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October 14, 2008 October 12, 2008

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Former Atlantic Leaguer Foster Passes Away: Some sad news to pass along, as former Newark Bears and Somerset Patriots P Kevin Foster has passed away at the age of 39 after a battle with renal cell carcinoma, a form of kidney cancer.

Foster appeared in 12 games in 2002 between the two clubs, going 4-1 with a 3.28 ERA and one save.

A former Major Leaguer, he played for the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers over seven big league seasons.

I was fortunate enough to see Foster pitch with the Trenton Thunder in 2000. I remember he pitched pretty well for them…and on another occasion, I can vividly remember him jokingly encouraging a teammate to sign a autograph for a young fan.

Stanchak’s Take: Kevin Foster was one player I grew close with during his short time in Somerset and we remained in touch after his playing days there. He had a say-what’s-on-his-mind attitude, but was always pleasant and treated you with respect. I can vividly remember sitting on the Patriots’ bench talking about playing on the same team as Ryne Sandberg and pitching in Philadelphia.

The last time I talked with Kevin was about two years after he left Somerset and was playing in St. Paul. He spoke to me as if I was a friend who he hadn’t spoken with in years. We caught up during that half-hour chat. He will be missed. – SS

One For The Thumb: When the Somerset Patriots kick off their 2009 season, you’re likely to see some sort of marketing campaign alluding to “One For The Thumb.”

It’s a popular phrase used in sports when a team is looking for their fifth championship, and the Patriots are hoping to do just that after winning four in their first 11 years of existence.

But for manager Sparky Lyle, it’s a little different.

With five rings as a player — three for winning the World Series, and two for winning the American League Championship Series — the only skipper Somerset’s ever had will be looking to complete his collection of rings by winning one for the thumb on his other hand.

Now, he just needs to get those rings back from his sons.

“I put those rings on my desk I don’t know how many years ago, and told my three sons to take the one that they want, so they did,” Lyle said.

“That was a beautiful thing, and that’s why I don’t wear any anymore. I try to do that every Christmas with my kids, to let them take something important to them so they don’t have to fight over it later.”

But rings or no rings, the former Cy Young Award winner still has four Atlantic League championships and three World Series titles to his credit. So what is it about Lyle and championships that seem to go together?

“I wish I knew,” said the Yankee great with his trademark laugh.

“I don’t think it’s anything specific. I think it’s just a good mix in the clubhouse, which you saw this year. This was a tremendous clubhouse. It’s just a matter of getting them to believe in themselves, that they can play a little better and they can change some things that they haven’t been able to do in the past however many years.”

Lyle could already have his “one for the thumb” had things turned out a little differently last season in Newark, where his team lost in the championship series in four games.

Many players in the clubhouse said it was a motivating factor for this year’s team, and Lyle didn’t seem to disagree.

“For the guys that were here last year, I think it was on their minds,” he said.

“It was something we didn’t talk about a whole lot here, but it sure stuck in my craw all winter. I’m not saying anything bad about Newark, they deserved to win that last year and they beat the hell out of us. But it was just that one game last year where we could have evened it up, if (All-Star reliever) Jason Richardson could have pitched that day, I liked my chances with a nine-run lead.”

But the Patriots couldn’t hold onto their lead and would lose the series, making this year’s come-from-behind win all the more sweet.

“This probably made that a little nicer this year and a little bit more important, because we did come back and we did get back in the championship series, and this year we won,” Lyle said.

“And that was a feather in not only the Patriots organization’s cap, but the guys who were there last year.”

At 63 years old and with 11 long seasons as Somerset’s manager already in the books, some have openly wondered how many more chances he’ll get to win that tenth ring. So for his detractors, who are counting down the days until someone else takes over the reins of the club, it appears they’ll need to keep waiting.

“I’m going to go as long as I can be good at it,” said Lyle, who was signed to a lifetime contract by team owner Steve Kalafer.

“And I’ll be the first one to know that. Right now, I don’t have any reason to step down.”

Booth To The Brewers: Jeremy Booth, who caught for a few teams in this league before going to the Can-Am League in 2006, spent last season as a scout for the Minnesota Twins.

After “learning a lot” in his first season of scouting, Booth will now be joining the Milwaukee Brewers organization, where he’ll be in charge of the Texas and Louisiana regions.

“I had a great time working for the Twins, but I’m really excited about being a Brewer,” said Booth in a telephone interview.

Booth also told me how excited he was to be scouting in the area that he’s in, saying how many big leaguers come out of the area.

Stay Tuned For More Patriots Championship Interviews: Stay tuned in the coming weeks for features with Patrick McVerry, Casey Cahill and Travis Anderson. – Mike Ashmore

Gratitude Recap: Read last week’s “Thank You” post for my personal thanks for this past season. Also, as always, any donation is appreciated to help us keep going: hosting, travel, servers, etc. Use the PayPal link on the right side of the page. You can keep clicking on the banner above, as well. – SS

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Comments»

1. jake - October 18, 2008

Could we please begin the discussion/debate about the economics of the Atlantic League and in particular the wages being paid to players in this league. With all respect to you Mike and Scott, we do not need any more fluff pieces about the Somerset Patriots 2008 Championship. My family is thrilled that they won. They are our team and have been for many years. But “one for the thumb” stories, or Sparky Lyle tribute pieces are really a bit tired at this point.

The 2008 Patriots were a wonderful team and will be remembered as such. But the reality is that the season is over and the 25 men who comprised that championship club are back home or playing winter ball. Their reality now is that for the past six or seven months they made a negligible income and must now face the realities of an unsympathetic economy.

There have been the start of some interesting dialogue on this site over the last several weeks from people who support different teams in this league. Lets begin the more fruitful discussions of why there is such a wide gap between what the players are paid–an average of a little over $2000 per month before tax and expenses–and the wealth being generated for ownership. Lets hear from not only Mr. McVerry who you identified previously, but from Mr. Boulton, Mr. Kalafer and someone from Opening Day Partners. And lets hear from some of the players. I can tell you with firsthand knowledge that some are eager to talk about it.

Before we talk about or even execute expansion into Richmond, or Westchester or Bergen County lets fix what is broke. It is immoral and unreasonable that the 200 or so players who commit to this league each year are making such an unlivable wage. This is the worst kept secret in this league. It gets talked about every year and nothing is done to improve it.

Speaking for my family, we believe that if organized protests at stadiums and related businesses are whats necessary then that may be a future step. And it is not just our family. The emails and chat rooms and online discussions, combined with the discussions at games and league events clearly demonstrate that the fan base in this league is looking for action in support of these players.

If ownership in this league is counting on fans who attend games but care little about the conditions under which these young men play then they have seriously misjudged these fans and the current political climate in this country. Exploitation was, is and will always be a dirty word anmong decent people.

Lets talk and soon.

2. jidyfan - October 18, 2008

We can have all the discussions we want but unless we get either Boulton or Klein on here it is a mute point. Having the GM’s contribute (since they all read this site but often times deny that they read it) would not be beneficial since they are not the ones who decide the salaries. If we don’t get any input from the owners or the league top brass then this discussion will fall on deaf ears.

We all know that the players want more money and that they are going to other leagues for that reason. I had one of the league leaders in stats tell me that he will not be coming back to this league unless they pay more money and the management and ownership philosophy change.

I would love to get some of the players comments as to how much they are paid, how much and what types of fees that the teams deduct from their checks and what their reaction is to no playoff bonus money.

3. angelab - October 19, 2008

I have not commented here before though my brother-in-law Paul Bentrice has. I agree strongly with the comments of both Jake and Jidyfan and therefore felt compelled to speak. I can tell you from firsthand knowledge that the disgraceful salary structure in this league is causing considerable hardship in the lives of many of these players.

Players return home to find that they are in such financial hardship that they may lose homes or cannot carry minimal health insurance. Some have injuries for which they cannot afford treatment. We have had a number of players to our home during the summer months and have heard of the pressures that working for near nothing places on these men and their families.

Clearly the more talented players are now leaving. The talent pool was less than in the past this season, particularly among the pitching. But regardless this situation must not be allowed to persist.

If the players are going to leave as a statement of dissatisfaction with the salaries and the exploitation, then it should be incumbent upon us the fans to support them by leaving as well if necessary. My family, my husband and our kids will not attend another game in this league so long as this grotesque example of exploitation continues. We do not buy clothes made in sweat shops, why should we support an entertainment business that exploits its employees. Does not matter if its legal or meets the minimal standards, what is right and fair matters more.

Jidyfan you are absolutely correct that we must hear from the owners, the league CEO and some of the players. Our family has a number of friends who played in this league who we feel certain will step forward and tell some of the horror stories. I want to know from the owners why there aren’t playoff bonuses. I want to know why players do not see some compensation for autographing items such as balls and photographs that are sold to fans in the team gift shops. I want to know why the players who win a championship do not share in the revenue from increased merchandise sales.

Jake is also right in that it may be time to take this to the street and to organize protests at the stadiums and to create a website where people who want to support the players can leave their statements to ownership. It is time that this story was told to the media and shared openly with others.

Baseball is a wonderful game and we all love it. Our children are no different. But we teach them to be respectful and committed to the rights of others and we cannot overlook what is going on. We do not need nor will we validate by our support a new breed of baseball barons. Shape up or we will ship out.

4. snynault - October 19, 2008

The people commenting on this blog about how much employees of these companies get paid, should purchase a team in this league, or in another independent league. Then they can have all the say in the world as to how much to pay players and staff. I hear Bridgeport's ownership group just went out of business and needed to be purchased by the league CEO to stay afloat. Newark loses money every year. Who knows what their future holds? In recent years, Atlantic City and Nashua have had to exit the league due to the tremendous financial stress they experienced playing 126 & 140 game seasons. This notion that the people runing the league are making money hand over fist is laughable. Go ask owners Mary Jane Foster, Mickey Herbert, Chris English or Marc Berson how much money they made. The reality is that the owners that bring affordable, family entertainment to these communities rarely make a ton of money. The main reason the AL is looking to move to other cities isn't to expand, it's to assure its own survival. These leagues can go away quickly. They don't have any big league teams to financially support them in times of financial stress. As a fan that enjoys going to these games and the improvement in my family's quality of life since they came to town, I don't want to see them fold or go out of business. And the players I speak to all know that they're here to get OUT of the league, not to make a living IN it. That's what the league was created for on the player side. Players that hang on for an extra 3 or 4 years and expect to be paid the way they did in affiliated organizations aren't being fooled. They knew what their contract said before they signed it. If they don't like their salary, they shouldn't agree to play for it.

5. jake - October 19, 2008

snynault your comments are astonishing to me. Astonishing in that in this day and age ignorance such as yours might still exist. How dare you dismiss the rights and or fair treatment of these men with some one liner about a contract. Exactly which organization or owner do you work for.

The Atlantic League is one of the most financially successful baseball leagues in this country and yes owners in this league are realizing enormous wealth. And for you to suggest otherwise again demonstrates your lack of knowledge and insensitivity toward these professional athletes.

The Somerset Patriots and Long Island Ducks as a matter of fact are among the most successful independent baseball franchises anywhere period. Opening Day Partners owns the teams in Lancaster, York, Southern Maryland and Camden. And while Camden has been a bit off in attendance recently, there is no information to suggest that overall that group is not doing well. Newark would appear to be the weaker franchise though they are being aggressive in trying to restore a fan base and draw new sponsors. And they are hosting next year’s all-star game.

You really need to get your facts straight before you shoot from the hip. Yes Nashua and Atlantic City were not able to build the revenue from their markets to sustain and they left the league. That is not bad business, it is smart business. Mary Jane Foster and her group had exhausted their honorable efforts and choose to sell to Mr. Boulton. Again, not bad business, just smart business.

May I remind you that all but one of the stadiums in this league have corporate sponsor naming rights. How much do you think that’s worth. In addition to tickets sales these teams sell luxury boxes, sponsorships and advertising, official product sponsorships, food and parking concessions, and merchandise.

If you honestly believe that Mr. Boulton, and Mr. Kalafer and Opening Day Partners are not making money than you are not paying attention. Go to Somerset and look around. Count the corporate names on the outfield walls, in the pages of the program, at the top of the stadium. Count the food concession stands. Look at the names on the luxury suites. Try to find an area where some corporate logo is not in display. And just so we are not perceived to be picking on Somerset, do the same in Lancaster or Long Island or in Southern Maryland. These teams owners are brilliant business men with proven track records for success.

Millions of dollars are being made and God Bless them. The point is that the employees–the players, on whose backs these monies are being realized should receive a fair wage. No one is or has suggested that they be paid the same as the major leagues or even affiliated ball. But when an all-star first baseman in this league is being paid $2100 per month from which is deducted taxes, nearly $600 per month in housing, and fees, then something is wrong.

Your statement about the contract they sign is irrelevant. Exploitation is exploitation. Yes these men want to hang on and play ball. Just as the young girls making handbags or clothing are trying to make money to support their families. The fact that they are paid an unlivable wage is what is of paramount importance.

I have admired some of your comments in the past so I hope that I am wrong that you are merely an employee or ownership mouthpiece. Why are you so frightened by the discussion. Think about this a moment. Wages are not going up in this league they are in fact going down.

I am not faulting any of these men for their success, only in that the professional athletes that have built this league’s credibility and reputation are being compensated unfairly. And if you mean to suggest that to compensate these men fairly might mean that the league itself would go away–then so be it. The end does not justify the means.

We have confidence that the decent, compassionate and fair minded people will always win out and that they will take a hike before they will support this type of exploitation. Sit back and watch.


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