I just returned from a Somerset Patriots game followed by fireworks with my daughter, and boy, are my arms tired. The game started at 7:05 and we were lucky enough to get an extra inning gratis once the Patriots and their rival, the Long Island (Islip, NY) Ducks, played to a 4-4 tie in the expected number of frames. If you were worried, the Patriots won 5-4 on a two-out rally in the tenth while my five-year-old chanted, "We want fireworks!" repeatedly.
Then we had to wait through an eight-minute delay before the fireworks could finally commence while we awaited a NJ Transit train to pass. You see, the train passes right outside the right field walls of Commerce Bank Ballpark in beautiful downtown—it is on Main Street—Bridgewater, NJ. There's a break in the signage in right that's just large enough to view about half a railway car at a time as the train passes. So about three or four times per game, a train whistle blows and those fans, like my daughter, who are more interested in diversions from the game than the game itself get to witness this minor event. But hey, it beats a game at the runways of Shea by a long shot.
I was actually very much impressed by my first Atlantic League game, and since the crowd of 8,048 was a league record, I got to see it at its best (the fans do come a-running for the hickory-smoked taste of fireworks).
Overall, the play was more impressive or at least more polished than the Double-A games that I've seen. And given the number of former major-leaguers on both rosters as well as perpetual Newark Bear Rickey Henderson, the independent Atlantic League is sort of the CBA (Continental Baseball Association, not Collective Bargaining Agreement) of baseball.
The Patriots have former Mariner Ryan Radmanovich, former Tiger Chris Wakeland, former Rockie and Angel Edgard Clemente, 36-year-old major-league journeyman Scott Aldred, and former Indian Dave Elder on the roster (as well as former Angel Jason Dickson,15-year vet Pete Harnisch, former Indian Luis Lopez, and former Brave Joe Winkelsas listed in their four-dollar 2004 Official Autograph Program. They also have Sparky Lyle, as their manager, and who also lends his name to homonymic mascot and non-descript furry mammal, Sparkee, who pals around with the sartorially patriotic General Admission (really). Also, Graig Nettles son, Jeff, patrols third for Somerset.
The Ducks employ former major-leaguers Kimera Bartee (on the DL), Doug Jennings (age 40), Patrick Lennon, Wendell Magee, Bill Pulsipher, Bryan Rekar, John DeSilva, Lance David, Mike Caruso, Kevin Baez, and Bill Simas.
All of which means that you get a watered-down, major-league experience and low-rent prices in a family-friendly environment. They play a theme for each player and play songs, games, sound bits, and movie clips between innings. And even though I am a baseball purist at heart, if I'm going to miss the game at the concession stand or at the face painters, I may as well not be inconvenienced to do so. I'd rather miss a game that I don't really care much about. The Atlantic League and other independent minor leagues like them have taken advantage of niche or rather a void that the majors created themselves, entertainment for people with families. If the majors keep ignoring this core audience while catering to big business, eventually 8,048 may be a remarkable crowd in, say, Montreal. Oh, too late.