and Ed Kranepool were there. We scheduled a meet-and-greet with them and it sold out the first day it was on sale. Later, they were on the concourse signing autographs well past the time that they were supposed to. It's exciting to be able to do things like that, to see people come out and celebrate a team that gets so much love from this area. It was probably one of the best received things we've ever done."

Meet the mascot

Sparky Lyle and his mustache inspired the Patriots' mascot, Sparkee.

"Our mascot is based on our first manager, Sparky Lyle. But his name is 'Sparkee,’ spelled a little differently so he can have his own identity. He's a dog and known for his handlebar mustache. Sparkee is really beloved at the ballpark and in the community. People flock to him wherever he is.

"Sparkee's biggest failure is that, no how many times he does it, he just can’t win races around the bases against kids. I know that’s a big sticking point for him. I just don't think he has it in him."

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.