Jon Sebastiani, founder of Krave Jerky and Sonoma Brands, has acquired the Sonoma Stompers baseball organization from local attorney Eric Gullotta.
The price was not disclosed; the sale became official Feb. 9.
The Stompers is one of four teams in the Pacific Association Professional Baseball Club. Founded as an expansion team in 2014, the team was acquired by Gullotta in 2015.
The Stompers attracted national attention by signing the first openly gay professional baseball player in 2015 and the first female players in 2016. The team won its first league championship last season.
When Sebastiani got a call last year about the possibility of buying the Stompers, his hometown team, he said it felt like a dream come true.
Beyond obsessively collecting baseball cards as a youth – cards he says he still has today – baseball was his favorite sport growing up.
“I played all through school, on the varsity in high school and considered playing in college,” he said. “I am a huge fan of the game.”
Sebastiani says that he wants to use the Stompers as a way to support the community in which he founded and has grown his companies.
“I want to help build something that the town is proud of and to give back to the community here in a way that is unique,” he said.
While the details are still being ironed out, he plans for specific games or weeks in the season to benefit different local nonprofits, whether it is through tickets sales, product sales or raffles.
“This isn’t a typical business transaction,” he said. “There’s no real money to be made here. My goal is for sponsors and ticket sales to cover our costs and to give away the rest.”
“We’re coming up with creative ways that we can benefit the community and make the games really fun,” he said. “The most important thing is that the Stompers be a vehicle for wholesome family entertainment.”
While the Stompers had the highest attendance rates of the four teams in the Pacific league last year, the stands are rarely full. Using his staff’s marketing muscle to help build attendance is a big priority for Sebastiani.
“People in town seem really proud of the Stompers, but not everyone is going to the games regularly,” he said. Sebastiani assembled an advisory board of locals who have a passion for baseball, people who are also parents and community leaders, to get their input.
“Using their input, my team has some great ideas about how to enhance the fan experience at the ballpark,” he said.
Fans can expect a wider array of food choices at the games, including Sonoma Brands and Krave products and those of other sponsors, as well as wine from Francis Ford Coppola’s Virginia Dare Winery. Sebastiani said that he can even imagine bringing future companies that he might invest in to a game to see how fans interact with their products.
Sebastiani said that the business of the team and its players will remain solely in the hands of general manager Theo Fightmaster.
“Theo’s willingness to stay on in the role as GM was a big part of why this deal was attractive to me,” said Sebastiani. “I’ve been incredibly impressed by him and by his ability to focus on both winning and on creating a forward thinking organization. He and Eric (Gullotta) created a team here that is nationally recognized. I have high regard for what they’ve done.”
The Stompers 411
There are four teams in the Pacific Association league for the 2017 season:
San Rafael Pacifics
The Stompers play at the 1400 seat Peoples Home Equity Ballpark at Arnold Field
The season starts in early June and ends in late August.
“The Only Rule is it Has to Work,” by Ben Lingbergh and Sam Miller, was written about the Sonoma Stompers and published in 2016.