Country Hardball

During the Independence Day weekend, the downtown plaza in Sonoma (population 10,600) was filled with people enjoying the holiday entertainment and browsing the surrounding shops and restaurants and wine-tasting venues. Two blocks beyond the plaza, three hundred baseball fans watched the Sonoma Stompers take on the San Rafael Pacifics. The finale was a Sunday double-header: afternoon game in Sonoma, then a thirty-mile ride to San Rafael for the evening contest. The Pacifics won both.

At the mid point of the season, the Sonoma Stompers are in first place in the Pacific Association, four games ahead of the San Rafael Pacifics.

The Pacific Association of Professional Baseball comprises four teams in the northern California. All are near the San Francisco Bay Area: the Vallejo Admirals, the Pittsburg Mettle along with the San Rafael and Sonoma teams.

The Sonoma club’s “Stompers” moniker relates to its location in the heart of California wine country and possibly to differentiate the team from the Sonoma County Crushers of a previous decade. (Who can forget the Crushers’ mascot, the Abominable Sonoman?) Although “Professional,” the team solicits host families to house the players.

This is up-close baseball. The grandstands are near the field; binoculars not needed. No instant replays on giant screens. Hot dogs and beer about half the price of AT&T Park, where the San Francisco Giants play. In the big leagues, a ball that hits the ground is immediately retired and replaced with a new one. Here, scuffed balls are returned to the home plate umpire, who inspects them, brushes off the usable ones and puts them in the pouch on his belt. If a ball is too far-gone, he tosses it out.

The Stompers recently made national news when Sean Conroy became the first openly gay professional baseball player. He pitched nine innings and shut out the Vallejo Admirals on the Stompers’ Pride Night.

The Pacific Association season goes until the end of August.

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