Stompers aim to make baseball fan-friendly

Officials of the newly-formed Sonoma Stompers professional baseball team want to deliver family-oriented fun at an affordable price.

Michael Shapiro, president of the Stompers and the San Rafael Pacifics, said they want to “replicate the Crushers’ experience.”

The Sonoma County Crushers were part of the independent Western Baseball League and played their games in Rohnert Park from 1995 to 2002, when the league folded.

The Stompers and Pacifics are part of the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs, an independent league that, talent-wise, is somewhere between A and AA baseball. In addition, there are teams in Vallejo and Martinez. The last two years, the league had two teams in Hawaii, but the travel was expensive and the Hawaii-owner sustained about $2-million in losses.

“We want to be in small, community-based fields,” Shapiro said at a public meeting Saturday. “We want to bring the joy the Crushers brought, but on a smaller scale.”

Shapiro said the Crushers were a financially sound ball club, but other clubs in the league weren’t. “You’re only as strong as your weakest club,” Shapiro said.

The Stompers, who will play their home games at Arnold Field, will be looking for players who have some pro experience and hope to get discovered. To that end, Sonoma has already traded for its first player, former Sonoma Valley High, SRJC All American, and University of Washington All Conference star, Jayce Ray. Last year, Ray played with the Windy City Thunderbolts in the independent Frontier League, and batted .286 with 13 RBI in 37 games with the Thunderbolts.

“Our manager (Casey Dill) believes Jayce is going to have not just a great chance of making the club, but playing a significant role for us,” said Theo Fightmaster, the Stompers’ general manager.

Fightmaster said the team is also talking with other Sonomans about playing for the Stompers. “What better PR is there than having local guys on the local team,” he said. “It’s good business.”

Shapiro, who has 30-years major league experience with the Giants, the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Nationals, said the Pacifics have built a model in San Rafael and that’s what they want to replicate in Sonoma.

“We want this to be a family experience,” he said. “We want you to have a great time.”

The team will also start a host family program, in which the players will live with local families during the three-month season.

Shapiro said they’re planning promotional nights, will have games for kids between innings and have the ballplayers sign autographs after the game until everyone has left.

“Our ballplayers will visit hospitals and senior centers,” he continued. “We want to put the team out into the community. This is your team.”

And, Shapiro said, there will be jobs for local kids in concessions and the ticket booth.

He asked for a one-year trial period in Sonoma to make sure it works.

Because Arnold Field is pretty-well booked with Babe Ruth baseball during June, the Stompers would play an abbreviated home schedule of 25 to 30 games in July and August. The league has a 73-game schedule.

“It’s a family night out – and you get to keep the foul balls,” Shapiro said.

While the league has only four teams, Shapiro hopes it would expand to six teams next summer, and eventually to eight teams.

“But we’re not going to deficit spend,” he said. “We’ve never missed a payroll.”

Bert Whitaker, the operations manager for Sonoma County Regional Parks – which owns Arnold Field – said the county and the group have had discussions, but they’re still in the preliminary stages.

“They have to develop an alcohol plan (to sell beer and wine) and it has to be signed off by the ABC and the Sonoma police department,” he said.

“But we’re supportive,” Whitaker continued. “It’s a baseball facility and using it as a baseball facility is a good use.”

Whitaker said he’s talked to San Rafael city officials and had gotten good feedback from them.

The team has tryouts slated for Saturday, March 15, at Peterson Field in Sonoma and will have a roster of 21 to 23 players.

For information about tryouts or other questions about the Stompers, contact 939-5073 or info@stompersbaseball.com.