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Stompers pack the place

THIS YOUNGSTER WATCHES the San Rafael Pacifics warm up prior to Tuesday night’s game. Bill Hoban/Index-Tribune

THIS YOUNGSTER WATCHES the San Rafael Pacifics warm up prior to Tuesday night’s game. Bill Hoban/Index-Tribune

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Tuesday was opening night, and Valley residents came out in droves to see their newest attraction – the Sonoma Stompers.

While the team’s ticket system went offline an hour before the first pitch, Theo Fightmaster, the Stompers general manager, estimated there were between 1,800 and 2,000 spectators filling a refurbished Arnold Field. Some observers thought it was probably the largest turnout ever for a sporting event at the field.

“It was an amazing night,” Fightmaster said. “I tried the best I could to soak it in, but it was a blur. The general response has been overwhelmingly positive – with a hint of constructive criticism.”

Fans in the bleachers complained about not being able to hear the public address announcer and having to look over their shoulder at the scoreboard, which is mounted on the football press box.

But even that didn’t dampen their enthusiasm.

Cathy Gore, a longtime baseball fan, was pumped. “I’ve been watching baseball there since I was in junior high,” she said. “And it’s great to see a different level of baseball. It’s nice to see Arnold Field being spruced up.”

The sprucing up took a huge effort by a large army of volunteers.

Joe Lunny marshaled the helpers, and he’s not even sure how many there were.

“We were putting the finishing touches on the visitor’s dugout at 10 a.m. Tuesday,” he said.

Lunny said everything went into high gear after the Babe Ruth playoffs ended Friday night. All of the materials and all of the labor was donated.

“Everybody in Sonoma really pitched in,” Lunny said. They got donated concrete from Shamrock, donated cement blocks from Sonoma Materials, donated paint and wood from

Friedman’s and other donations from a variety of businesses.

“We had so many people here Sunday and Monday, but it was really fun,” he said. “It’s too bad Sunday and Monday were so hot.”

The work started in earnest on June 9, and hit high gear over the weekend when the old dugouts had to be razed and the new dugouts, twice the size of the old ones, were built.

Fightmaster had high praise for the volunteers.

“The volunteers were amazing. All night (Tuesday) people came up to me, thanking me or the Stompers. But I kept telling them we had nothing to do with this,” he said. “Sonoma did this. The support and enthusiasm from this town was inspiring and remarkable.”

Shortly before 7 p.m., the Stompers were introduced as they ran out onto the field from centerfield. After the Cork Pullers sang the national anthem, there was a flyover by antique planes and two honorary first pitches.

The grandstand was full, the Cline Cellars Club was full, the Lagunitas Lounge was filled and there was nary a vacant seat in the bleachers.

And there were activities for kids between innings, including racing Stompers around the bases, a pie-eating contest and a bat-spin race, among others.

Sonoma jumped out to an early 7-2 lead and beat the San Rafael Pacifics 7-5.After a Wednesday night win, the Stompers are in first place in the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball league. (See game story on A5.)

“A number of the players thanked us for the sold out crowd,” Fightmaster said. “For many of them, it was the biggest crowd they’ve played in front of.”

Fightmaster added that Will Krout, the Stompers starting pitcher, was making the last start of his career. The Sonoma State grad retired after the game to attend the police

academy.

“He couldn’t have asked for a better send off. It gives me chills to think we may have let someone leave this game in that sort of fashion,” Fightmaster added.

The Stompers are on the road this weekend in Pittsburg. But they’ll be back in Arnold Field on Tuesday for a six-game home stand against Vallejo on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and Pittsburg on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.