Lancaster Barnstormers@Somerset Patriots August 31, 2017

      I arrived just over 3 hours prior to a thursday night game in Somerset, NJ on August 31, 2017 as the Lancaster Barnstormers and Somerset Patriots wrapped up a 4 game set at TD Bank Ballpark. The Patriots are in their 20th season, and for that anniversary they have been doing a countdown of the top 20 players in team history. Today the Patriots brought most of the players on the list back to Somerset to be honored, giving the day some more excitement. I walked into the stadium to see a many of the former players down on the field chatting with current team members.

Interviewing Somerset Patriots outfielder Greg Golson, my 300th interview 

Interviewing Somerset Patriots outfielder Greg Golson, my 300th interview 

    I walked up to the press box, introducing myself and chatting with the media guy for the Lancaster Barnstormers who I would be working with to get interviews. I than walked down to the field, as the Patriots were taking batting practice, hoping to grab a player after they finished their round of BP. Just as I has finished setting up on the warning track behind the batting cage, the round that has been in progress finished up, and i was able to grab Greg Golson, a 3 year MLB veteran who has had a great career and has achieved a lot throughout his time in pro baseball. I did a great interview with Golson, lasting about 5 minutes. Following the interview, while chatting with another player, something came up that made that interview a little more special. The interview was my 300th interview.

Talking with Somerset Patriots Pitcher Keith Hessler

Talking with Somerset Patriots Pitcher Keith Hessler

    I then walked over to the other side of the field to try to talk to Lancaster’s player/coach Josh Bell, a former big leaguer with the Orioles. I talked with Bell before going back over to the Patriots side to talk to Keith Hessler. Another former big leaguer who the Patriots recently signed. Following the interview with Keith, I went back to the Lancaster side to do an interview with pitcher Scott Shuman, who was waiting for me in the dugout. Prior to the interview, Scott asked me to talk about myself. I told him about what i do and how long i've been doing it, before getting the interview under way. The interview was very good, for some reason that interview really stood out to me as a good one. Following that interview, i was met by Justin Trapp, who had come over to do an interview with me. There was one problem though, i couldn't find my questions for him. I frantically dug through my pockets and looked around but could find them. I then just went into my phone and pulled them up online. Trapp, with beats around his neck and a southern presence discussed his career in great detail with me, going deep into his career and what he has learned from everything that he has been through.

Talking with 4 year MLB vet Steve Clevenger

Talking with 4 year MLB vet Steve Clevenger

    Just one more time, i headed back over from the Somerset Patriots side of the field on the first base side to the Barnstormers side of the field. There, i was waiting for the Barnstormers last round of BP to end. I was hoping to grab a famous and even infamous baseball player. His name, Steve Clevenger. Yes, i know what your thinking. But despite his history, Clevenger was one of the nicest guys i've ever met, walking up to me with a huge smile on his face as he was dancing and singing along to the song playing over the P.A. I asked Clevenger about the interview, telling him that it was just about what he has done on the field. I just didn't want to scare him away, especially since i know he waited several weeks after his incident last season before doing an interview again. Clevenger was very nice, and was very humble. One topic he touched on a few times, fun. He described that he wanted the game to be fun, and that is what he wants to do every time he goes out on the field. Talking about the game as a kids game, saying that it's meant for fun. What made me a combination of sad, mad and some other mixed feelings, was the fact that he was standing here, not in the MLB. Clevenger, a guy who just last year was an opening day starter, and who in 2015 was a .287 hitter in the MLB was standing here. The sad fact was that he was standing here because of a sentence he typed up on his phone with a limit of 140 characters. Due to his tweets, he was pushed out of major league baseball. What he said was not right, but that is still no reason to push him completely out of the game, especially after he worked so hard for so long to get there.

Patriot legend Josh Pressley hugs former coach Sparky Lyle

Patriot legend Josh Pressley hugs former coach Sparky Lyle

The fans waiting over the tunnel to get autographs.

The fans waiting over the tunnel to get autographs.

    I went up to the press box and grabbed a bite before doing a quick video shoot for an introduction video to my website I hope to cut together. After that, i walked around a little before going down to the field to get some pictures of the ceremony where the former players that were in attendance were honored. I walked down to see dozens of autograph seekers hoping to get signatures from some of the former players, hanging over the railing on the tunnel where they came in and out. The most exciting moments were when they went down the list of all the players. Seeing each player came out to get there plaque, commemorating their great careers in Somerset was very special, seeing them give a big bear hug to all of their former teammates and former coaches. It was a great moment to see and a great moment in team history. “It means a lot, i spent a good majority of my baseball career here. Won some championships, made a lot of great friends” Elliot Ayala puts the feeling of being back here to be honored. Ayala spent 6 seasons in Somerset,where he was a career .277 hitter and won 2 championships.

The Plaque Elliot Ayala had received for being named one of the top 20 Patriots of all time.

The Plaque Elliot Ayala had received for being named one of the top 20 Patriots of all time.

    Ayala came up to the press box and talked to me for a couple minutes. With his plaque in his hand which honored him as the 13th best player in the team's history. While talking about being back at the ballpark Ayala told me “initially at first, it makes you want to play, makes you miss the game. But in reality it's past you and your over and done with it but for a split second it makes you think you can play again.” “everything, from the fans to the people who run it, to the staff the coaches, to Brett (Jodie), the field is tremendous.” “The Stadium is great and the crowd comes out every night and supports you, I mean, what more could you ask for” from the sound of his voice, and watching him look out of the press box window at the beautiful field and the electric crowd you could tell Ayala missed it, as many players who were in attendance did.

     Many of the former Patriots have had success after baseball also, especially Ayala. He retired from professional career after 15 years playing. After his retirement in 2012, Ayala would coach the East Coast Lumberjacks, one of the top high school summer teams in the country. Along with that he also served as an instructor at Pro Swing Baseball Training Facility in Port Chester, NY. Now, 5 years since retirement, at the age of 38, Ayala coaches for the Monroe Mustangs, one of the top junior colleges in the country. Ayala saying that the team just missed the JUCO world series this past spring, but that they did have great year which ended with a couple guys selected in the MLB draft.  

     There was also a big group of kids shagging fly balls for the Patriots during batting practice, Patriots media director Marc Russinoff explained that it was Corey Smith’s youth team. Smith, a former Patriot who is also having a lot of success after baseball invested in a couple baseball academy’s across New Jersey, which has turned into a huge success, bringing in kids from all around the state to work on their baseball skill. That turned into a group of teams that Smith runs, explaining why so many kids were on the field.

    Finally, getting to the game, The Patriots got out in front early, with a runner on second, Mark Minicozzi roped an RBI double, followed by another double by Carlos Guzman that would score another run, putting the Patriots on top 2-0 after 1. The Barnstormers would get a run back in the top of the third with a solo homer by Garrett Weber cutting the lead to one. But the Patriots followed up with a solo homer by Mark Minicozzi in the bottom of the inning, making the score 3-1 Somerset. An RBI base hit for the Patriots in the 3rd and 2 RBI base hits in the 6th would put Somerset  up 6-1 going into the seventh.

     Mark Minicozzi was 2-4 with 2 runs batted in and a homer and is hitting .336 over his last 10 games. “I've watched a lot of film the last couple weeks. Just looking back to when i've had success in the past and you know, made a couple of adjustments in my approach and adjustments at the plate that simplified my swing and finally balls are starting to jump off my bat not go behind my bat.” Minicozzi, is known by most fans for his unique walk up songs of Frank Sinatra, which he has been walking up to since 2006 and likes that it is so relaxed because it relaxes his at the plate. The 34 year old Minicozzi has emerged as one of the leaders of this Patriots team and is really turning his game around.

I finished the day having done 8 interviews:

 

  • Steve Clevenger

  • Greg Golson

  • Scott Shuman

  • Justin Trapp

  • Marc Minicozzi

  • Josh Bell

  • Keith Hessler

  • Elliot Ayala

    I also did my 300th interview. Which was just a small part of yet another great day in Somerset, New Jersey.

 

-Eli Fishman

 

 

Southern Maryland Blue Crabs@Somerset Patriots August 6, 2017

Within just my first couple hours at TD Bank Ballpark on Sunday August 6th, i could see Autograph seekers hoping to get a John Hancock from a former major league star, players dancing in the dugout before the game, a pitcher's daughter throwing out the first pitch to her dad, dollar dog night , the team's starting pitcher from the previous night coaching first base, superhero appearances, players having catches with young fans. Now that's a routine day at an independent baseball game for you.

 

I arrived two and a half hours before a sunday evening game between the Atlantic League’s Somerset Patriots and Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. I picked up my press pass in the ticket booth, than walking into the press box to see Yankees legend Sparky Lyle telling stories about his 13 year MLB career, and a Captain America T-Shirt he wore under his uniform every game for over a decade and how by the time his career finished, It was barely a shirt anymore. I said hey to Sparky and then jokingly asked him for an interview that i had been waiting to do with him for some time, him, saying that today would be the day he would grant me the interview.

 

Interviewing Yankees legend and 1977 CY Young award winner Sparky Lyle

Interviewing Yankees legend and 1977 CY Young award winner Sparky Lyle

Sparky and I sat down in the press box and did a great 10 minute interview, about his legendary career. We discussed the 1977 World Series, and winning the CY Young award that season along with many stories about his career.

 

 

I then spent about 15 minutes chatting with some members of the Patriots front office, before heading down on the field to try to grab some players who were having a catch with a Nerf football down the first base line. The first player i talked to there, was former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Dustin Antolin, who discussed his career, including the one day that he played in major league baseball, before getting optioned down. He talked about that feeling of pitching at Rogers Center on a hot summer day in 2016, admitting that the emotions got to him when he got that call. You could also tell he has emotions flowing through him, talking about the one day that he had to live his dream in the “show”.

 

 

Interviewing Somerset Patriots Third Baseman Mark Minicozzi

Interviewing Somerset Patriots Third Baseman Mark Minicozzi

I then chatted with Mike Antonini, once a top prospect for the Mets and Dodgers. For the past 3 years, he has been pitching for various Atlantic league teams. After a brief interview with him about his professional career, I then waited a couple minutes or so for Patriots third baseman Mark Minicozzi to come out. He was an absolute character. He walked up to me and tried to give a fistbump, highfive handshake of some sort, filled with energy and a big smile on his face. We discussed the wild ride he has had in baseball, from being a Giants minor league star during two stints in their organization, to playing in the Hawaiian winter league in 2006. The question for which he was most passionate about his answer...a question about the false stigma put on independent baseball. He went on an absolute rant about how people view independent baseball verse how it actually is. Saying some of the best times of his life were playing indy ball.

 

 

After a good conversation with Mark, I had a brief conversation between him, Patriots media assistant Chris Drabik and I about the business, and Mark had a lot of positive stuff to say,  which is always nice to hear. I then walked over to the other side of the field to try to grab former Yankees and Rangers relief pitcher Cody Eppley. I talked to Cody after he finished warming up his arm. You may remember Cody as a quality relief pitcher for the Yankees in 2013 and for his painful looking sidearm delivery. We discussed those details, along with a couple more. He had a lot to say about all he has been through in his career.

 

 

After i finished my interview with Cody, i waited for about 20 minutes for Blue Crabs pitcher Gaby Hernandez to finish stretching, it was well worth the wait though. He currently leads the league in most pitching categories. At first when we were about to start, Patriots team clown Carlos Guzman jokingly told Gaby not to do the interview. Then Gaby appeared that he would actually listen to Carlos and leave, but he took a quick look at my questions and said alright i'll do it, while he laughs about what had just happened. I talked with Gaby about his great career, which has taken him all around the world.

 

 

I then settled in to the press box, where i grabbed some pizza and sat down to watch the ballgame. The game got off to a slow start, multiple 1-2-3 innings to start the game, before the scoring got started in the bottom of the 3rd with a Kyle Roller RBI base hit giving the Patriots a 1-0 lead. Then the game was blown open in the 4th with a bases loaded passed ball that would lead one run to score. After a base hit, Blue Crabs catcher Ryan Wiggins belted a 2 out Grand Slam, making it a 5-1 game in favor of Southern Maryland.  Southern Maryland would score another run before the game finished with a 6-1 score.

 

 

Talking with former major leaguer L.J. Hoes after the game

Talking with former major leaguer L.J. Hoes after the game

After the game i went down to the field and grabbed former major leaguer L.J. Hoes out of the high five line. Hoes, who was an everyday starter for the Astros in the second half of the 2013 MLB season is doing very well in Southern Maryland so far and is hoping to get picked up which he very much deserves. I talked to him about his pro career. That finished the day, a quality game and 7 interviews. I also got commented by some folks who had been sitting in the stands and listened to the interview. It always feels good to hear people give me nice comments after they see me do my thing.