With caption saluting fans, Yankees’ bond with Somerset Patriots is even stronger
Sparky Lyle looks at a list of names in the TD Bank Ballpark press box. After 16 seasons as one of the best relievers in major league history and nearly 25 years with the Somerset Patriots, here is his scout report.
He wears a Patriots hat, a matching team polo shirt with his name embroidered on the left chest and, yes, the handlebar mustache that was as much his trademark as that untouchable slider who won 238 career saves, a Cy Young Award and two world championships with the Yankees.
Shortly after the first pitch of every Patriots home game, Lyle takes that list and heads for the sequels – but not to watch the game like a VIP. He does his job. He’ll be visiting fans who have booked suites for the night, and Lyle’s mission is to make them feel special. He recognizes some names because they are loyal customers, but there are fancy boxes that look more like âRussian roulette,â he says. He is not sure what this handshake will bring.
The stadium is small and the walk is brief, but the place is full of the sounds of baseball, high fives, and fans cheering and yelling at him. She’s a celebrity, after all.
“Can we take a picture, Sparky?” “
“You’re the man, Sparky!” Could you sign this ball?
âI saw you throw in 78! “
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It adapts to all requests.
Even at 76, Lyle has the same energy he had during his play days, when he jumped off the paddock cart (remember that?), Threw his jacket at a ball boy and took storm the mound to preserve another Yankees (or Red Sox or Rangers or Phillies or White Sox). He doesn’t go around crowds very much because, he said, he would never come out. It focuses on the fans in the sequels.
He starts on the third base side so he can finish close to first base ââ where Patriots owners, the Kalafers, watch the games. He knocks on every door before filling the box with his personality. He greets fans without a mask.
“Are you okay if I come to say hello to you?” I’m Sparky Lyle with the Patriots and I want to meet you all.
Most fans share Lyle’s energy. One group, which booked a sequel for Tuesday’s game through their work at Cellularity, were full of longtime Yankees fans. They were thrilled to see the Yankees legend.
“It’s awesome,” said Alfredo Nunez, one of the members of this sequel. âIt’s so friendly to the fans. He makes you feel so appreciated as a fan. We have our little guys here and they are learning to enjoy the game because of it.
Lyle heard Nunez’s young son shout: “Drop it, drop it, drop it!” at the Richmond Flying Squirrels shortstop after a routine pop and couldn’t help but ring the bell.
“If you were there you could just run over there and tackle this guy!” At this level, they don’t give up on them, âLyle said.
Build new relationships
Things have changed for Lyle now that the Patriots are the Double-A affiliate of the Yankees. Before the 2021 season, he rarely had to introduce himself to fans, but now he’s a whole new audience.
âBefore this year, I could go to any of these homes for dinner,â Lyle said. âWe connected with people when we were in the Atlantic League for about 20 years. It’s a little different. “
Lyle was the Patriots’ first employee after their founding in 1998. Hired as manager by late owner Steve Kalafer, Lyle led the Patriots to five championships. He has a statue in front of the TD Bank Ballpark and two mascots that bear his name ââ âSparkeeâ and âSliderâ. Still, there are those who don’t recognize one of the Bronx Zoo’s biggest stars.
âSometimes I walk in and they say, ‘Oh, are you with the Patriots? We need more towels, âLyle said. “So I say, ‘OK, I’ll be right back. I can do stuff like that. I’m just having fun with them.
The job gives him the chance to showcase his outgoing personality – but also gives him hand cramps from the mountains of memories he has to sign.
âThere’s this Little League team that comes and I sign their hats, their shoes, they make me sign the most sacred things,â Lyle said. âI finally told them, ‘Next time, I won’t sign your shoes. They stink! “
After doing his rounds, Lyle walks around the stadium, greets hordes of fans, then either stays to watch the game or returns home – to Gilbertsville, Pa., Which is 98 miles away. He makes the two-hour trip to every home game because of his connection to the organization and the fans.
âI love coming here,â said Lyle. âI love everyone who works here. I come to watch the game a bit, but really to talk to people. It doesn’t sound like a job, it’s just a good thing.
Fans who have been there for years love Lyle back. Victor Studna, a Patriots season ticket holder since their inaugural season and lifelong Yankees fan, has seen Lyle play, manage and interact with fans. His eyes light up when he talks about Lyle.
âI don’t know if the Patriots would be the same if it had never been for Sparky Lyle,â Studna said. âHe was a stopper as a pitcher, it was one of the best trades the Yanks had. As a manager he ran a laid back clubhouse, but he really knew baseball. He’s determined to have driven so far to see us in every game.
Kristi Alexander, who became an employee after years at the helm of the Patriots fan club, says she wouldn’t be alive without Lyle’s quick reflexes.
“When we were in the stands at a game in Camden a few years ago and a fake ball hit me and Sparky put up her hand and literally stopped the ball from hitting my face,” said Alexander. “I tell him all the time that he saved my life, I don’t even think he remembers it.”
The stripes always look good on her
Now that the Patriots and Yankees are affiliated, Lyle remembers his playing days even more. When the Patriots added the Yankees stripes to their uniforms this season, Lyle was the first to try them on.
âWhen I got there on opening day they let me put the stripes on once again,â Lyle said. âIt was a beautiful thing to see the name ‘Patriots’ on the front but to have the stripes. It couldn’t have been better for me. I am a Yankee through and through.
Still, Lyle doesn’t follow the struggles of the current squad very much – which is why he doesn’t talk too much about it with fans. He rarely sees the Yankees on television in Pennsylvania and dislikes spending at Yankee Stadium. The two took away his interest.
“Why the (beep) do I want to go to Yankee Stadium?” It’s too far, it’s too expensive, âsaid Lyle. âI don’t see the Yankees enough to talk about it. I don’t even know who is playing. I know the little guy who’s been around forever ââ Brett Gardner. That’s it.”
He does not stay in touch with his former Yankees teammates. He was relying on charity golf events to see them, but COVID-19 put an end to it. Lyle said it was easier for recent MLB players to have meetings with their teammates because their contracts were much higher.
âWe didn’t make the kind of money these guys are making today,â he said. âThey can all fly to see each other or go fishing. We went to work after the season, we had a job.
With the Patriots, he can watch the sport he loves and see the family he has built. He wishes he didn’t have to sit in a leather car seat for a total of four hours, but it’s still worth it for him.
âI’d rather sit on cakes,â Lyle said of infamous pranks from his playing days. âNo, but it’s so wonderful. They are very good for me here.
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