Ashmore: Remembering Steve Kalafer

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KalaferMy career never would have gotten started without Steve Kalafer.

My career in Somerset would be over without him, too.

The last conversation he and I ever had was in early November, at the press conference announcing the fruition of his vision, the affiliation between his Somerset Patriots franchise and his beloved New York Yankees.

The beauty of my job is many of those conversations are recorded, and this one was no different.  Steve was, as always, kind enough to give me some time with just the two us after that press conference, and he spoke about how everything came together, and just how excited he was that he was going to get to see the Double-A team of his favorite team play in the stadium he’d help put together from scratch.

The conversation came to an end, or so I thought.  Instead, he wanted to catch up, see how I was doing, asked me about married life, asked me how things were going with my job.

I was never so sure how to answer questions about that last part.

I’ll keep the majority of what we spoke about there between he and I, but I expressed to him that while there was some uncertainty over my return at that time, I didn’t want to be anywhere else but Somerset for the upcoming season.

“Make sure that someway, somehow, you’re a part of it,” he said.

I’ve listened back to him saying that dozens of times over the last few minutes, as well as all of the other things he told me then.  I can’t even begin to tell you how emotional it’s been over the past few hours, and just hearing his voice again certainly brought upon a new wave of them over here.

But, the point of this story is that Steve Kalafer was a man of integrity.  A man of his word.

He caught wind that I’d no longer be writing for the Courier News as of a few months ago, and that I was still looking to cover his team.  So, the ads you see up top?  Those are because he stepped up, because he wasn’t just paying me lip service, and because he wanted to help out with what I was doing.

PatriotsBaseball.com is back because of Steve Kalafer, and I won’t forget it.

I won’t ever forget the man who I shared countless conversations and laughs with over the past 19 years, a man who I watched treat everyone with care and class and respect.  Steve was a billionaire.  That’s billionaire, with a “B.”  And he’d treat the guy in section 214 the same way he’d treat one of his colleagues.

I won’t forget the man who made it a point to show up to my mother’s funeral to support my family, the man who wrote my wife and I a generous check when he found out we were getting married, the man who helped make sure I was included in a lot of team functions, the man who always made it a point to ask how you were doing before anything else because damn it, he actually cared.

I won’t say I was close with Steve, but I was fortunate to have special access to see just what kind of impact he made on the community, which was something he was so passionate about.  But it was baseball that brought us together, and that was something he cared a hell of a lot about, too.

After the news of his passing hit, I’ve seen countless people speak on the “Somerset Patriots way,” and how surely that all came from the top.  It did.  Damn right, it did.  Steve treated the players, coaches and front office members with great respect and made sure everyone was treated fairly and properly.  In a way, the move from independent baseball to  an affiliation with the Yankees didn’t feel like a big jump in that sense, because everything Steve had his hands on was first class from the beginning.

On the flip side of that, it’s horribly, horribly sad and cruel that Steve won’t be here to see what he helped make happen.  It’s infuriating, honestly.  He deserved to see his club in pinstripes on that field on Opening Day on May 4.

But, his legacy will live on here.  For a long time, too.  Through his sons, Josh and Jonathan, sure.  Through the statue outside the ballpark?  You bet.

Should they name the field in his honor?  Absolutely, yes.  One thousand percent yes.  I don’t want to be able to walk a foot in that ballpark without thinking about Steve, because it wouldn’t be there without him.

It’s through that “Patriots Way” is where you’ll see it the most.  Through the way that all of the lives that Steve touched and impacted and how they’ll carry themselves and treat others, through how his Somerset Patriots organization has been and will continue to be a model organization at any level of baseball.

Today was heartbreaking, devastating, crushing…all those things.  All the words you hear used to describe tough losses or tough moments in sports…that don’t actually mean that at all when you experience real-life heartbreak like this again.

So, I’ll make sure I’m a part of all of what you’ve built this year, Steve.  Somehow, someway.  But it wouldn’t have happened without you.

Rest in peace, my friend.

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