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Stompers get local ownership

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The Sonoma Stompers professional baseball team has new local owners to start the New Year.

Eric and Lani Gullotta have purchased the team, for an undisclosed price, from Redwood Sports and Entertainment, a Marin County group that also owns the San Rafael Pacifics in the four-team Pacific League of Professional Baseball Clubs. The sale became official on Jan. 1.

“Our goal is to take the team to the next level,” said Gullotta.

The Gullottas, who were season ticket holders and sponsors of the team in its inaugural season last summer, would bring guests and clients to the games.

“It was a great way to have a beer or a glass of wine and talk business,” Gullotta said. Eric Gullotta is a local attorney and Lani Gullotta is a local Realtor.

Somewhere along the way, they approached Theo Fightmaster, the Stompers general manager, to find out if the team was for sale.

“I asked Theo what’s it going to take to buy the team, and he said the owners might be interested in selling the team,” Gullotta said.

After the season ended in August, the Gullottas got to know the team’s owners – but they weren’t the only ones interested in buying the Stompers.

“There was a lot of back-and-forth,” Gullotta said. “And we lost the deal at one point.”

But the other group that wanted to buy the Stompers weren’t Sonomans, and Fightmaster, who is staying on as general manager and Chief Operating Officer, said he didn’t think it would have been a good fit.

“We’re local,” said Gullotta. “And one of the things we want to do is grow the league, but you need good partners.”

The league won’t expand this coming season, but Gullotta is hoping there will be expansion in the summer of 2016. “We have to grow the league,” he said. And he’s hoping one of the cities the league expands into is Napa which would be a natural rivalry.

But the Gullottas are making plans for this coming season. And this year, the Stompers, who didn’t have any home dates at Arnold Field in June because of scheduling, will have nine to- 2 games there in June.

“We want to incorporate Little League and youth baseball into the Stompers next year,” he said. “We want to foster a partnership. We want to focus on the kids. There’s not a lot for families to do in Sonoma in the summer.”

The new ownership will be making more improvements to Arnold Field. Last summer, the Stompers owners made some improvements on Arnold Field including building new, bigger dugouts.

“Improving the bathrooms is one of our top priorities,” Gullotta said. “We’re going to meet with (First District Supervisor) Susan Gorin and we’re going to remodel or renovate the restrooms. That was the number one complaint I heard.”

The team is looking to build a new scoreboard in right-center field between Arnold Field and Teeter Field. The proposed scoreboard would be a baseball scoreboard that would give inning-by-inning scores along with hits and errors.

And they want to put some sort of shading over the grandstand behind home plate and replace the chain-link fence with nylon netting to give spectators a better view.

“We need shade during our Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon games,” Gullotta said. “If we can get those three things (restrooms, scoreboard, shade) accomplished, we’ll be very happy.”

The team is also going to open a retail outlet at 234 W. Napa St., tentatively the first part of February. Fans will be able to buy Stompers merchandise and tickets. Last year, tickets were only available online or at the ballpark. There will also be a Stompers museum in the store.

“The Stompers are going to be here,” Fightmaster said. “We’re not going to disappear.”

The general manager said he’s heard from about 20 players from last year who are interested in returning this summer.

“We treated them well and we had good character people in the clubhouse,” Fightmaster said. The league will be having open tryouts in Sonoma again this year sometime in March.

One Stomper who won’t be returning is Sonoman Jayce Ray. Ray, who was the league’s most valuable player, has signed a contract with the Wichita Wingnuts in the American Association and will have a tryout in front of Major League teams including the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“Sonoma has a fantastic sense of pride,” Gullotta said. “And this gives us something to be proud of. I’m enthusiastic about this team and this next year.”

“It’s going to be awesome,” he added.