By: Mike Ashmore
On Tuesday, the Somerset Patriots both made their own fanbase happy and got the baseball world talking.
Bridgewater’s baseball club not only brought back fan favorite and West Windsor native Scott Kelly, but signed 2012 Major League All-Star Bryan LaHair to a contract, a move that easily serves as the biggest splash of the Atlantic League offseason to date.
“We are very happy to have a veteran hitter like Bryan LaHair join our organization,” said manager Brett Jodie in a team statement.
“Bryan worked his way to the major leagues through hard work and consistent play. He is a smart hitter with a bunch of power. LaHair will play some first base and corner outfield for us and be a presence in the middle of our lineup.”
LaHair, 33, is a 6-foot-5, 245 pound slugger who has 221 professional home runs to his credit. 21 of those came in the big leagues, where he appeared in 195 games over the course of three years with the Seattle Mariners and Chicago Cubs.
It was the last of those three seasons where the Worcester, Massachusetts. native found his greatest success, earning his way to the midsummer classic with a hot start; he posted five home runs and 14 RBI with a .390 batting average in the month of April. Only two seasons removed from that – LaHair sat out last year after having a bone spur removed from his left elbow – and he’s confident that TD Bank Ballpark will be the place where he’s able to show he’s still on top of his game.
“Basically, I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I want to do and work on my body physically and my swing,” LaHair told MyCentralJersey.com via cellphone.
“I think right now, my swing is as good as it’s ever been. As long as physically everything that I’ve worked on over the last six or seven months allows me to do that at game speed, I have no reason to believe that I can’t get back to the point I was at.”
LaHair was last with a major league organization in 2014, when he split time with the Double-A and Triple-A affiliates of the Cleveland Indians after a year in Japan.
“For me, obviously that is the goal,” he said. “To get back out there playing again and get in game atmosphere and game speed situations, I think that’s the first step in me getting back to where I want to be.”
In a way, Kelly is looking to accomplish the same thing. The always upbeat 24-year-old was having an All-Star-caliber season when suffered a potentially life-threatening vascular injury. Although he briefly returned in the playoffs, his season was essentially over on June 17; he was hitting .337 at the time.
“Truthfully, I’m feeling great and I went through all my rehab, so now I’m just getting ready,” Kelly said via cellphone.
“The anticipation is killing me. Just getting back on the field with teammates and being back in Somerset, that’s what I’m really looking forward to.”