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New lights, grass, clubhouse come to Sonoma’s Arnold Field

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Arnold Field is finally getting the makeover its fans have been longing for.

The baseball field squeezed between the Sonoma Valley Veterans Memorial Building and Deport Park, home to the independent baseball league team Sonoma Stompers as well as Babe Ruth baseball and the Sonoma Valley High baseball Dragons, is rounding third and headed for home on a 4-month renovation project that brings new lights, new grass, an improved infield and even a remodeled clubhouse to the 68-year-old playing field.

Named for the late Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, first and only General of the U.S. Air Force and a Sonoma resident, Arnold Field was dedicated in 1952 after two years of rock removal, site grading and other landscaping to make it game-worthy. Then, as now, the Sonoma Valley Athletic Corp, a nonprofit volunteer organization, maintains Arnold Field, although it is owned by the Sonoma County Regional Parks system.

“The SVAC invested heavily in Arnold Field for this season,” said Rich Blanchard, the current coach of the SVHS baseball team. The nonprofit gets funding by charging the teams that play at Arnold – the high school, Babe Ruth, Stompers – for field use and, if it’s a night game, a surcharge for lights.

But it cuts both ways: the Vine Valley Athletic League also asks for a cut of the gate for high school games played there.

Soon after the football season ended last fall, volunteers and SVAC members including Joe Lunny and Scott Anderson Landscaping got to work, replacing the infield grass, attending to a sprinkler leak in shallow left field, rolling in a new portable backstop for on-field battling practice, and laying down a new pitching ramp and tarps to protect the grass during practice.

Last week, even as the Sonoma International Film Festival was partying under the nearby Backlot Tent, new LED lights were installed on the four infield poles to illuminate the playing field, providing more energy-efficient and brighter but with less optical spillover into the neighborhood than the old 1980s-style metal halide lights they replaced. The lights on the four outfield poles are scheduled to be upgraded later in the year, possibly after the Stompers conclude their summer season, according to Lunny.

Lights were purchased for the batting cage, too, to give players a chance to practice their swings after the sun goes down.

More improvements were installed to improve the PA system and scoreboard wiring, and the clubhouse – an enclosed room below the grandstands – was substantially repaired from mold and rain damage, and new lockers installed for the home team’s comfort.

“We have a program of funding from Measure M, thank you to the voters,” said 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin. “Regional Parks, the supervisor’s office, the SVAC and the Stompers are all in this together, and we want to figure out the best way to improve the field.”

High on that list is improving the bathrooms, which are on the same water supply system as the leaky sprinklers. “There are a number of elements that are in sad shape, including the bathrooms,” said Gorin. “We're building a two to five year plan to improve a lot of the deferred maintenance items.”

Blanchard. a former computer scientist at Apple, has been immersed in the field’s makeover while doubling as the Dragons’ baseball coach. The team – with an 8-1 record as we go to press – has apparently found the field to their liking, racking up their eight wins in consecutive home appearances before finally losing on the road last weekend.

Blanchard is quick to thank the Sonoma Valley High School Boosters for their support of the baseball team, and other athletic endeavors at the school. “This year they extended that support buying the varsity program three new professional level, protective screens for practice,” he pointed out. “They bought a new three-wheel pitching machine for use by the varsity team at Arnold Field.”

The Boosters also helped purchase new uniforms and other gear for the varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams – as well as baseballs and caps. “The baseball program would not be able to function without the yearly support from the Boosters,” said Blanchard flatly.

The newly-illuminated Arnold Field baseball diamond will show itself off on Saturday, April 6, with a home game for a rain-delayed non-league matchup between the SVHS Dragons and the Knights of Walnut Creek’s Las Lomas High. Game time is 6:30 p.m.

“As a nonprofit the SVAC relies on donations of both money and labor,” added Blanchard. “Because there a lot more to do at Arnold Field the SVAC is in desperate need of and is always looking for companies and individuals in the community willing to contribute.” Potential supporters can email info@arnoldfield.org or visit the website at arnoldfield.org.

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.

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