BRIDGEWATER TOWNSHIP, New Jersey -- TD Bank Ballpark, home of the Somerset Patriots, hosted its first game on June 7, 1999. Paul Spychala made his debut as the team's PA announcer that evening, beginning a 1,396-game run that came to an end on Sept. 12. After 23 seasons, six Atlantic
BRIDGEWATER TOWNSHIP, New Jersey -- TD Bank Ballpark, home of the Somerset Patriots, hosted its first game on June 7, 1999. Paul Spychala made his debut as the team's PA announcer that evening, beginning a 1,396-game run that came to an end on Sept. 12. After 23 seasons, six Atlantic League championships, two no-hitters, a transition from independent ball to affiliated, myriad inside jokes and innumerable wry remarks, Spychala has decided to step away from what he calls "the best job in the state of New Jersey."
Spychala, whose name is pronounced with a silent c, reflected on his career with the Patriots prior to the team's Sept. 10 ballgame. The Double-A New York Yankees affiliate fell just shy of the playoffs, so this turned out to be his antepenultimate game as a team employee. Come 2022, for the first time in the history of the franchise, Patriots fans won't hear his dulcet tones emanating from the stadium sound system.
"It's very bittersweet," he said. "I think it won't really hit me too much until next April when the season starts again. I love baseball. It's always been my favorite sport to watch, to play. But truthfully, and this may sound corny, I will miss the people more."
Spychala is leaving the job he loves because he found an even better one -- babysitting his 14-month-old grandson, Jack.
"My son, daughter-in-law and grandson live in Mount Vernon, New York, just north of the city," he said. "We had been going up to help with babysitting, and all of a sudden, my wife and I got to talking that although we loved our house, loved our neighborhood, we really had no ties there. ... We found a house we loved. The commute [between Mount Vernon and TD Bank Ballpark] would be too daunting to do on a daily basis."
Spychala, who has a background in cable TV doing play-by-play broadcasts, attended the Patriots' inaugural season job fair after seeing an ad for it in the local paper. This led to an audition for the PA announcer job, and the rest is history. He says the best moment of his long tenure was witnessing Travis Anderson's championship-winning walk-off home run in 2008. Of the six championships the Patriots won during their Atlantic League tenure, this was the only one that occurred at home.
Spychala quickly developed a ballpark reputation for his dry sense of humor, peppering batter introductions and between-inning announcements with wry asides and subtle references. Perhaps his most famous amplified remark was uttered during a game in 1999, when Atlantic City Surf manager Doc Edwards was ejected after arguing a call on the field. An enraged Edwards uprooted both first and second base, throwing them into the outfield. For an encore, he picked up third base and walked off the field with it tucked under his arm.
"Doc Edwards has been ejected from the game," Spychala intoned over the PA. "He was also credited with a stolen base."
There was more where that came from.
"To break up the monotony of calling fans to customer service, I would throw in the names of TV characters," he said. "You can't make it too obvious, but every once in a while somebody would recognize it. 'Wait a minute?' Did you just page someone from 'Happy Days?'" ... A few years ago, I started announcing a second-base umpire, which we don't have in Minor League Baseball. A good example was Pete Best, the first drummer for the Beatles. I named him the second-base umpire on Beatles Night. I don't want 7,000 people to enjoy it. I'm happy if two or three people turn around and either give me a thumbs-up or a smile."
On Sept. 12, prior to his final game behind the microphone, the Patriots unveiled a sign above the door leading to Spychala's TD Bank Ballpark office. It is now designated as "The Paul Spychala PA Booth." His long run with the team may be over, but he won't be forgotten.
"I work with great people. I get to watch 70 baseball games a year, I'm 100 feet behind home plate," he said. "I will miss it. I will treasure all the days I was here. I couldn't have asked for a better part-time job that's lasted 23 years."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.