It started with the purchase of a Ford F-150 in 1997, and turned into a 15-year career managing a new baseball team—and now Somerset Patriots manager Sparky Lyle has transitioned into an emeritus position, with a new manager appointed to take care of the team.
Former pitching coach Brett Jodie was appointed as the new manager of the Somerset Patriots at a press conference Wednesday at Fiddler's Elbow Golf Club in Bedminster that also appointed Lyle as the first-ever manager emeritus in baseball history.
"It was emotional, especially the last couple of days leading up to this," Lyle said. "But if it wasn't, there would be something wrong."
Lyle was the first employee hired by the team in 1997 after Patriots chairman Steve Kalafer approached him about the position while he was purchasing a car, and he served as the first manager through the most recent 2012 season. He has won five championships with the team, more than 1,000 games and has been named Manager of the Year three times.
"I remember telling Steve [15 years ago] that I never managed before," he said. "But I said I will do this as I have done everything, and give everything I have."
But with his new title, Lyle is not going anywhere, and will still be a presence at every home game. As manager emeritus, he will intereact with fans and special guests at the ballpark, and continue to serve as an ambassador for the team at the ballpark and throughout the community.
Lyle said he wasn't necessarily looking to take a step back from the team, but that this is a fine time.
"No doubt, I wanted to win another championship, that's what baseball is about," he said. "But with 15 years, 1,000 wins, what do I have left to accomplish?"
"To be able to go into a different role and stay with the organization, that doesn't happen," he added. "It shows once again how good this organization is."
Kalafer said Lyle has earned this new honor, and the whole change is about succession in a business, whether that be government, sports or anything else.
"It is about planning, and there has to be thought to it, not reaction," he said. "A succession plan corresponds to the history of any organization, and this is as good a year as ever to plan ahead."
In his new role, Lyle said, the specifics have not yet been settled, but he will be in uniform for the pregame of every home game, and then will spend time up in the stands.
"I want to have the interaction with the fans," he said. "I get to stay with an organization that I love and has been so much a part of my life."
"I am not stepping down, I will be around," he added. "This organization made me more famous than I ever thought I would be. I am so proud of everything."
Kalafer said Lyle will continue to be a huge presence around the stadium.
"By him not having the burden of 140 games and 160 days home or on the road, it allows him to continue to do what he has been doing without the burden of managing," Kalafer said. "He was the face of the Patriots, and will continue to be the face."
Lyle said he has so many memories from his years with the Patriots, it is hard to pick just one to focus on. He also has had his moments from children who thought he was also the mascot, to big wins over the years.
"All of them are so priceless," he said. "These are memories I will have forever."
And the second ever manager of the Patriots is now Jodie, who joined the team as a pitcher in 2003, coming off a shoulder injury and time playing with the New York Yankees and San Diego Padres.
Jodie served as pitching coach from 2006 through 2012, and director of player personnel from 2007 through 2012.
"Obviously there is a lot of excitement and joy," he said. "To work my way from player to become manager is a dream come true."
Jodie said he truly enjoys the Somerset Patriots organization, and working with Lyle. But, he said, while he has learned a great deal from him, it is not necessarily about following in Lyle's footsteps.
"I will be myself and have my own style," he said.
Still, Jodie said, he has learned a great deal from Lyle, including strategies, game management and how not to panic.
"It is good to have Sparky as a pillar," he said. "I have had the pleasure of coaching with and playing with many great minds. I learn from everybody, and if you keep your eyes open, you get a lot of knowledge."
Jodie said he has been proud to be part of many milestones for the Patriots, and hopes to create some of his own in the coming years.
"I get a chance to start new, and hopefully there will be more milestones in the new era," he said. "I will start my own traditions and legacy, and I'm looking forward to doing that."