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