The Somerset Patriots (independent; Atlantic League) celebrated a major milestone on Thursday, when they welcomed their 7 millionth fan to TD Bank Ballpark.
At 6:34 pm, Dan Heitkamp of Washington Township purchased the ticket to the game and entered the main gate with his 4-year old godson Logan where he was greeted by Somerset Patriots President/General Manager Patrick McVerry and Manager Emeritus Sparky Lyle among the fanfare.
“I saw the signs that the 7,000,000th fan was coming through,” Heitkamp said. “Then they brought me over to Sparky Lyle and I had that moment of no way this is actually happening. It was really cool.”
As the balloons fell over the main gate, Heitkamp was ushered down to the field to be introduced to the crowd and receive gifts from team’s partners, 2019 season tickets, a team-signed bat, and a jersey with the words “7,000,000th Fan 18” on the back.
After receiving his 7,000,000th Fan items, Heitkamp took the mound to throw out a ceremonial first pitch and was greeted by mascots from throughout the area in attendance for Sparkee The Mascot’s birthday celebration.
“I had the week off so I’ve been bringing people to games all home stand. Logan wanted to see all the mascots here for Sparkee’s birthday so that’s why we came tonight,” Heitkamp said.
Originally from Flemington, Heitkamp has been coming to multiple Somerset Patriots games a year since 2001. He is not only a fan of the baseball, but also the overall experience at the ballpark.
“You get to see a lot of talent come through. You see guys that have been to the majors or guys that will end up in the majors,” Heitkamp add. “On top of that, it’s a lot of family fun. It’s just a great time coming regardless of how the team is doing or what promotions are happening. You know you’ll always have a great time.”
The award-winning TD Bank Ballpark officially opened up for business on June 7, 1999 and has become the premier community-gathering place in Central New Jersey. The 7,000,000th fan was reached on Somerset’s 1,333rd opening in franchise history, good for an average attendance of 5,251 fans per game over a 20-year period.
“It was very exciting as we were getting closer and closer to the number,” said McVerry. “You can tell that fans were gathering around to see who it would be. Our fans have shown us tremendous support over the years and we are extremely grateful. Each one of them got us to this point and you can tell they were excited to be part of the celebration.”
The team was one of the fastest franchises to reach each of the 1,000,000-fan marks already achieved. The 6,000,000th fan was surpassed in mid-August of 2015.
Image courtesy Somerset Patriots.