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.
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”.
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.
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.