One of the first times Sparky Lyle explained the objective of the Somerset Patriots to an MLB executive, he was interrupted by a strange sound.
On a road trip to visit spring training sites in 1998, Lyle and Joe Klein — the former MLB general manager who became commissioner of the fledgling independent Atlantic League — pitched the idea of teams telling released veteran players not yet ready to retire to place a call to Klein.
“The guy starts snoring,” Lyle recalled. “He fell asleep right there! Joe says, ‘Well, leave an information package. Let’s go.’ And we just went on to the next place.”
A few pegs below humble beginnings is where the league and its quick-to-be premier franchise, the Bridgewater, N.J.-based Patriots, hatched. That makes it all the more remarkable that Somerset today is the Double-A affiliate of the Yankees — hosting Luke Voit, Gleyber Torres, Gary Sanchez and a half-dozen others on rehab assignments, sending Estevan Florial, Hoy Park and Luis Gil on their paths to the majors, and maintaining its own 23-year history.