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Before there were Giants

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You might have read in the Index-Tribune recently that Sonoma Valley might have its own professional baseball team, The Sonoma Stompers, playing games at Arnold Field this year.

The Stompers are part of an independent league that features players at the class A to AA level of the minor leagues.

It won’t be the first time Sonoma has had its own baseball team, although in those early, pre-television days, our hometown teams were mostly what they called “semi-pro.”

Semi-pro generally meant that the players didn’t get paid, although one or more of the better players might have been paid something. Most had full time jobs elsewhere. Local baseball historians would know more about that.

Professional teams from the Pacific Coast League, including the San Francisco Seals and Oakland Oaks, held spring training here (at the old Boyes Springs Bath House).

Long before the Giants moved to San Francisco, and before baseball on television was offered virtually every night, local teams played before good-sized crowds at the old ball field that was located on West Napa Street at the corner of Second Street West where the Sonoma Marketplace is now.

In those days, the town had a men’s softball league, in which many of the town’s most prominent men participated. The teams, sponsored by local businesses, played under the lights many evenings during the summer, and watching those games was popular, pre-television entertainment.

My dad played for Don’s Fine Foods, a restaurant located in the 200 block of Napa Street where Wine Country Cyclery is today. One of the best local softball players of that era was Don Eraldi, who, with his late brother Dave, was the major leader in establishing our current baseball venue, Arnold Field.

At that time, the old Sonoma ball field – and later, Arnold Field – were sort of like the present-day Plaza Farmer’s Market.
People went to socialize as well as watch the local guys play ball.

Besides the local leagues, and the town team playing against other teams from Napa, Santa Rosa, Marin, etc., there was an annual charity softball game featuring the two largest local service clubs, Rotary and Kiwanis.

The funds raised went to the clubs’ service projects. Kiwanians and Rotarians dressed as various characters and played in costume.

There was lots of clowning around and at least one disintegrating, fake softball tossed to an unsuspecting batter.

Whenever I go to a Giants game and stand up to sing, “Take me out to the ball game,” during the middle of the seventh inning stretch, I remember those far less sophisticated days, when many Sonomans took themselves out to a local ball game and had a wonderful time.

Maybe the Stompers can bring some of that back, along with some peanuts and Cracker Jacks.