For his work leading the Somerset Patriots (Double-A Northeast) through the highs and lows of a challenging 2021 season while making major changes, President/GM Patrick McVerry is our 2021 Ballpark Digest Executive of the Year.
“I’m blown away, I’m honored to receive this award,” McVerry said. “Being our first year in affiliated baseball with the New York Yankees, it certainly is humbling and a true honor.”
The Patriots are an established entity in professional baseball, as they have run a solid operation year in and year out since opening TD Bank Ballpark as members of the Atlantic League (MLB Partner League) in 1999. McVerry has been with the Patriots in one position or another since 1998 and he furthered his impact this year by guiding the organization through changing, and sometimes challenging, circumstances.
“Our goal was to make him proud”
In April, just weeks before the 2021 season, Patriots founder and chairman emeritus Steve Kalafer died of cancer at the age of 71. At the time of his death, the Patriots were finishing needed improvements around TD Bank Ballpark to get ready for a first season as a Yankees affiliate. McVerry, who described Kalafer as “a dear friend of mine,” said that he learned much from the Patriots late owner.
“I was fortunate in that I was very close to him, and I always kind of operated…to think the way he thinks,” McVerry said. “And one of the things that he would always say to me after a tough loss or something happened was, ‘hey no pity parties. You have to pick yourself and continue, let’s go.’”
Kalafer was a Yankees fans, and McVerry credited him with playing an “instrumental” role in helping to secure the relationship between the two clubs. Kalafer’s death just weeks before the 2021 campaign left a void for the organization, but McVerry and his staff—under co-chairman Jonathan and Josh Kalafer, who McVerry describes as “unbelievable people, just like their father”—rallied to get ready for the season.
“Our staff here, we were all very devastated, but we knew that we couldn’t just sit around and feel sorry for ourselves and feel sorry for what was happening,” McVerry said. “We had a job to do, we had a show to put on for our fans, we had to put on a great facility for the Yankees. Our goal was to make him proud, and I think we did.”
Continuing the Success
The Patriots served as a model of stability in the Atlantic League, from the moment they opened TD Bank Ballpark in 1999 up until the 2020 season was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Yankees announced in November 2020 that the Patriots would become their new Double-A affiliate, taking the place of the Trenton Thunder, who are now part of the MLB Draft League.
With the shift to affiliated baseball came plenty of work for the Patriots, who upgraded their facilities to help meet new standards. Among the improvements to the ballpark: expanded clubhouses, new indoor batting cage, new lighting, an upgraded home bullpen and dugouts, and padding on the outfield wall.
Like most teams across baseball, the Patriots began the year with capacity restrictions related to COVID-19. Once those restrictions were lifted by New Jersey governor Phil Murphy in late May, it did not take long for the fans to come back to the ballpark in high numbers: the Patriots drew a season-high 7,011 fans on June 18.
That is evidence of an appeal to fans that has had staying power for years, something that McVerry has witnessed first-hand. He began his tenure with the Patriots as their director of marketing in 1998, and gradually worked his way to the president/general manager post.
We sat down with McVerry and Patriots VP of Communications and Public Relations Marc Russinoff in today’s bonus Ballpark Digest podcast. Here’s the video version: scroll down for information about subscribing to the audio version.
The ability to capture fan interest year after year is not something that McVerry and his staff take for granted. Knowing that it can be challenge, McVerry said that he and organization try to find ways to freshen things up year after year.
“It falls into promotions; it falls into what you’re doing in the facility and the touchpoints for our fans to make sure it’s a little bit different,” he said. “That we’re investing in our facility, into the franchise, into the team and all that stuff because it does resonate with the fans when they get here. They see that things are changing. One year maybe a little bit more so than the next, but I could tell you that we take a lot of pride in that.”
His time with the organization has also allowed McVerry to develop his own management style. When asked about his philosophy in leading the Patriots, McVerry said that he wants to create an environment where staff members actively participate and are unafraid to share ideas.
“I’m one of those guys that says no idea is a bad idea, I want to hear it,” he said. “We really do a great job of communicating in this office with one another, and it is what I think is a really good work environment. You’ll see that not just with our [front office] staff, but our event staff and that really feeds itself to our fans. It starts at the top and, every day, I feel blessed to pull into a ballpark and go to work. I want these guys here to feel that way because it resonates with our fans.”
After the Flood
In September, the remnants of Hurricane Ida caused significant damage in New Jersey and resulted in 30 deaths in the state. Bridgewater, where TD Bank Ballpark is located, was among the areas affected by flooding—as it had been during many past storms, including Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and Hurricane Irene in 2011, both of which flooded TD Bank Ballpark.
However, what faced the Patriots at TD Bank Ballpark on the morning of September 2, 2021, was a particularly challenging circumstance. Not only were many of the facilities that had been upgraded for the Yankees damaged, but the condition of the ballpark left the Patriots with a tremendous amount of work to accomplish to play their next homestand. (The team was on the road when the ballpark flooded). While the Patriots initially believed that their home would avoid significant flooding, the cresting of the nearby Raritan River eventually caught up to TD Bank Ballpark.
“The morning after [the storm], at about 7:30, I got a call from our groundskeeper, Dan Purner,” McVerry recalled. “He took a picture and said it’s not that bad, there’s some water in the outfield, we’ll be okay. 45 minutes later, the water started pouring into the ballpark as the river was cresting and by 10:00, we had six or seven feet of water on our field, into our stands and all over those player touchpoints,” that the Patriots had added over the offseason.
Despite the extent of the damage—which affected areas such as the warning track, outfield wall, batting cage carpeting, and more—the Patriots were able to pull together as an organization to repair the ballpark.
“It was literally cleaning things, putting things back together,” McVerry said. “Everybody participated. It was concessions workers, it was event staff, our front office staff, everybody participated and put our best fit foot forward to get this place ready for that following Friday’s game. And we did it. It’s something that I’m very proud of, because it did take a lot of work and effort and it was very gratifying that Friday night to be able to play.”
Two games in the homestand were shifted to Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford, with McVerry crediting Yard Goats president Tim Restall and his staff for making an accommodation that allowed the Patriots to get TD Bank Ballpark in shape. Just eight days after the flooding, the Patriots returned home and were greeted by over 5,500 fans, marking one of the highlights in a season that saw the team overcome many obstacles.
“We had all of these obstacles kind of come our way, and we didn’t let it slow us down,” he said. “We kept pushing forward…You’ve heard it before, when someone wins an award like this, it’s really far more than one person. It’s the staff here. We care for each other, and this award is for all of them, all of their efforts, and is something that I really hope they’re proud of, too.”
The Patriots, for their part, recently announced $35,000 in donations to local organizations that are assisting those affected by the flooding and damage caused by Tropical Storm Ida. With their strong relationship with the community and steady leadership, McVerry and the Patriots appear poised for many bright days in the future.
The Ballpark Digest Podcast is also available as an audio-only podcast. You can subscribe to the Ballpark Digest podcasts here:
Past Ballpark Digest Executive of the Year Winners
2019: Robert Murphy
2018: Doug Scopel
2017: Ryan Keur
2016: Chris Allen
2015: Eric Edelstein
2014: Dan Rajkowski
2011: Martie Cordaro and Alan Stein
2010: Katie Dannemiller, Liz Kern and Amy Venuto
2009: Rick Brenner
2008: Joe Ricciutti
2021 Ballpark Digest Award Winners
2021 MLB Broadcaster of the Year: Melanie Newman
2021 MiLB Broadcaster of the Year: Sam Levitt, Amarillo Sod Poodles
2021 Editor’s Choice Award: Jesse Cole and the Savannah Bananas
2021 Promotion of the Year: The Wonders reunite at Erie SeaWolves game