No summer baseball for Sonoma Stompers

Sonoma team cancels its season|

By this point in summers past, the Sonoma Stompers has held its opening series, introduced new players, probably even won a game or two, or three.

This summer, Arnold Field is locked and quiet. Nobody is throwing in the bullpen, nobody flagging down fly balls or jogging around the base paths. Even Stompers mascot Rawhide – last seen at a COVID-19 testing clinic at La Luz last July – remains absent.

The team website hasn’t been updated since July 27, 2020; neither has the website of the Pacific Association, the league in which it plays.

On May 22, Jonathan Stone, the president of the league, emailed the Index-Tribune: “No baseball this summer. Let’s see what the future brings.”

Earlier this month, the Stompers distributed a message describing the “difficult decision” of joining the league in calling off the 2021 season, “with our players, coaches, staff and host families’ health and safety as the utmost important factor in decision making.”

Later, Stone elaborated that the only certainty in the baseball season this year is uncertainty – though he hopes the league will return to play next year.

“It’s tough when you take two years off, and professional baseball itself has gone through a lot of reorganization in the last year,” he said, referring to the reduction of affiliate minor league teams from 160 to 140.

The Pacific Association is not an affiliated league, but it is nonetheless a professional league – they pay their players. Perhaps not much, but as Ben Lindberg and Sam Miller made clear in their 2017 book about the Stompers, “The Only Rule Is It Has to Work,” the rosters of the smaller-league teams are filled with dreamers hoping that there’s still a chance to make it to the big leagues.

But there’s not a lot of money behind leagues like the Pacific Association, or teams like the Sonoma Stompers. “We can’t survive without the house,” said Stone, referring to the paying customers who come to the games during the balmy summer months. That’s one area in which the organization has done well: its attendance records have usually been second in the league, in a close race with the San Rafael Pacifics.

The Pacifics left the Pacific Association at the end of the 2019 season, jumping to the Pecos League – a multi-state league of 16 teams, from Colorado to California. “The Pecos League is a lower league than the Pacific Association,” said Stone. “It’s not a professional league – it’s a pay-for-play league. ‘You want to play second base? Give me some money,’” is how he characterized it.

“It’s not as bad as you might think,” Stone added. “A lot of kids just need the opportunity to play. But they don’t need a crowd – though they may advertise for people, nobody shows up. It’s a bit of a sore spot for us, because we pay all our players.”

At one time, the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs had six teams participating – including such regulars the Stompers, the San Rafael Pacifics, the Pittsburg Diamonds and the Vallejo Admirals. Napa came onboard in 2018, and at one time teams from Martinez and Salina, Kansas participated. In late 2019, a team from Fairfield signed up with a cryptocurrency mascot, the Dogecoin, but COVID wiped out its investment and it never fielded a team.

The last Pacific League game was played on Sept. 2, 2019, a game that found the Stompers losing the league title to the San Rafael Pacifics, 5-3, at Arnold Field.

Now there are only three still associated with the league, the Sonoma Stompers, the Napa Silverados and the Vallejo Admirals. The Admirals’ website gave the first formal indication that there would be no baseball planned for this year, in a post dated March 26. “It is with great disappointment, that the Vallejo Admirals will not have a 2021 season due to the uncertain infrastructure surrounding COVID. While this is a difficult decision, our top priorities remain in the safety of our fans, players and staff.”

With attendance limited, the money necessary to run a team or a league is constrained. “We had to bow out this year,” said Stone. “We’re going to take a very much wait-and-see attitude, to see how everything works.”

Stone’s wait-and-see attitude may be the only one he can adopt, because even though the pandemic seems to be in recession, the final verdict isn’t in. Attendance at major league games is a fraction of previous years, due to social distancing regulations and perhaps just caution. “As a commissioner I’d feel really sad if people got ill coming to my games – though so far, that doesn’t seem to be the case,” said Stone.

“Before the summer’s over we’ll have a good strong sense of how things are working, but we can’t institute it until next year. We want to see how many of these teams succeed.”

The Sonoma Stompers were established in 2014. The next year, the team received national attention when pitcher Sean Conroy became the first openly gay professional baseball player, a benchmark noted by a special exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

A year later, they again made national news on July 22 when they had the first professional female battery with pitcher Kelsie Whitmore and catcher Anna Kimbrel, and Stacy Piagno was a third female player – a milestone also recognized at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 2015, former major leaguer Jose Canseco appeared in several games playing with the Stompers, and launched his career’s final home run at Arnold Field on July 10 of that year.

The team has been owned by Jon Sebastiani since 2017, and its current acting general manager is Eduardo Mora-Loera (himself a former Stompers player).

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Sonoma Stompers, Pacific league cancel season

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